Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Mobile Wars

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talk about the mobile wars – the new Telecom XT Network, the new “Two Degrees” mobile company, and the existing Vodafone network. What are we to make of all the hype, the court cases and the bluster?

Read on for my speaking notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3.Q: Now to mobile phones…

A: Yes. I want to talk today, not about the phones themselves but about the networks they use. This is a piece of raw human drama disguised as a technical problem.

Q: How so?

A: Well, it’s all about competition again. Until now, New Zealand has had two mobile phone networks that wouldn’t run each other’s telephones. You buy a phone to run on Vodafone; it’s totally different to the phone you need for Telecom. The two mobile phone networks in this country use fundamentally different technology. That’s not how things are in most of the world where all mobile phone networks are basically the same. So, you buy a phone to run on one network in Europe and, unless the phone is locked to one network, you can run it on any other network. This has the effect of increasing competition among the networks and keeping the network providers honest.

All the European networks and most of the networks in the rest of the world use a technology called GSM. That’s the one Vodafone uses. And as the GSM mobile networks have moved to 3G they’ve all moved to another technology called WCDMA, which is not the same as the original GSM technology but most people just think of it as 3G GSM.

Q: What is 3G again?

A: Stands for third generation. The first generation was the original analogue telephone the size and shape of a brick, and only the yuppies had them. Call quality was terrible, and they didn’t do text messages. The next generation was digital telephone with far clearer calling as well as text messaging, and the size and price rapidly came down to where they are today. 3G was launched a few years ago – it effectively gives your phone a much higher data rate which means you can do cool Internet-based things like Google Maps or surfing the web, and you can do Star Trek stuff like video calling. Effectively 3G is a digital mobile network that does more than just phone calls and text.

Now, both Vodafone and Telecom have 3G networks already. Under ideal conditions they can both do you a fairly decent data rate so you can surf the Internet from your mobile, or from your laptop if you have one of their mobile data modems. But Telecom’s network uses a technology which no-one else does in the world. The rest of the world has gone to GSM and its successor, WCDMA. There are two problems with that – one is that most Telecom phones won’t roam to other countries. The other is that Telecom has a much more restricted set of actual telephone models to sell to its customers. It’s no accident that the iPhone, for instance, works on Vodafone not Telecom. Same with the Google phone that Vodafone has announced its selling as well.

Those two problems – roaming and access to handsets – have forced Telecom to build a new mobile network that uses the same technology as the rest of the world. That’s the context for the announcements we’ve been seeing on TV with Richard Hammond.

Q: So what are we to make of the court challenge by Vodafone?

A: Well, Vodafone claimed that Telecom’s new network was interfering with Vodafone’s established network, leading to dropped calls and the like. They use different but neighbouring frequency bands. Mobile phone networks bid for frequency bands, then they have to stay within the band they get allocated. If Vodafone is right and Telecom were interfering with their band, then that’s entirely wrong of Telecom and they should indeed solve the problem.

Q: Wasn’t that the outcome?

A: Well, yes. Neither side is admitting they were wrong, of course, and Paul Reynolds of Telecom came out pretty robustly in the paper saying that Telecom had done nothing wrong. But it was the kind of nothing wrong that caused them to install filters on more of their cellsites and delay their much-ballyhooed launch by two weeks. Telecom’s putting a brave face on that, thanking Vodafone for the free publicity, but I incline more to Bernard Hickey’s view that it’s a PR disaster for Telecom that they couldn’t get their engineering right first time and had to publicly slip an announced launch date. According to an article the NBR, Telecom knew about the interference right back in November, but pressed ahead with launch plans before they had fixed it.

Q: And there’s a new mobile network.

A: There certainly is. NZ Communications has had a long history of being about to launch a new network, and heaven knows New Zealand needs the competition. NZ Comms, formerly Econet Wireless, has been doing a dance of the seven veils about its new network, and this week another veil came off. We know what its going to be called – Two Degrees. That’s a 2 with a little degree sign after it. Someone has already pointed out that it’s remarkably similar to the O2 logo – O2 is a mobile network in the UK and its logo adorns the chests of the English rugby team.

Q: Why Two Degrees?

A: Apparently its based on the notion that everyone is separated socially from everyone else by at most six degrees of separation – you know, I know someone who has met Michelle Obama who knows the US president rather well, that kind of thing. But New Zealand’s society is so small and interconnected that they think two degrees is more appropriate here.

Q: What will the phone numbers be on the new network?

A: 022, although they are encouraging you to change from your existing provider and bring your existing 021 or 027 number with you. Vodafone phones should work just fine on the new network, so you won’t need to buy a new phone. All three of the mobile networks have said that they won’t be locking mobile phone to their networks, which means they will have to compete on price and service. That’s a good thing. That’s why Vodafone are doing some good deals at the moment offering quite decent phones for nothing if you’ll commit for two years.

And both Vodafone and Telecom have announced a Twitter connection for the mobiles on their network. People with smartphones like iPhones and Blackberries have been using Twitter from them for a while, but both the existing networks have done a deal to provide Twitter access from ordinary mobile phones.

Q: How does that work?

A: You send your tweets as text messages to a specific address and Vodafone or Telecom passes them to Twitter for you. And you can set up a list of people on Twitter whose tweets you want to receive as text messages on your mobile.

Q: Are you signing up?

A: I can’t think of anything worse! To me, Twitter is a river of information I dip in and out of. I don’t worry if I miss things, and I certainly don’t want to be texted every time someone tweets.


New Telecom network launch put off after Vodafone court action. Is this free publicity or a PR disaster? One man’s take on the winners and the losers. And, according to NBR, Telecom knew about the interference in November last year.

New Zealand’s third mobile network is closer to launch.

posted by colin at 11:03 pm  


  1. And of course you can choose the tweets that come to your phone (if any) … but you knew that eh ;-)

    More details at a comment left at Miraz’s cracking KnowIT site:

    Comment by Mike Riversdale — 14 May 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  2. Mike – I surely did know that. I wouldn’t want tweets by text but then I use Tweetie on an iPhone (thanks, Miraz!). If others like that kind of text traffic, good on them.


    Comment by colin — 15 May 2009 @ 8:09 am

  3. Comparing telephones to the Internet shows up the stark difference between a technology product of the 19th century and one that came out of the 20th.

    Funny that, even with mobile phones, the system is still fundamentally built on 19th-century principles. The network controls what you can do with it. New applications need the permission of the network operator. They have even been known to disable features on phones where they saw a threat to their existing revenue model.

    Whereas with the Internet, the network is basically a dumb pipe that pumps bits from here to there and nothing more. All the application logic is in the endpoints; you don’t need permission from the network operator to come up with a new application idea, you just build your servers, perhaps offer software for download by users, and away you go.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 15 May 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  4. Your clock is still one hour ahead!

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 15 May 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  5. Lawrence

    So it was. Seems I need to adjust it manually for daylight saving.


    Comment by colin — 16 May 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  6. If you’re running a Linux box, then you’re wasting your time adjusting your clock, since the system clock is always in UTC. You should fix your time zone instead. Is your /etc/localtime a copy of, or a symlink to, /usr/share/zone/info/Pacific/Auckland? If it is, then daylight-saving transitions will happen automatically, no need to adjust for them. Just make sure the clock is correct, by keeping it synched with NTP to or something.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 16 May 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  7. Thanks, Lawrence – I get all this. It’s hosted on a box in the US (b***dy data caps in NZ) which hosts lots of others so I don’t get access to the system clock.

    WP has a timezone parameter you can fiddle with, which is what I do. But it doesn’t automatically update to following daylight saving changes.

    Googling throws up WP plug-ins that apparently look after automagically. But this is low-priority enough that I haven’t tested it yet.


    Comment by colin — 18 May 2009 @ 7:28 am

  8. It sounds like WordPress is doing completely dumb things. There are standard POSIX library calls to take care of all this, you shouldn’t have to be doing this kind of fiddling.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 18 May 2009 @ 12:49 pm

  9. iphone mobile phone nokia samsung sony ericsson lg motorola

    Comment by djamel — 23 May 2009 @ 3:34 am

  10. iphone mobile phone nokia samsung sony ericsson lg motorola

    Comment by djamel — 23 May 2009 @ 3:34 am

  11. nokia motorola samsung iphone lg sony ericsson vodaphone 4G

    Comment by djamel — 23 May 2009 @ 4:36 am

  12. […] original here: » The Mobile Wars Mobilea-motorola-samsung, a-new-application, a-samsung-sony, am-iphone, and-away, endpoints, […]

    Pingback by » The Mobile Wars — 24 May 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  13. Hi,
    I am looking for the definite Tech Spec.
    I have this from a GSM Web Site regarding”Bands”
    GSM 850 GSM 900 GSM 1800 GSM 1900 UMTS 850 UMTS 1900
    No Yes Yes No Yes No
    2G Required GSM 900
    Recommended GSM 900 and GSM 1800
    3G Required UMTS 850 or UMTS 2100
    Recommended UMTS 850 and UMTS 2100

    Is it correct ???
    And what bands for 2G and 3G do the three providers use (Vodaphone, Telecomms & 2Degrees)

    Would appreciate the diffinitive :-)

    Comment by David Bell — 12 June 2009 @ 9:42 am

  14. […] Daylight Savings in WordPress 2.8 is welcome, but there are a couple of problems. This comment at » The Mobile Wars sparked me to go in search of the plugin Colin mentions: WP has a timezone parameter you can […]

    Pingback by WordPress Daylight Savings is finally fixed (sort of) — KnowIT — 15 June 2009 @ 8:51 am

  15. Very true post. But i think war should be continue…if it continue then the customer gets major advantage from it. All mobile company trying to give best and we get a nice products in very cheap price. Anyway thanks for sharing information with us.

    Comment by ds r4 — 23 October 2009 @ 7:30 pm

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