FEATURE: Wireless Down Under

Wireless Down Under

By Andrew M. Seybold

A few weeks ago, I was down under, not in Australia but in New Zealand, at an event hosted by the New Zealand Wireless and Broadband Forum and the New Zealand Department of Trade and Enterprise. This was my second trip to New Zealand in a year, and I came away even more impressed with the companies involved in wireless today than on my last visit.

New Zealand is made up of a series of mountainous islands and has a total population of about four million people. There are two wireless networks in operation--the Vodafone GSM/UMTS network and the New Zealand Telecom CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev A network. The government will soon be auctioning additional spectrum at 2.3 GHz. While this spectrum is not tied to any specific technology, it is being considered for WiMAX.

The wireless industry in New Zealand is thriving. There are many companies involved in developing applications. Because its population is small when compared to many other countries, the network operators don't have the luxury of being able to determine what devices with what attributes they want to put on their networks. Instead, operators have to choose from devices already being manufactured in large quantities for other countries. Still, they have a good selection of products. In fact, New Zealand ranks No. 17 on the Bear-Sterns list as one of the countries with a high percentage of customers that use data services.

The big push in New Zealand, as in many other countries, is to provide broadband services to as much of its population as possible. You will notice I said 'broadband' and not 'wireless broadband.' New Zealand understands that in some places wired will be the best solution (such as in Wellington where a fiber-optic ring has been in operation for more than ten years) and in other places broadband will be provided via wireless or a combination of wireless and wired services.

Attendees of Convergence 07 Oceania were upbeat about New Zealand's progress and many of the companies were asking questions about how to capture the attention of the rest of the world for some of their applications and wireless solutions. I was impressed by how advanced a number of the companies are and the great applications and services they are providing.

After speaking at the Convergence 07 event, I spent a day meeting with various segments of the New Zealand Government, including its Radio Spectrum Policy and Planning group (their version of our FCC), the broadcast TV Group (which is just entering the HDTV business and believes that analog stations will remain on the air until sometime in 2015) and several others. Each group was very interested in what is happening in other parts of the world because they want to learn from the mistakes and benefit from the successes of other countries. Their openness in these discussions was a refreshing change.

My sponsor for this trip, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, is working hard to help New Zealand companies gain funding for their business plans and take their products to market. NZTE is also assisting a number of these companies to enable them to move their products and services beyond New Zealand into other world markets. One thing I found to be most interesting is that these companies attract very little venture capital from outside New Zealand. The major U.S. venture companies appear to have decided that they are not interested in investing in a small company that is so far away. After reviewing a number of these companies, I believe this attitude by our investment community is shortsighted.

My final speech was at a meeting known as Wireless Wednesday. This monthly event is sponsored by the New Zealand Wireless and Broadband Forum and it is a place where company executives as well as developers can meet and spend a casual evening listening to a speaker and then interacting with each other. The event was crowded and I had a chance to meet people from many companies, large and small. While I did not have time to find out enough about all of the companies I met, I plan to find out more about them and write about what they are doing in future columns.

My take-away from this trip is that the wireless industry is alive and well in New Zealand. There are many smart, young companies in this part of the world.

Andrew Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. Check out his website at www.andrewseybold.com