web analytics

The 5G network brings about a lot of the things that go to make up smart cities.

Last month I wrote about 5G for the NZ Herald’s project Auckland report. You can read the original story here: Project Auckland: How 5G will transform the city – NZ Herald.

The first part includes an interview with Matt Hitti, who looks after strategy and architecture for Vodafone. He thinks the impact will be profound.

The key is that 5G will trigger a massive change in the way organisations work with remote sensors. 5G has much greater capacity. This means it can push more data through the air while also pushing it faster. Extra capacity also means many more devices can connect to the network at the same time.

Connecting sensors to wireless networks isn’t new. Connecting many more sensors and sensors capable of much greater throughput is. Hitti says some of those sensors will be high definition video cameras.

I’ve been writing about 5G for five years now. When you get behind the obvious hype and marketing, one thing is clear: 5G is not really about mobile phones and consumers. Its focus is machine to machine connections.

The consumer aspect is largely a smoke screen. You may want 5G on your phone, but you don’t need it.

Business, on the other hand, does need 5G, not just for internet of things applications, but for tasks like remote control of cranes and building reconfigurable factories. Spark demonstrates this with its Americas Cup projects. Hitti talks of 5G applications where computing power is pushed out to the edge of networks so incoming data can be processes and given a response in real time.

This is the true 5G story and frankly it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than any consumer application. Most of the important stuff will happen out of sight in the background. And yes, it will transform the city.

New Zealand voice networks recorded the highest call volumes in history this week. There was a peak on Tuesday. This followed Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s announcement she was raising the Covid-19 alert level from two to four and the country would begin a four-week lockdown.

All carriers experienced congestion. Callers overloaded government call centres with enquiries. The congestion affected the three mobile networks and Spark’s landline calling network.

A Spark spokesperson says: “Following the prime minister’s Covid-19 announcement today, telecommunications providers experienced call volumes beyond any level of calling ever seen in New Zealand. This is creating significant congestion for voice calling at an industry-wide level.”

The TCF spoke for the industry saying telecommunications companies were working quickly and collaboratively to fix the issues arising from congestion.

Carriers called on phone users to switch to digital communications technologies using the nation’s fibre network to free up voice lines.

Customer services struggling

Customer service teams struggled to cope. In part this is because operators closed their overseas call centres or are running them at a reduced level to protect staff from infection risks. There were also much high call volumes.

Vodafone issued a plea to its customers to use the company’s mobile app, chatbot and website where possible to reduce the load on call centre staff. The company asked customers were to contact the company’s social media team which extended their hour to cope with the extra demand.

The company says: “Due to precautionary measures in New Zealand and internationally, our customer care teams are managing the impacts of Covid-19 while dealing with higher call volumes. We have major call centres in different offices in New Zealand and India, and a small specialist customer care team in the Philippines – and while we’re able to redirect work and calls for some customers between them, we are also planning for future impacts including what we can expect will be further increased restrictions on movement in cities worldwide.”

Spark and Vodafone sell fixed wireless broadband as an alternative to fibre. The service is far from rubbish. Yet it isn’t up to the demands New Zealanders will make of it while spending more time at home during the Covid–19 outbreak.

Companies are asking employees to work from home. Schools haven’t yet sent students home, but may. Because of social distancing people stay at home instead of going to the movies, the pub or other activities.

All this means people will be more reliant on broadband connections. For work-from-home employees, broadband is their livelihood. For everyone else it is a useful communications tool. It also delivers entertainment needed to stave off the boredom of stopping at home.

Insufficient data

All those examples need data. A lot of it. That’s one thing fixed wireless broadband can’t do. Most fixed wireless broadband plans come with data caps that limit a customer’s data. Which leaves people with a problem if broadband is the main Source of entertainment during the outbreak.

There are two other issues that suggest fixed wireless broadband is not up to the demands people will make of it.

First, fixed wireless is prone to congestion. A fixed wireless tower shares bandwidth between users. If there’s only one user at a given moment, connection speeds can be good. If everyone is online at once, the performance drops. It can drop below the level needed to sustain a video stream.

Swampy Covid–19

During the Covid–19 pandemic most people will spend the evening at home most of the time. The demand may swamp fixed wireless towers.

Spark slowed fixed wireless broadband sales in the run-up to Rugby World Cup for this reason. It knew customers would not have a good streaming experience.

With everyone at home, the data traffic is set to beat the highest Rugby World Cup levels.

The second part of this is that with congestion, some users may not be able to connect at times. It’s one thing to miss the last 15 minutes of a movie. It’s another thing to have your main channel to the rest of the world shut off during the Covid–19 pandemic.

Which brings me to the third problem. Clogged fixed wireless broadband networks can impact mobile wireless reception and coverage. The mobile network is our vital lifeline. Few people still have copper voice line connections. If busy fixed wireless broadband towers make it hard to make phone calls we are all in trouble. We will need phones more than ever during the outbreak.

What should the telcos do?

First, stop selling fixed wireless broadband where fibre is an option. Get customers onto fibre where possible. Where there’s a mix of fibre and non-fibre premises, leave fixed wireless for people who can’t yet get fibre.

Where fibre is not available, it makes sense to give towers a capacity upgrade. Move to 4.5G or a higher technology. And then do a better job of managing the capacity. Which, means not milking the network too hard.

Fixed wireless has a role to play in the broadband mix. Pretending it competes with fibre diminishes its overall value.

Vodafone’s new Pay Monthly and Business mobile plans mean customers no longer run out of data

Source: Vodafone serves up endless data for data-hungry customers

Vodafone’s new mobile plans are a clever charm offensive.

Instead of letting you get to the end of your monthly data and turning off the tap, Vodafone’s new plans slow the stream to a trickle. In the phone business this is known as throttling.

This, in itself, is hardly new. Spark and 2degrees both have high end plans where they throttle speeds when customers use too much data. The difference is this applies to all monthly account customers.

Vodafone calls this ‘endless data’.

For some people reading this, the second part is even more interesting. The new plans all allow hot spotting at no extra charge. Hot spotting, sometimes called tethering, is when you, in effect, turn your phone into a Wi-Fi router. Then you can hook up a tablet or a laptop to you phone.

Throttling means that when you’ve used all the data in your plan, you can still download. But those downloads take place at a much slower rate. The press release says speeds are up to 100mbps at normal times, but will drop to 1.2mbps.

As the release points out this is more than enough to check mail, messages or maps. It won’t be enough to stream HD video or play demanding games. If you use your phone for work and that work doesn’t involve video conferencing, you’ll probably be sweet.

The new plan is a kinder, gentler way of dealing with people who run over their paid-for data. It should pay off for Vodafone which seems to be have something of a renaissance at the moment with its early 5G launch and other initiatives.

It also gives Vodafone another rod to beat Spark with. As things stand the more generous plans are a reason to switch carrier. That is until Spark sharpens its pencil.

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.