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Telcowatch says Vodafone is New Zealand’s mobile market leader.

There’s not much in it. Vodafone is one percent ahead of Spark on 36 percent.

The two were neck and neck for most of last year.

While the lead is real, it’s not dramatic.

Nor is it the whole picture. The way Telcowatch measures the market means that Spark’s Skinny business is counted separately from its parent company.

Adding that back into Spark’s figure puts the company well ahead of Vodafone with a 41 percent market share.

Telcowatch monthly market share 2018 - 2019

However you crunch the numbers both Spark and Vodafone have a clear lead on 2degrees. The third mobile carrier’s market share is stable at 23 percent. That makes it a little over half the size of Vodafone and Spark.

That’s a respectable showing for the youngest mobile carrier which entered a market that was almost at saturation point. And there is no question 2degrees has reshaped the market.

It probably suits everyone concerned to count Skinny as a seperate business.

Yet Skinny is definitely a Spark brand.

When Skinny started it was more distinct from its parent than it now is.

Today Skinny’s product alignment can be seen as rounding out Spark’s offerings. It’s a no-frills version. In supermarket terms it is PaknSave to Spark’s New World.

The two share the same network infrastructure. Skinny employees may be loyal to the brand, but they are Spark employees. Spark’s management decides Skinny’s strategy.

Skinny remains the smallest of the four brands. In December its market share was 5.6 percent. It has been between roughly five and six percent for the last couple of years.

The most interesting aspect of the recent report from Telcowatch is not the interplay between Spark and Vodafone, but the way Skinny has been growing its market share at the expense of the parent company.

Over the last year Skinny is the best performer in terms of market share growth. It has grown gradually.

It’s not hard to understand why. Despite all the fuss about 5G, the mobile phone market is mature. There’s less differentiation between brands and less of a premium in Spark’s brand when compared to Skinny.

There is, however, a considerable price difference. Slowly, but surely, customers are waking up to this. You can buy what amounts to the same mobile experience for less money. The big surprise is that more people have yet to realise this.

In March, New Zealand’s government will auction 16 10MHz blocks of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band.

It’s an unusual spectrum auction. Most past spectrum auctions in New Zealand have been for 20-year licences. This time, the licences are for two years.

The reason for this is that the industry is pressuring government to release the spectrum they need for 5G mobile services.

Treaty claims

At the same time, the government has yet to reach a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with iwi over spectrum. Selling short-term licences buys time to complete negotiations.

Each of the 16 10MHz blocks has a reserve price of $250,000. Bidders need to deposit $500,000 to take part in the auction.

If everything sells at the reserve price, the government will raise $4 million. Prices can go higher. The last time spectrum was auctioned prices went much higher.

No single bidder will be able to buy more than four blocks in the first auction round. This is less than the 80MHz to 100MHz recommended for full 5G services by the GSMA, an international mobile operator trade association.

The rights are not tradable, are nationwide and buyers must use them for 5G mobile services.

More spectrum later

Licence terms start later this year and finish at the end of October 2022. The government will hold a further, long-term auction for the spectrum that year. The government says it expects to free up more spectrum later.

Bidders in the March auction will have to return existing 3.5GHz management rights to the government.

This affects Vodafone more than any other carrier. It is possible Vodafone’s existing 3.5MHz holding will fall. Returning existing spectrum will help flatten the playing field. There will be a refund for returned management rights.

Radio Spectrum Management, part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, will use a simplified version’s of a combinatorial clock auction. In effect, this starts with the seller offering blocks at the reserve price. If the demand for blocks is greater than the supply, it increases the price.

Beyond the three mobile carriers

New Zealand has three existing mobile networks. There are 16 spectrum blocks on sale and each bidder can buy four in the first auction round. That means the government expects a fourth buyer to enter the auction.

This is a departure. The earlier auction for 700 MHz band spectrum was tailored to cater for the three mobile carriers; Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees.

The obvious candidate is Dense Air. The company owns 70 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum. At the moment Dense Air acts as a wholesaler to the mobile carriers. Spark’s tiny South Island fixed wireless broadband 5G project uses Dense Air spectrum.

Other parties may be interested in the spectrum. Few of New Zealand’s Wisps1 could afford the $500,000 deposit or the $250,000 per block asking price. Yet if they were to act collectively a bit might be possible.

If the government doesn’t sell all 16 lots in the first auction round, it may offer them to existing bidders.

Given that the amount of spectrum being auctioned is not enough for carriers to offer a full blown 5G service, it looks as if will be some time before New Zealand gets all the benefits of the technology. There’s enough bandwidth for fast data speeds, but, as things stand, maybe not enough for carriers to deliver the gigabit plus speeds 5G hype has promised.


  1. Wisps are small, local wireless internet service providers. They cover rural and remote gaps in markets not served or poorly served by bigger telcos. ↩︎

America is leaning hard on Britain to reject Huawei as a 5G network builder. Meanwhile all the parties in New Zealand have gone quiet on the subject.

US officials told British ministers using Huawei in UK 5G networks puts intelligence sharing at risk. According to a report in the Guardian, the Americans said it would be “Nothing short of madness”.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also warned the UK prime minister on the matter.

He says: “The real question is not looking for a smoking gun but asking whether this is a loaded gun and whether you want to have that risk.”

Threat seen in Australia

The threat identified by Australian security agencies was not Chinese intelligence interception but potential denial of network access.

Turnbull told The South China Morning Post: “Australia banned Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network as a hedge against adverse contingencies in case relations with China soured in the future.”

Elsewhere in a video he says:

“Capability takes a long time to put in place. Intent can change in a heartbeat, so, you have got to hedge and take into account the risk that intent can change in the years ahead.”

Malcolm Turnbull – Former Australian Prime Minister

Turnbull says Australia reached this decision without pressure from the US. That may be true, but it stretches credibility to suggest there was no lobbying. Even more so when you read the stories about US officials warning British ministers.

New Zealand may have also arrived at its own conclusions, but again, there will have been lobbying on both sides. And, at the very least, our politicians will be aware of The Australian decision.

Huawei locked out

For now, Huawei remains locked out of building a 5G network in New Zealand.

That was never going to affect Vodafone who built the first serious 5G network here. Nokia has been Vodafone’s long-term partner and has most of the 5G contracts.

It’s different for Spark and 2degrees. While 2degrees has announced nothing about its 5G plans, Spark has made a lot of noise over the last two years.

Until now, Huawei has been Spark’s main partner. The two built one of the world’s first 4.5G networks. For a long time it looked as if Huawei was on track to build Spark’s 5G network.

TICSA

That now seems remote. On paper the door is still open. The two companies could still get the necessary sign-off under the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013. This is betterknown as TICSA.

The GCSB blocked Spark’s original 2018 5G upgrade proposal under the Act. At the time it said the proposal posed a “significant network security risk.”

Ministers have been careful to avoid talking of an outright ban. They say the GCSB judges each TICSA application on its merits. Officially it just happens that the proposed application wasn’t up to the standard.

Spark and Huawei could return with a fresh proposal. At times it sounds as if the government expected this to happen. Yet the first application was more than a year ago and there has been no word of a fresh attempt.

Otherwise New Zealand’s government has said little more about the affair in public. It doesn’t need to.

White House claims Huawei spies

Other governments are making plenty of noise. The US and the White House has maintained all along that Huawei spies for the Chinese government. Huawei has been adamant that it does not.

As Turnbull makes clear, Australia remains cautious.

In Huawei’s defence there is no evidence of any wrong doing. Nor is there a Chinese law in place that obliges Huawei to act on the government’s behalf. Nor is China seen as a likely aggressor. As far as diplomats, exporters and importers are concerned we are all the best of friends.

Yet, as Turnbull makes clear, there doesn’t need to be evidence of spying for there to be a potential future risk. Nor does there need to be a change in Chinese law. If tensions between the West and China ramp up, China could put Huawei under pressure.

As Turnbull points out, circumstances can change fast. Building a network, or an alternative network takes a lot of time and money. His point is not choosing Huawei is prudent.

Decision time in London

It’s not clear yet which way the UK will jump. It could still decide to go ahead with Huawei. Huawei’s prices are cheaper than rival network hardware companies.1 Huawei hardware is often the better choice for reasons other than money.

The problem the UK faces is much the same as the one facing New Zealand. Allow Huawei and there will be a diplomatic fall-out with the US. Shut Huawei out and China will take offence. There’s no fence sitting, nations are being forced to choose one or the other.

China has not helped matters. Since the question first arose, it has flexed its muscle in ways that alarm overseas observers. Hong Kong is the most obvious example.

One way or another New Zealand appears to have made a decision. Spark is pushing ahead with alternatives to Huawei with its 5G projects.

It will be interesting to see if New Zealand’s position changes if the UK give Huawei the green light. It may not. Yet a decision in Huawei’s favour will give the company ammunition in future New Zealand discussions.

A story unfolding on the other side of the world could yet have implications here.


  1. Some argue the Chinese government subsidises the business. If true, that is more, not less, reason to be wary. ↩︎

“Here’s the bad news: No one is coming to save you. No business is going to swoop in and provide sustainable funding for newsrooms. No new technology is going to transform the way journalism supports itself forever.

No big, incredible deal is going to build a strong foundation for the news. There isn’t a single magic bullet that will work for everyone. Even producing groundbreaking journalism isn’t going to suddenly turn your fortunes around.”

Source: Use the tools of journalism to save it » Nieman Journalism Lab

Ben Werdmuller has a sobering and realistic take on today’s journalism. It looks grim, yet there is optimism of sorts here.

A conversation

He says journalists need to recognise the internet is not a broadcast medium but a conversation. This echoes a post on this site from 11 years ago. More on Twitter journalism looks at the way many journalists use Twitter as a broadcast medium. They see it as a way to draw in readers to their newspaper, radio or TV channel websites.

This still happens. But many New Zealand journalists have learned how to engage with readers online. We focus here on Twitter because that’s the only social media I use these days. One reason for picking a single social media channel is that I can concentrate my firepower. This makes sense for a one person freelance journalism business. And it is a business, not a job.

In the earlier story I write:

“Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.”

Without digging around and doing a lot of research, I’d say that number hasn’t changed much.

Twitter as a conversation

What has changed is many of New Zealand’s higher profile journalists have regular active Twitter conversations. Go and dig around, you’ll see many of the best-known names engaging with their audiences. It can be hard doing this among the snark and antagonism.

One innovation that I’ve been working on at this site is to integrate Twitter comments with those left directly on my site. I’ve used a couple of IndieWeb tools to capture tweets responding to my posts on stories. I’ve done this to boost the conversational aspect of my work. My plan is to add to this over the coming year.

The linked story from this site ends with:

“Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…”

This is working well 11 years after those words were written. Many of us who still work as journalists are now mini-brands. Publishers and editors hire journalists with a good brand. Freelancers like me get work on the back of having a brand.

This doesn’t come naturally to older journalists. We were taught to keep ourselves out of the story. That’s not how things work today and it definitely isn’t how blogging works.

Community

Werdmuller has a different take on what amounts to the same idea. He writes:

“Instead of thinking in terms of having an audience, you need to think about building and serving a community. Instead of informing, you need to be listening. The opportunities to learn the nuances of your community and to serve it directly are unprecedented — but it takes work.”

It does take work. One of the skills journalists pick up is to be excellent at listening to sources. In the past we’ve not been so good at listening to our audiences. It took me a while, although judging by my earlier posts, I was onto this 11 years ago.

The point here is there hasn’t been a clear dividing line between sources and audiences for many years now. Likewise, there is less of a division between journalists and audiences. We are, as Werdmuller puts it, communities. He is right when he says this takes work, but boy, it can be rewarding.

 

If you’ve been reading reports from this year’s CES show, you may be thinking about buying an 8K TV. It is possible you even have one1.

If you haven’t bought an 8K TV yet, here’s some advice: Save your money. This is a purchase you can safely put off for now.

Unless you have a very specific application, it’s not worth buying an 8K TV. It may be different in a year or two.

Samsung qled 8K TV

8K TV hype

Last week Samsung launched a new range of 8K QLED televisions at CES in Las Vegas. There are eight models to choose from. The new TVs are an update of earlier 8K models.

An 8K TV has 7680 × 4320 pixel resolution. That’s the same as four 4K screens. Samsung says the Q950-series also has “quantum dot enhancements”. This should trigger your marketing hype alarm system.

Some of the other specs are impressive on paper. The ‘Infinity Screen’2 sounds neat.

The bevels, that’s jargon for the plastic bit at the edge of the screen, are so small that the front of the TV is 99 percent display. The TV is only 15mm deep. You can read more about the specifications in the link above.

Where is the content?

At the time of writing there is next to zero 8K content. That should be reason enough to hold off on a purchase.

Couple the lack of content with the knowledge that previous generations of TV technology tend to fall in price over time. It means when there is enough worthwhile 8K material, that fancy new set you have your eye on may cost a few thousand dollars less.

At the time of writing local prices for 8K TVs start at around NZ$10,000 and go up to $80,000. You might find a cheaper option, but there’s a problem with that… read on.

Gamers

Games could be one of the first sources of 8K content. Microsoft and Sony promise the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation will support 8K.

It sounds promising, but in truth today’s consoles struggle to deliver a great 4K gaming experience, so take any 8K games talk with a pinch of salt.

There’s another reason to hold back on upgrading to 8K. The move from 4K to 8K is not as dramatic in picture quality as the move from older TV technologies to 4K.

In fact, it’s hard to see any picture improvement on smaller screens. Many of the 8K models on sale at moment, in particular the cheaper ones, fall into this category.

The screen size where swapping up makes sense differs depending on who you talk to so it would pay to try before you buy. Some say 60 inches is the cut off, others put it at 80 inches. Your house may not have room to accomodate a TV that big.

Bandwidth

There’s another issue to consider. Old fashioned television broadcasting over the airwaves doesn’t have the bandwidth to support 8K TV. Streaming TV companies like Netflix and Prime are yet to show their hands on 8K.

Most observers think they will announced 8K content soon. If you make major home hardware decisions based on what some observers think, you are buying into a world of pain.

In other words, there’s not much content and nothing official about when we can expect to see an abundance of 8K material.

Fibre is a must

Streaming 8K TV needs a lot of bandwidth. Fibre is essential. A 4K TV stream needs in the region of 25mbps, 8K TV needs roughly four times as much. Let’s say 100mbps.

It’s wise to have some headroom, especially if you have family members who do their own digital thing. In other words, 8K TV is what gigabit fibre was made for. Don’t even consider anything other than an unlimited data plan, avid 8K watchers can expect to get close to a terabyte of data in a month.

New Zealand is lucky in this department. About three quarters of the population can get fibre, a little over half of those people have taken it up.

These bandwidth numbers have implications for people who don’t have fibre. You can probably get away with VDSL or a good fixed wireless broadband connection for 4K TV. Both technologies will be disappointing for 8K. And that’s before you look at data caps.

Wireless is not going to cut it

If you believe all the hype about 5G fixed wireless broadband, it may, on paper, be possible to run an 8K TV using the technology.

Don’t hold your breath. For now New Zealand 5G network coverage is, at best, patchy. Vodafone’s network reaches maybe 10 percent of the country. Spark’s 5G doesn’t even reach one percent.

Even if you are in the zone, it may take a few years for there to be enough 5G bandwidth to make 8K work for you.

One potential barrier is that 5G traffic is only fast enough over short distances. Which means you might not be watching 8K until there’s a 5G site on every lamppost down your street.

Tests show people can get speeds of greater than 100mbps on existing 5G networks. But keep in mind the tests are using uncontested bandwidth. And there’s no evidence these speeds can be maintained over the hour or two it takes to watch a movie.

8K TV with built-in 5G wireless?

You’d be taking a big risk spending tens of thousands on a TV which works fine at 10am, but sees wireless connection speed drop at 8pm when everyone else is online.

There is talk of 8K TV devices with built-in 5G. Nothing has been seen yet. Huawei has a track record making announcements that never come to anything tangible, so again, take the claims with a pinch of salt.

For 8K TV to be a practical proposition, it needs to be big and that means expensive. There needs to be more than demonstration content and you need to have a net connection fast enough to handle the data along with an unlimited data plan.

It’s going to be a while before most of us can get all those ducks in a row. The good news, is that when we can, the hardware will probably cost less than today.


  1. It’s a racing certainty someone reading this has one ↩︎
  2. Another ridiculous hype word. Quantum, infinity: Samsung’s marketing department is working its way through a high school Physics text book. ↩︎