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Mobile operators pitch for rural contract

NZN 4/04/2017 Paul McBeth

New Zealand's three mobile operators - Spark, Vodafone and Two Degrees - are pooling their resources in a joint bid to win the government's extension to the rural broadband initiative.

They say this is the most cost-effective way of expanding telecommunications services to almost all of the country.

The three carriers will inject an additional $75 million in equal shares if they're successful in winning the government's $150m funding for RBI extension and mobile black spot fund and expect to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more operating the infrastructure.

The proposal would see an extra 500 new cell sites delivering a 25 per cent increase in land coverage across New Zealand to meet the Crown's goal of ensuring 99 per cent of the population has access to internet speeds of at least 50 megabits per second by 2025, with remainder getting at least 10 Mbps.

Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners, who was the architect of a joint bid with Telecom (now Spark) in the original $285m RBI programme, said the partnership of the three mobile carriers was the "most cost-effective solution" that ticked off the government's needs.

And it would effectively create a shared wholesale wireless network for all internet service providers to sell services to rural customers.

"This is hugely exciting - the two largest contributors to the economy are agriculture and tourism - both are rural based businesses to a large degree," Mr Stanners told BusinessDesk. "They benefit off this proposal."

The mobile carriers anticipate their proposed extension to the RBI would add more than 1200km of mobile coverage along state highways and provide thousands of households and firms access to better internet services.

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