Telecom sounds one-day warning for CDMA network closure

UPDATE July 30: Telecom's CDMA mobile network, launched in 2001, has entered its final few hours of life.

How many are still clinging to the old network? 

A Telecom spokeswoman would only offer: "We are unable to report numbers outside our financial reporting cycle."

At its last update, in February, the company said 639,000 customers remained on the old network.

That Telecom is on a final PR push - it sounded a "one day warning" this afternoon, indicates there are at least a few hold-outs. But at this point it's unclear if it's a matter of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands or more.

The CDMA closure was first announced in May 2009 when Telecom launched its new XT network, which runs on the same W-CDMA technology used by Vodafone and 2degrees.

Carrots, sticks as clock counts down on CDMA

July 11: With just three weeks to go until its CDMA network shuts down on July 31, Telecom is refusing to say how many of its two million or so mobile customers remain on the old service.

The company has confirmed that there will be no extension on the July 31 deadline. CDMA will completely shutdown at the end of the month, including the end of 111 emergency calls via CDMA.

Telecom says those unsure if they are on CDMA or the newer XT should call *333.

There were some carrots mentioned by Telecom today, including $0 up front XT phone offers for contract customers, and a $79 top up fro pre-pay.

But also a few sticks.

Telecom warned that not even voice mail messages will be available after this month. Customers who urgently need to access a message will have to order it on CD, at their own cost.

The company also cautioned that those who don't change before July 31 might not be able to keep their number.

Telecom gave its last detailed mobile update on February 24 (read Telecom sheds 92,000 mobile customers: the new standings).

At that time it said 639,000 customers remained on CDMA,  accounting for 11% of its mobile  revenue. Chief executive Paul Reynolds said on a conference call to analysts that "only" 300,000 had actively used CDMA in the past month.

Since February, the carrier has rebuffed all queries about CDMA customer numbers.

Telecom acting CEO Chris Quin said there had been an "influx" of CDMA customers to Telecom stores over the past few weeks.

The company had run radio, TV, newspaper and online ads, and run pre-recorded messages in front of calls on CDMA.

This afternoon, a spokesoman, declining to give specific figures, told NBR ONLINE: "We’re comfortable with migration volume to XT."

But the very fact Telecom has mounted a new PR offensive today suggests a decent whack of customers remain on the old network.

Privately held 2degrees has updated on customer numbers. On June 28, 2degrees CEO Eric Hertz said his company had 950,000 customers – around 100,000 of them contract plans.

In March last year, 2degrees said it had 580,000 customers. (Vodafone has fallen back fractionally, losing 9000 customers in its most recently reported quarter but more-or-less holding steady around 2.4 million).

The newcomer's surge suggests a good chunk of Telecom's CDMA hold-outs did not upgrade to XT, instead defecting to 2degrees.

Skinny sideshow
The countdown to the CDMA closure has been complicated by alleged slow-sales (Telecom won't comment) and an abrupt management change at new budget mobile brand Skinny (which shares the same W-CDMA network as XT). 

Skinny has recently pushed deals for CDMA hold-outs (as have 2degrees and Vodafone), but Telecom Retail chief executive Alan Gourdie told NBR the sub-brand's primary focus remains on the youth market.

Another sideshow has been a High Court spat over who owns provisioning software used to upgrade customers from CDMA to XT. Telecom has sought to stop the sale of Aldous, the Auckland company that worked on the software, then collapsed owing around $10.5 million.

When Telecom launched XT in May 2009, then CEO Paul Reynolds said he hoped half of the company's  2.1 million or so customers would upgrade to the new network inside a year.

However, a series of disastrous network outages in late 2009 and early 2010 stalled XT's progress.

With most CDMA hold-outs being low-yielding "glove box" customers, the old network's closure is a bit of a sideshow.

But it has turned out to possibly be a longer and more fraught sideshow than Telecom thought, and Vodafone and 2degrees won't mind seeing their rival distracted talking about its old network when it would rather be talking up its 4G plans.

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