Wireless Down UnderMonday, May 14, 2007
I just returned from a week-long trip to New Zealand where I gave the keynote address at Convergence 07 Oceania, a Wireless & Broadband Forum event, met with a number of people from the New Zealand government and a number of small startup companies that are trying to make their mark in the world of wireless. It was a great trip marred only by the fact that my notebook computer gave up the ghost so all I had to work with was my BlackBerry 8800, hence I was not able to write a blog entry or two while I was gone.
The problem with my notebook was caused by trying to load the software for an EV-DO Rev A card that New Zealand Telecom graciously provided for me during my trip. I knew better, but I loaded the software onto my Vaio without removing the software for the Rev A card I normally use in the United States. I know that loading new software while traveling is probably the worst thing you can do―no matter what it is, it seems doing so will most likely cause problems. When I was finished loading the software, I inserted the Rev A card and it was not found. Neither was my Verizon card, and I couldn’t even access the Internet via hardwired or Wi-Fi connections. I tried to remove both sets of software to no avail, so ended up spending most of my trip sans notebook!
Other than that, this trip was a great experience. I had been to New Zealand last year to speak at the same event in Auckland, and this year’s event, held in Wellington, which is a much smaller city, was every bit as good, if not better. Convergence 07 Oceania was sponsored by the New Zealand Wireless and Broadband group, www.wirelessdataforum.org.nz, and my trip was hosted by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, a government group that works with New Zealand companies to provide funding and a number of other services, including helping these companies export their products and services.
There are two wireless operators in New Zealand: New Zealand Telecom and Vodafone NZ. Telecom runs a CDMA network with EV-DO Rev A, and Vodafone runs a GSM/UMTS network. The government is thinking about taking some of their spectrum away and re-auctioning it to encourage more competition, but I’m not sure that a country with a population of 4 million can sustain more wide-area voice and data networks. It is also getting ready to auction spectrum in the 2.3-GHz band, and while that spectrum is not being tied to a specific technology, the interest, as you might surmise, is mainly from companies that would like to roll out WiMAX. The usual misleading information about the capabilities of WiMAX preceded me to New Zealand and, of course, I had a few words to say about its true capabilities.
The country is engaged in trying to find a way to provide open access over New Zealand Telecom’s wired infrastructure as well as solutions for “broadband everywhere” using both wired and wireless technologies. In my many discussions with both the government and private sectors, I learned that they are exploring all of the options that are being explored elsewhere in the world, including government funding as well as incentives to try to engage the private sector in building out broadband access over the entire nation. This is not an easy task because the terrain in New Zealand is going to make it tough to cover many of the outlying areas in an economic way.
For 10 years, Wellington has had a fiber loop covering its city and anyone who wants really fast access can, for a price, access it. One of the differences is that 80% of the data traffic leaves the country and the choke point might, in fact, be the facilities that carry data services to other parts of the world. I will be discussing some of what they are doing in this week’s Commentary.
I was also asked to speak at “Wireless Wednesday,” which is a gathering of members of the Wireless and Broadband Forum as well as any other companies that want to show up. It was held at a local bar and grill and was attended by about 50 people representing a number of startups, the Forum and the government. It was a great chance to talk to a number of small companies that already have or are in the process of developing wireless products and services. There are many very talented people and exciting applications being developed in New Zealand and I will be discussing some of them in another blog entry and in several of my Commentaries.
The people involved in New Zealand’s wireless industry are very excited about what is happening not only in New Zealand, but in the rest of the world as well. Many of the smaller companies are developing products with an eye on customers around the world as well as New Zealand’s wireless customers. The Wireless and Broadband Forum and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are helping many companies gain a foothold both at home and overseas, and I really enjoyed my time there.
As I mentioned, the big discussion is how to get broadband to everyone in New Zealand, no small feat. They understand that simply building a network or combination of networks is not enough and that they have to educate the population about broadband access and why it is important to all of them. Many of the rural areas have few people living in them, but many are made up of large farm communities with farm owners who are millionaires in their own right and not feeling any urgency to join the global, connected community.
Stay tuned for more specifics from this trip. I met with some great companies and perhaps found an opportunity or two for a few of our clients as well.