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Spark to recycle 3G spectrum for rural 5G

Spark 5G girl on a phone.

Spark to recycle 3G spectrum for rural 5G

Spark says it plans to close its 3G mobile network in late 2025. It will recycle the spectrum to allow an expansion of 5G coverage in rural areas.

One New Zealand, formerly Vodafone, has already set August 2024 as the date it will close its 3G network. In the US, major carriers have already closed their 3G networks. Australia's Telstra will close its 3G network in June next year.

By the time Spark's 3G network closes it will have been in use for more than 15 years. Mobile phone technology has advanced considerably in that time with the arrival of both 4G and 5G services.

Spark says few customers will notice the 3G network closure. It now accounts for four per cent of the company's total mobile data traffic. The volume of 3G enabled voice calls has dropped 70 per cent since 2019. Meanwhile the company's 4G network reaches 98 per cent of New Zealanders.

4G boost promised

Mark Beder, Spark’s chief operating officer says the company plans to boost 4G coverage in the few remaining areas where the is currently only 3G coverage.

He says: "We’ll continue to invest in both our 4G and 5G networks ahead of the 3G closure. We will also be getting in touch directly with customers to support them to make any necessary device replacements over the next two years.

“We know customers are connecting to 3G in areas where 4G is available. This is predominantly due to the age of the device being used. Some of these older phone models can’t make voice calls over 4G and they fall back to 3G when calls are made. It’s important that they’re replaced ahead of the 3G closure. Other customers may have the capability on their phone but need to enable it in their settings.”

This contrasts with One New Zealand's approach, where some 3G customers will fall back to the company's 2G network which will remain operational at least until the end of 2025.

Spark 3G network closing.

Regulatory snag for Connexa 2degrees billion dollar tower deal

The Commerce Commission has expressed concern about aspects of
2degrees' plan to raise a billion dollars from selling its passive mobile network assets to Connexa.

The problem is Connexa's ownership. The business was formed when Spark sold a 70 per cent majority interest in its mobile network, Spark TowerCo Limited to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. The telco retained a 30 percent in the new company. After the 2degrees transaction this share would fall to 17 per cent.

New Zealand's regulator says this means the 2degrees deal could have a negative impact on competition in the mobile market.

One New Zealand (formerly Vodafone) sold a majority interest in its mobile tower network to FortySouth which brings together investors with One New Zealand's part-owner Infratil.

The result is a market with three retail mobile phones companies but only two passive network infrastructure asset companies.

Although Connexa says otherwise, the Commerce Commission is not convinced about the competition and the effect the market structure might have on prices. There is also the possibility that Spark could leverage its Connexa position to 2degrees' disadvantage. It might, say, be able to hobble the company's 5G network roll out.

If the Commerce Commission were to veto the deal, 2degrees would need to return to the market and either find another, independent, buyer for its tower network or retain ownership.

A Commerce Commission decision on the deal is due to be made by May 19, although it says it may extend the deadline if it needs more time to investigate the issues.

OneWeb completes LEO satellite launch

UK-based OneWeb says its initial network of low-earth orbit satellites is now complete. A launch this week brought the total number of satellites to 618, enough to provide a worldwide broadband service, however further launches are planned.

OneWeb will now move on to testing the most recently launched satellites, then move them to the right parts of the sky. When that's done, OneWeb will be able to begin operation, a move that will see LEO competition start in earnest. That should happen before the end of the year.

The UK firm will compete with Starlink which has around 3000 satellites in orbit. Then, from the end of next year the two LEO operators will be joined by Amazon's Project Kuiper.

Because OneWeb satellites have a higher orbit than Starlink's, each covers a wider area. This means it can get by with fewer satellites.

Starlink is focused on selling satellite broadband to individual customers, especially those living in areas where there is poor earthbound connectivity. Amazon appears to have similar plans. OneWeb, however, is focused more on selling to government and business markets. It also sells to telcos, giving them the opportunity to offer satellite broadband in unconnected areas and, potentially, satellite connected mobile phones.

OneWeb has had a chequered history. Three years ago the UK government had to bail out the bankrupt firm and now owns a stake in the business. That was controversial, but the move gave OneWeb the impetus to attract further commercial investment and it now plans to expand its network.

Oneweb 36 satellite launch is a success

Foldable phone sales rising, but still a freak show

IDC forecasts shipments of foldable phones will double in 2023 to reach 21.4 million units and a market value of US$42 billion. They continue to grow in popularity at a time the total phone market is in sharp decline.

Despite this, and their relative fast growth, foldable phones remain a freak show. They accounted for a mere 1.2 per cent of total phone sales last year. IDC expects this to rise to a 3.5 per cent share of the market by 2027.

Grant McBeath to leave as Spark shuffles executive team

A leadership reorganisation at Spark will see Grant McBeath, the company's customer director replaced by two executives. The change will see McBeath leave Spark after ten years with the business.

In his place Spark will appoint two customer directors. One will look after enterprise and government users, the other will cover the SME and consumer segments.

Spark says the move makes sense because enterprise and government customers are increasingly seeking more complex solutions using the company's investment in new technologies. The development of these new technologies will be overseen by the new enterprise and government customer director.

Mark Beder, who is chief operating officer at present, will move to the customer director enterprise and government role.

Greg Clark, Spark’s consumer and SME channels lead, will move into the role of SME and consumer director.

Cotter fills Kordia people and sustainability role

Kordia has hired Paulette Cotter as its chief people and sustainability officer. The role will see Cotter run Kordia’s People & Culture and Health & Safety teams. She also has responsibility for the company’s sustainability strategy. Cotter previously worked a chief people and capability officer at Apex New Zealand.

In other news...

At Reseller News Rob O'Neill reveals Microsoft consented to buy land for $180M NZ data centre build . He writes: "The news comes shortly after ASX-listed data centre developer NextDC bought land in central Auckland and as CDC Data Centres develops further facilities in Auckland's north."

Researchers have found a security flaw in the IEEE 802.11 WiFi protocol. A report at Beeping Computer says the flaw allows: "attackers to trick access points into leaking network frames in plaintext form".

Britain's Competition and Markets Authority plans to spend six months investigating investigate Broadcom's acquisition of VMware. The UK regulator worries the deal could drive up the cost of computer parts and the software used to run servers.

Microsoft is preparing the launch of its second generation Surface Hub 2S. There's few details about the hardware although Microsoft says it will come in 50 and 80-inch screen sizes. Surface Hub 2S is an interactive whiteboard that is part of Microsoft's Surface hardware family and is used to run Microsoft Teams meetings.

To no-one outside the vehicle industry's surprise, it turns out car buyers hate manufacturer attempts to nickel and dime them into paying for extra subscriptions to unlock features.

France (link in French) has joined the conga-line of western governments that have banned public servants from using TikTok on their phones.

Disney closed its Metaverse division. The company had been looking at ways of extending its brand online and exploring theme park uses of the Metaverse.

The Download Weekly is supported by Chorus New Zealand.