In ‘Climate of fear and anxiety’: Some 200 Vodafone staff offered voluntary redundancy, says union Chris Keall, New Zealand Herald writes:

Insiders have told the Herald there is a broad expectation that around 400 of 2800 roles could go.

Paris stressed in an earlier interview that there was no set number. Different departments would gain or lose staff depending on the outcome of the ongoing review.

And he while he has acknowledged the possibility that call centre jobs could be offshored, Paris also said no decision would be made that would hurt customer service.

As part of an international company, Vodafone NZ was able to tap into its parent’s “Centres of Excellence” in other territories.

Paris says Vodafone NZ fell short of targets last year. His brief is to get the subsidiary into shape this year for an IPO in early 2020.

As the story says Jason Paris’ job is to tidy up Vodafone New Zealand’s business so it is an attractive IPO. That way the parent company gets the maximum return on its investment.

Looking at cutting employee numbers is part of that. Compared with other similar sized technology companies1, Vodafone’s revenue per employee is low.

Taking costs out of a business can make it more attractive in the short term.

If Vodafone gets rid of 400 people out of a total of 2800, that’s almost 15 percent of the total. Potential investors will like that.

We shouldn’t forget job cuts are often devastating to the people involved. They are often also uncomfortable, even stressful for many of the staff who remain. It can hurt morale. If there are long term effects, they will probably show up after the IPO.

Outsourced call centres

One risk here is that Vodafone New Zealand has suffered from poor customer service in the past. It has used overseas outsourced call centres that customers hated. A return to those days would damage the company.

Last year Consumer criticised the company after a satisfaction survey.

Vodafone was the only provider that rated below-average on all our performance measures – from customer support to value for money,” Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said.

About three-quarters of Vodafone’s broadband customers reported spending a long time on the phone waiting to speak to a rep. Nearly half said the service was poor once they finally got through.

The company that performed best in Consumer’s survey was Spark’s Skinny subsidiary. Ironically Skinny doesn’t promise much in the way of customer service. Maybe that’s the secret success formula. Either way, if I was Jason Paris, I’d be taking a closer look at what makes Skinny tick.


  1. Vodafone has often talked of itself as a technology company. ↩︎

fibre optic

Chorus says the average connection speed across its network has now passed 100Mbps. This is ten times the average connection speed eight years ago. 

Last month also saw the busiest day yet on the company’s network: total usage hit 1.815Tbps. The previous record was 1.792Tbps.

Chorus network strategy manager Kurt Rodgers says 71 percent of the company’s fibre customers are now on 100Mbps. A further 44,000, around three percent of the 1.5 million connections on the Chorus network, are now on 1Gbps plans. This is up 22 percent on the previous quarter. 

High speed plans

Most of the rise in average connection speed comes down to the popularity of high speed plans.

One feature of New Zealand’s regulated fibre broadband is the narrow spread of price between slower and faster plans. In Singapore, a 1Gbps plan costs many time the price of a 100Mbps plan. Here the difference is closer to 25 percent.

Another reason to opt for faster plans is that many of today’s plans are uncapped. There’s less point in buying one of the fastest plans if the extra speed means you download your data allowance in a few days.

Improving speed isn’t all at the top end. Rodgers says awareness of VDSL (Very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line) technology, which boosts speeds on copper connections, is also on the rise.

At the same time, VDSL speeds have increased in recent years. Before switching to fibre I had a VDSL connection. When I first started it ran at around 18Mbps. This later climbed to 35Mbps or thereabouts. By the time fibre was laid in my street, the VDSL connection was giving me 70Mbps.

He says, “Dunedin has the highest average connection speed at 361Mbps, largely due to the high volume of gig connections”. This will be, in part, because of the earlier Gigatown promotion. This saw the city connected to faster fibre ahead of the rest of the country. 

“Coming in second is Wellington, at an average of 116Mbps, followed closely by Auckland at 111Mbps,” he says.

Will get faster than 100Mbps

“With more and more consumers choosing gigabit plans and our recent announcement that we will start trialling 10Gbps in mid-March, we can only expect average speeds to continue to grow,” Rodgers says.

Chorus says fibre users now average 315GB per month. Most of this is down to the rise in streaming video. This is reflected in time-of-day statistics, which show average throughput on the network now peaks at around 8.30pm in the evening.

Huawei Mate X

Huawei’s foldable Mate X was the highlight of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. At the show it eclipsed Samsung’s Galaxy Fold.

It even outshone the event’s main message: that 5G mobile networks are now ready.

Foldable phones are the most innovative take on mobile hardware since Apple’s iPad.

Until now phones and tablets have been distinct devices. Sure, there is a point when big phones are like small tablets1.

Yet the moment a phone is big enough for serious tablet work, it is too big to fit in a jacket pocket.

Pocket-sized

Mate X gets around that. While some might see it as a phone that folds open to become a tablet, you might equally see it as a tablet that folds shut to fit in a pocket.2

Phone makers love to talk about innovation. Most of the time they use the word to describe small improvements. In the world of marketing hype, bigger screens, faster processors, more camera lenses are improvements.

It’s all good. Today’s phones are a huge improvement on earlier models. But there has been precious little innovation.

For the last decade or so phones have been monolithic slabs of glass and metal or plastic. The Mate X and its kind break with that model.

Huawei Mate X — first generation

This year’s foldable are the first generation. They are expensive. More about that in a minute. Impressive as the Mate X is, you can see a line on the screen where it folds.

I’m concerned that the screen is on the outside where it might get scratched. It’s a little bulkier than a non-folding phone. It feels heavier in the hand than you might expect.

Yet for all these shortcomings, it is impressive. In your hands it feels almost magical. That’s an acid test for exciting innovation.

By the time the Mate X reaches New Zealand it could cost the thick end of four grand. That’s a lot for a phone, more than twice the price of a non folding Android phone and considerably more than the most expensive flagship phone from any brand.

Phone prices have climbed faster than inflation in the last few years. Much of the extra you get when you spend more on a phone is more of the same old features, more screen, more memory and so on.

Expensive, but could be worth it

Folding phones may be a lot more expensive again, but you are getting something significant and different for the extra money.

It is also more expensive than any tablet. The price seems especially high when, at first sight, it can’t do anything that can’t already be done with other, cheaper devices.

Even so, there are many people who can justify the expense because it opens new ways to work. Looking at documents while sitting on a train no longer means squinting at a tiny screen.

Travelling on business no longer means lugging a laptop. You can carry one less thing. There is less to charge, fewer cables to think about. And so on.

There will be a market for folding phones and not just among the geeks who have to buy every new toy.

The start of something bigger

If the idea takes off, it could be that most premium phones will have a similar folding format within a year or two.

Soon the difference between folding phones and everyday phones could be like the difference between smartphones and so-called featurephones.3

There were other foldable phones at MWC. I spotted a TCL model on the Alcatel stand. If the as-yet unnamed Oppo foldable phone was on show, I missed it as I ricocheted pass the company’s comparatively dull-looking stand. It features, with others, in this long report on foldables that debuted at the show.

Huawei’s Mate X is the first of its kind. If you’re old enough, think back to the first iPhone. That wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t cheap. And yet within a few years it evolved to become the must-have device of our times. This is the next generation.


  1. We don’t welcome words like phablets around these parts ↩︎
  2. I say pocket here because I’m a bloke. It also fits into a handbag. ↩︎
  3. It’s daft that phones with no discernible features are given that name, but there you go… marketing. ↩︎

Certain western governments might be uneasy about buying Huawei kit, but phone buyers flock to the brand.

The latest phone sales data from Gartner shows Huawei has won market share from Samsung and Apple. In the fourth quarter of 2018 Huawei sold a shade over 60 million phones. This compares with Apple’s 64 million and Samsung’s 71 million units.

The fourth quarter is usually the most important period for phone sales.

Huawei growing fast

Huawei sales grew nearly 40 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Huawei’s success is that it is, in effect, locked out of the USA.

Gartner senior research director Anshul Gupta says; “Beyond its strongholds of China and Europe, Huawei continued to increase its investment in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, to drive further growth”.

Much of the company’s success came from lower price phones. Gupta says: “Huawei also exploited growth opportunities through continued expansion of the Honor series in the second half of 2018, especially in emerging markets, which helped Huawei grow its market share to 13.0 percent in 2018.”

Both Samsung and Apple sold fewer phones in the period than the same time a year earlier. Both companies had falling market share.

Samsung, Apple stumble

Apple suffered a year-on-year fall in sales of almost 12 percent. The company previously said this was largely due to falling sales in China, although numbers fell everywhere except North America and the wealthier parts of Asia-Pacific.

Samsung’s high-end phones failed to turn buyer’s heads. The company strengthened its mid-range models during the period.

Chinese brand Oppo, also enjoyed growth. It is now the world’s number four phone brand by unit sales. It has a market share of 7.7 percent.

The phone market has stopped growing. In the fourth quarter sales were 0.1 percent higher than a year earlier, essentially flat.

Gartner says the mature Asia-Pacific markets (which includes Australia and New Zealand) declined 3.4 percent.

While raw unit numbers excite many phone industry observers, the more important question is which brands are making money.

Emirates OnAir Wi-fiWhile one trip is not enough to write a definitive review of Emirates’ inflight Wi-fi service, I’m not masochistic enough to put myself through the experience a second time.

So this is an anecdote, not a formal review.

My earlier plan to work at the airport business lounge was foiled by overcrowding. Plan B was to write, fact-check, polish and file my stories from my seat as Emirates flight EK448 made its way from Dubai to Auckland.

The plane has in-flight Wi-fi, so it should have been practical. It’s a 15 hour flight, which, on paper at least, left plenty of time to write and rest.

That’s not how things worked out.

Options

Emirates offers three in-flight Wi-fi options on Airbus A380 flights. There’s a free 20MB download. 150MB costs US$10, 500MB costs US$16.

The 20MB free option wasn’t even enough to download the email that arrived in the eight hours since I last connected. That’s because some PR companies insist on sending journalists material as PDFs or Word documents with large embedded logos or other images.

I didn’t plan to work all through the flight so I opted for 150MB. As we shall see, this turned out to be a wise choice.

On my flight the Wi-Fi wasn’t turned on until almost an hour after take-off. By then the cabin crew were starting to serve a meal, so I waited until that was over; maybe two hours into the journey.

Simple

Connecting, logging-in and paying was straightforward enough. Two days after landing the payment still doesn’t show up in my bank account so I can’t confirm there were no price surprises. If it does show up I’ll let you know how it went.

The rest of this story is a tale of woe. Here at home I have a 1 gbps fibre connection. When I’m on the move I use 4G mobile which can mean anything between about 20 and 100 mbps. I’m old enough to remember 1 mbps ADSL and even dial-up, which during its last phase could connected at 56 kbps.

Emirates’ OnAir Wi-fi service was slower than dial-up. Much slower. It was so slow that I couldn’t even load many webpages before they timed out. This included Speedtest. Mail was slow. I normally use Apple’s Mail app. I tried to use Gmail, but, again, the page couldn’t load before timing out.

Dreadful benchmark

The best benchmark I can give you is the time it took to file my first story. I use iA Writer, which produces a text file as output. The story was 5050 characters long. The file is 5k. That is five kilobytes. In other words, bugger all text. It took Emirates OnAir 27 minutes to transfer this file. That’s about three bytes per second.

To put this in perspective. Emirates OnAir sent my story at 33 words per minute. A Morse Code operator might transmit at around 13 words per minute.

It is like all the passengers on the flight are sharing a single dial-up internet connection.

That’s not the whole story. The OnAir service cut out entirely for large sections of the flight. This is to be expected. After all, Emirates publishes a map showing areas where the satellites servicing OnAir don’t operate. However, the flight didn’t pass through these areas.

Not a good look for Emirates

There’s nothing new or original when it comes to whinging about in-flight Wi-fi. The services are usually slow, poor quality and ridiculously overpriced. My point here is that it is so bad, it’s not remotely fit for purpose. Fact checking was near impossible. Sending email questions and getting answers was painfully slow.

In the end it took nine hours to do a job that might normally take me 90 minutes.

One last point. Even though I was using OnAir full tilt for about nine hours of a 15 hour journey, I only used about a third of the 150MB data allowance. This means there’s no point buying the 500MB plan, you simply can’t use it.

Like it says at the start, this is based on a single experience, it’s not a definitive review. Even so, Emirates OnAir is, at best, a marginal proposition.