For sale: New Zealand wireless ISP, slightly used

Von Paul Brislen

The future of New Zealand wireless network provider Wired Country is uncertain following the decision of owner Counties Power to conduct a review of its operation.

Paul Muir, the chairman of Counties Power, says Wired Country is at a "crossroads" in its development.

"There"s obviously a need for Wired Country to get involved in direct retail itself," Muir says.

He says he"s disappointed in the lack of commitment from Wired Country"s ISP partners.

Wired Country was operating a wholesale-only model but recently announced it will sell directly to end-users.

"The fact that we"re seeing the need to retail direct would indicate that we"re not getting the support we would have liked," Muir says.

The Wired Country website lists nine ISPs reselling the service. However, at least one ISP manager has described Wired Country"s service as a "niche service" that will never be able to compete directly with Telecom"s JetStream service.

Iconz COO Sean Weekes says Wired Country, and wireless services in general, are viable, but face stern competition from the fixed line environment owned by Telecom NZ.

"Why would you opt for wireless if you had the choice of copper as well?" he asks, while accepting there is a place in the market. "Wireless is good in the right circumstances, and in rural or remote areas it makes perfect sense," he says.

Weekes says Iconz isn"t in the business of buying a network provider like Wired Country but would look at partnering with any network operator. He says Wired Country"s initial marketing push ran into problems with contention rate issues and over-use.

"Early on, we talked to Wired Country and told them that whatever else they do they shouldn"t offer a flat rate plan. They came back and said their customers wanted that and so that"s what was offered."

Wired Country has moved away from the flat rate model to cap international traffic following high levels of use by some customers.

Muir says while Wired Country is "not for sale as such", he is looking for a partner to take over the resale aspect of the business. "We"re a lines company. We"re not allowed to retail electricity, so retailing sits uncomfortably with us."

Muir says the review process will take at least the rest of the month and a decision will be made after that process is completed. He doesn"t expect the network will be switched off, however. "The equipment is out there, the customers are there. I don"t foresee the service going away."

Computerworld understands Wired Country"s fiber network, built in the Counties Manukau district, is not included in the scope of the review.