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2degrees 5G network launches – a bigger picture emerges

2degrees opens New Zealand’s third 5G network in main city CBDs. Further 2degrees 5G coverage will roll out over the rest of the year.

Monday was go-live day for the 2degrees 5G network. For now the network covers central Auckland and Wellington with limited Christchurch coverage.

The company says it plans to extend its coverage in the nation’s three largest cities over the rest of this year.

2degrees is late the to 5G party. Vodafone launched a service at the tail end of 2019 with 100 active towers. This compares with 65 for 2degrees. Vodafone has steadily added coverage since then. Spark began modestly in mid-2020 with 5G coverage in Palmerston North and has also increased coverage.

None of the 5G networks are anywhere close to being nationwide. Coverage tends to be in densely populated areas and CBDs.

One difference between the 2degrees and Vodafone launch is that the network coverage is more continuous. On day one Vodafone’s network was spotty with customers moving in and out of coverage while walking down the street.

4G improvement

2degrees says it has spent $1 billion on the upgrade. That’s not only for the 5G sites. The company has worked to improve its 4G coverage at the same time.

Along the way 2degrees has swapped out the Huawei equipment that powered the network in the company’s early days and replaced it with Ericsson kit.

While Huawei network equipment is not formally banned in New Zealand, it has fallen from favour since the government spy agency GCSB turned down a certification application from Spark to use the hardware.

Apple iPhone users will not be able to connect to the 2degrees 5G network at first.

Many consumers wanting to use the service will need to buy a new expensive phone handset. For now the 2degrees 5G network supports three phones from Samsung and Oppo: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3, Samsung Galaxy Flip3 and Oppo Find X3 Pro.

The company says it will add Apple and other phone models soon.

Comment: 2degrees 5G

News media made the lack of phone support the main story.

At Newshub, the report reads: 2degrees activates 5G network in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – but not for iPhones. The NZ Herald’s Chris Keall picked up the same theme with: 2degrees launches 5G – but with no iPhone support, yet. Businessdesk’s Henry Burrell came at the same idea from a different angle with 2degrees launches 5G, only three phone models compatible.

This is an understandable angle for journalists to take. After all, mobile phones are something many readers will relate to.

Yet, despite what the marketing might imply, 5G is not meeting the needs of mobile phone users: the technology offers few tangible benefits to them. There are no widely-used mobile phone apps that need the extra speed or latency. The most demanding phone apps, including high definition two-way video calls work on today’s 4G networks.

It’s another story for network operators: over the long term 5G will reduce their operating costs and allow them to sell more services and enter new markets. It gives them flexibility.

One of those services is fixed wireless broadband, that’s something where consumers will notice a difference. 5G performs far better than 4G.

2degrees is not in a position to sell fixed wireless services on its 5G network today. The company says it will soon offer a 5G home broadband modem.

Assuming the Commerce Commission doesn’t veto the planned merger between 2degrees and Orcon, a 5G fixed wireless broadband service will allow the company to operate New Zealand’s third vertically integrated broadband network. That will shake the market more than handset users getting faster downloads.

Tuanz reactivates roaming charges question

Craig Young who runs Tuanz, the technology user advocacy group, wants mobile carriers to remove roaming fees for people travelling to and from Australia.

He says the fees are unnecessary: “Operators over the last two years have learnt to live without this revenue.

“…Why not take the opportunity now to agree to not reinstate the charges between our two countries, further reducing the cost of travel across the ditch.”

Young says it would be harder to remove roaming charges for destinations further afield.


While Young has a point, this is not a hill to die on.

It’s been a long time since newspapers ran stories about returning tourists facing hard to justify four figure charges on their phone bill. Those bad old days of excessive roaming fees are in the past. Governments and regulators fixed the matter.

Today roaming charges are in the order of a few dollars a day. They are on a par with buying a cup of coffee. It’s a financial fleabite, not a body blow.

The charges are transparent. When you arrive at an overseas airport and turn your phone on, you may see a message outline what to expect. There are few unpleasant surprises.

Abuses remain. Vodafone’s 2019 decision to hike roaming charges 40 per cent means few will give that company the benefit of the doubt.

On the other side of the equation, roaming charges represent a tiny fraction of total revenue for New Zealand mobile operators.

You might think they wouldn’t miss the revenue. Yet roaming fees attract a high margin. Dropping the charges would have a noticeable effect on telco profits. That’s money mobile operators might feel they want to claw back from customers in other ways if the charges were removed.

Enable to build Christchurch free WiFi

Enable is working with Christchurch City Council to build a free WiFi service in the city centre.

The fibre wholesale company is installing equipment on council infrastructure including traffic lights and street lights in preparation for a planned launch at the end of June.

Enable says the free service will extend from the Bridge of Remembrance and along Oxford Terrace to Victoria Square, across to Colombo Street and back down Colombo Street to the Lichfield Street corner.

Number porting fraud protection in place

Mobile phone operators have introduced new security measures to help protect customers from number porting fraud.

TCF CEO Paul Brislen says number porting fraud is new in New Zealand. Criminals use a loophole in existing number porting processes to take control of devices like mobile phones. This then allows them to steal from bank accounts which use the devices for two factor authentication for money transfers.

The new process also uses 2FA. When a mobile operator gets a porting request, it send the customer an SMS message asking them to confirm they were the person making the request. It means numbers can’t be ported with the owner’s express permission.

Carter to step down from InternetNZ

InternetNZ Group Chief Executive, Jordan Carter, says he will step down from the role in June. Carter has worked for the organisation for 19 years and spent the last nine as CEO. Andrew Cushen has been appointed as interim chief executive.

In other news

Vodafone’s WiFi Calling hits an important milestone with a million devices now able to connect. The service allows users in areas with poor phone coverage to connect to the company’s network where there is a suitable WiFi signal.

Te Tari Taiwhenua, the Department of Internal Affairs has added Catalyst Cloud to the approved list of government cloud service providers.

Billionaire Elon Musk sent a truckload of Starlink satellite dishes to Ukraine. The nation’s internet network has been an early and deliberate casualty of the Russian invasion although at the time of writing it does appear to be working in many parts of the country. Starlink provides an alternative connection.