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A new unlimited mobile plan from 2degrees can be yours for as little as NZ$40 a month if you are on a shared account. If only one person pays the bill it’s NZ$85. This makes it the best bang-for-buck mobile plan in the country, but there are fish-hooks in the small print.

Unlike rival unlimited offers from Spark and Vodafone, the new 2degrees unlimited plan allows hotspots and tethering.

Yet a sensible journalist might suspect something is up when a press release comes with a footnote attached to the word unlimited.

That’s because unlimited has a non-standard meaning in the 2degrees English dialect. While you may think the word means all-you-can-eat data, at 2degrees it stands for 40GB then the data hose becomes a dripping 1mbps tap.

On top of that, the small print warns: “hotspotting speeds may be reduced further during periods of network congestion”.

So, it’s not unlimited in any usually accepted sense.

That said, the new 2degrees unlimited plan is generous. It is also a better deal than you’ll get from the big mobile carriers.

A monthly 40GB data cap, that’s what we’re really talking about here, is more than you’re likely to need if you use your phone for mail, browsing the web and running everyday apps.

It’s also plenty if you hotspot or tether for similar use. Laptops and iPads can often get through more data than phones.

The 40GB cap is not going to get you far if you watch a lot of streaming video. Even if you stick to modest resolution video, you’ll get through your entire month’s allowance in a couple of days. Choose high-definition video and 2degrees will throttle your connection before the sun goes down on day one.

Small print aside, the 2degrees unlimited mobile plan is beyond competitive. Assuming you get decent coverage on the network, it’s a bargain. The deal is especially good for families sharing a single account. That 40GB cap is per person. Which means you can get all the phone and mobile data four family members need for NZ$160.

Apple AirPods

Longer battery life, new charging case, hands-free Siri. AirPods 2 are a refreshed version of Apple’s popular wireless earphones.

From the outside, you’d be hard pressed to tell Apple’s updated AirPods from the model they replace. The two look identical.

Identical looks mean they also have an identical fit. If AirPods didn’t sit comfortably in your ears last time around, the new model changes nothing. Likewise if you had a problem with them falling out your ears, that’s still going to plague you1.

There’s also no discernible difference between the sound on the new and old models when it comes to playing music. You still get a full, clear sound.

A single AirPod

AirPods 2: Good sounds

The bass is not too heavy and the treble stays under control. You don’t get mentally exhausted by jangling highs. All the music I tried sounded crisp. The AirPods pick up a surprising amount of detail. They cope well with a range of musical genres.

There’s no active or passive noise cancellation and the AirPod design does little to block out excessive background noise. I haven’t had an opportunity to test them on a flight yet, but they work well on public transport.

When AirPods first appeared, I passed because recently purchased fancy noise cancelling over-the-head headphones. While the headphones are still more comfortable for long listening sessions, upwards of, say a couple of hours, the pods are so light and unobtrusive that, at first, it’s almost like you’re not wearing anything at all.

Upgraded chip

Apple says the newer AirPods 2 have an upgraded chip which improves performance in some areas: Longer battery life for voice phone calls, faster switching between devices and lower latency.

Because I’m new to AirPods I can’t tell you if the experience is better. What I can tell you is the experience is easily as good as I’ve had from other bluetooth speakers, earbuds and headphones.

With the earlier AirPods you had to double tap to launch Apple’s Siri voice interface. Now you can start the app by saying “Hey Siri”. This is how it works with the iPhone, iPad and Mac. While I’m too embarrassed to do this in public, it works well. Telling Siri to play your music choices is a useful feature when your hands are busy.

Like the earlier AirPods, your music will automatically pause if you remove one from an ear.

Qi charging

The wireless charging case work with Qi. This is a standard, you’ll find it on some iPhones and Androids. It means you can use the charging pads you already have to give your AirPods more juice. In practice it works well, although it isn’t fast.

It takes between three and four hours to fully charge the AirPod case using wireless and around two hours if you stick with the lightning connector.

AirPods show the best of Apple’s approach to technology. In use they are radically simple, so simple and easy to use they merge almost seamlessly into the background of daily life. After a few days you almost forget what life was life before you had them.

AirPods 2 verdict

There are few reasons to upgrade from first generation AirPods and even fewer if you’re not going to use wireless charging. That said, there are stories that ageing AirPods suffer from worn-out batteries, so there will be upgraders.

If you’re the kind of person who aims to impress by owning the latest fashionable kit you’ll be disappointed. While AirPods are something of a fashion accessory, there’s no extra kudos showing off the latest version.

One weakness; AirPods don’t fit everyone and they can fall out of your ears if you are active.

They’re not cheap at NZ$350 for a pair of AirPods 2 with a wireless charging case or NZ$280 for the non-wireless case. Yet, you’ll struggle to find better wireless earphones. They have plenty of battery life and the sound is as good as you’ll find anywhere else.


  1. If you are new to AirPods and wonder if they will fit, there’s an easy way to find out. The earpieces are more or less than same size and shape and those on the wired earbuds that come with iPhones. So long as they fit your ears, AirPods will be fine. ↩︎

Spark New Zealand managing director Simon Moutter is retiring. From 30 June customer director Jolie Hodson will take over.

Moutter remade, rebranded and renamed Telecom New Zealand.

He inherited a Telecom NZ that was not of his making. Moutter was the company’s chief operating office between 2003 and 2008, then spent four years as Auckland International Airport. He returned to Telecom as managing director in 2013.

During his absence, the government reformed the telecommunications industry. This triggered a set of moves that saw Chorus demerge from Telecom to win UFB fibre contracts.

From vertical integration to retail telco

The Telecom Moutter left was a vertically integrated incumbent. The Telecom he rejoined was a retail telco forced to a level playing field with 90-odd rivals.

His first challenge was to make sure the business survived the changes. His second challenge was to put it back on the path to thriving. Moutter achieved both these goals with distinction. Today’s Spark is a vibrant, competitive telco.

It remains New Zealand’s leading telco by size. Spark also leads its rivals on innovation. At the time Moutter joined Spark was number one in broadband connections. It still is, although its market share has dropped a little.

Mobile success

Back then it was number two in mobile behind. It has since caught up. You could even argue it is now the market leader. It definitely has a technical edge. Spark is leading the way to 5G mobile networks.

Moutter was in charge when the business changed its name. The move told the world it was no longer a telecommunications company. Since then it has moved into the media sector. It has a sizeable streaming TV service and has made significant investments in streaming sports media.

We don’t hear much about it, but Simon Moutter has done much to make Spark a more equitable workplace. Spark won the Rainbow tick. Moutter has also spoken out against race or gender discrimination. He has pushed Spark into the 21st century.

There’s lots to admire.

Jolie Hodson
Spark customer director Jolie Hodson takes over as Chief Executive in July.

It appears that Moutter planned his resignation and handover to Hodson some time ago. Yet the timing is a problem. Moutter leaves Spark while huge and risky projects remain unresolved.

This unfinished business may explain why investors pushed the company’s share price down 3.5 percent immediately on hearing the news. At the time of writing the share price has fallen further and ahead of the market. It is down a total of 4.5 percent since the announcement.

Spark faces three challenges

First, the Rugby World Cup. There are stories that people inside Spark are becoming ever more nervous about this project.

Even if everyone involved with fibre network connections works long hours, there still isn’t enough time between now and the RWC kick off to install fibre to all the customers who want it. This problem could blow up as the event gets closer.

Spark Sport’s app fell over last weekend. The company emphasises the software is still in beta and failures are expected. Even so, the wheels fell off. That’s ominous.

My contacts tell me there is widespread pessimism about the apps’ ability to deliver inside Spark.

Spark prestige

It’s not just about money. Spark Sport and the Rugby World Cup are high profile, prestige projects. If Spark succeeds it wins both money and kudos. If it fails, the company’s reputation is at stake.

Spark’s second challenge is 5G. Moutter set a target of getting a 5G network up and running in time for the America’s Cup yacht races. They start next year.

Delivering on that narrow promise isn’t hard. Spark can borrow necessary spectrum in a small area around Auckland’s harbour. Installing half a dozen 5G towers is no big deal.

On paper there is the unresolved matter of Huawei building the 5G network. No matter, Spark has other options.

A more pressing issue is an Auckland Harbour-only 5G network might not satisfy customers elsewhere.

Rival mobile companies are not yet in a position to invest in 5G. Getting there first is important. It would cement Spark as the mobile leader without question. A prolonged delay on a wider roll-out could see customers and investors lose confidence.

Agile

Spark’s third challenge flies under the radar. Moutter lead Spark in a move to Agile working.

While all the official noises from inside the company say it has been a success, that’s not the message that’s circulating elsewhere in the industry with Spark employees keen to find employment elsewhere. There is still time for this to go wrong.

It’s normal for a leader to leave a company without drawing a line under big items, but Moutter’s personal brand is associated with all three of these. There may be nothing to it, but investors and analysts are not convinced. Moutter and Hodson have three months to show otherwise.

Earlier this week Apple announced new iPads and refreshed iMac models. Both product lines needed an update and, for the most part, Apple delivered. Yet there are some odd choices.

2019 iPad update

While there are two iPads in the announcement, they are, in effect, two different sized versions of the same hardware.

The 2019 iPad Mini is functionally the same as the 2019 iPad Air. In place of the Air’s 10.5 inch screen, the Mini has a 7.9 inch screen. Prices for Air models start at NZ$850. You can buy a Mini for NZ$680. Otherwise they are much the same.

That’s not the only confusing Apple product name to emerge from this week’s announcements. Both the new iPads work with the Apple Pencil, not the new flat-sided Pencil that works with iPad Pro models, but the older round pencil. You’ll need to be careful if you order one to go with your new iPad.

Adding a Mini model that can work with a Pencil is a smart move. There’s a clear need for this with some customers.

The new Air model’s screen is larger than the older Air. A move from 9.7 inches to 10.5 inches might not sound like much, but because we measure screens across the diagonal, any increase is a squared. In plain English, the new screen is a lot bigger than you might otherwise expect.

While I’ve chosen to use an iPad Pro as my main on-the-move computer these lower-powered iPads are a more affordable choice. For most everyday work, such as writing, dealing with email and so on, they are more than enough computer.

2019 iMacs

Apple’s 2019 iMac upgrades are nothing other than speed bumps. You’ll get a faster machine this week than the one you could have bought last week.

The computer’s external design remains much the same as before. This isn’t a problem, the iMac is perfectly formed and there’s nothing obvious that needs fixing on the outside. The gorgeous big displays remain gorgeous.

Inside the case is another matter. The new iMac models still include old school hard drives. The technology is now past its sell-by date. Apple doesn’t offer old style hard drives anywhere else. It pushed hard to show solid-state-only portables were the way to go at a time when other computer makers still relied on hard drives, but hasn’t extended this to its new iMac models.

Sure, there are Fusion drives, which combine some solid state storage with a spinning drive. This will speed up many apps, but even so, they are slower than pure SSDs. No doubt the argument if that iMac buyers are price sensitive.

Next week Apple is holding a media event in Cupertino, California. Company watchers expect Apple to launch one or more new subscription services including TV streaming.

This is the second post in a series looking at how 5G’s reality might differ from perception. The first, Don’t expect a 5G big bang, boils down to how, often, the move from 4G to 5G mobile technology will be almost seamless.

Author William Gibson summed up a lot about technology when he said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

That’s how it’s going to be with 5G mobile.

America’s Cup 5G

Spark New Zealand’s 5G plan is a good example of how this works. Managing director Simon Moutter has repeatedly said that his company aims to have a 5G network working on Auckland’s waterfront in time for the 2020 America’s Cup yacht races.

His idea is to showcase New Zealand technology to the world. Or at least the part of the world that watches yacht races. At the same time it will send a powerful signal to New Zealanders about Spark’s capability.

The company has a nationwide mobile network. Its 4G coverage extends to places where more than 97 percent of the population live, work or play. There are hundreds of 4G towers.

The 5G network pencilled in for 2020 is likely to be half a dozen or so sites. It won’t even cover all over central Auckland. There’s nothing wrong with this. It makes sense to start with a modest network build and then extend it to reach elsewhere.

For guidance look at 4.5G

Spark has done exactly this with its 4.5G network. At first there was a single site in central Christchurch. Then another, then another and so on. Although we’re on the cusp of the fifth generation, the 4.5G technology still hasn’t rolled out across New Zealand. It’s there in some towns and cities, not others.

New Zealand is not alone with this. Very few countries are building national 5G networks from scratch. The upgrade is expensive and the higher bandwidth, lower latency 5G offers is not essential everywhere. At least not yet. It will be over time.

Spark’s 5G mobile plan

It will take years, if ever, for New Zealand to get uniform nationwide 5G coverage. There’s a clue for this in Spark’s capital expenditure plans. Simon Moutter has previously said the company will fund its 5G mobile roll out from its existing budget.

In other words, the company doesn’t plan to spend up big in year one rolling out new hardware everywhere. It could take a decade.

There’s another aspect to this uneven distribution which we’ll look at in another post: it’s possible different places will end up with different types of 5G.