Telecom details aggressive plan to commercialise phone-box wi-fi network

UPDATE: Telecom plans 10,000 wi-fi hotspots within five years | Who gets it free - and who has to pay - from mid-October.

UPDATE: Telecom has now made its phonebox wi-fi plan public, with the key points the same as NBR's earlier report:

  • From October 7, 800,000 Telecom customers will eligible for a free 1GB of data per day over Telecom's phonebox-mounted wi-fi network
  • Others will have to pay $9.95 a month
  • 700 hotspots will be live by October 7, and around 2000 by mid-2014

Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin says from October 7, Telecom will offer wi-fi free to all Telecom mobile customers on pay-monthly plans or $19 and $29 prepaid packs.

Vodafone and 2degrees customers, and those on an Australian mobile used to get the service free. They'll now have to pay a flat fee of $9.95 per month - as will non-eligible Telecom prepay customers.

175,000 have registered for the service. 55,000 are active customers, Mr Quin says.

Two-thirds are non-Telecom customers, which the retail boss bills as a cross-selling opportunity. 

10,000 hotspots in five years
Telecom plans 10,000 wi-fi hotpots within five years, the Telecom Retail CEO told NBR ONLINE.

Some will come through partnerships - though more likely through partners who can bring an asset like property or resource consent to the table rather than being an existing wi-fi network operator.

The current roll-out is focused on Auckland, but Wellington, Christchurch and other areas will be included as hotspot numbers increase from 700 to around 2000 in the next year or so (see coverage map here; Telecom says the industrial-strength wi-fi signal can be picked up from up to 80m away; speed is dependent on distance. The wi-fi on most of the phoneboxes is connected to Telecom's network by VDSL - the fastest type of copper).

Mr Quin says the initiative was borne out of the Christchurch quakes, when a Telecom team improvised with wi-fi. It was later developed by the company's new skunk works (or "lean incubator-style business unit" as the company calls it), Telecom Digital Ventures, who experimented with it in holiday areas last Christmas.

"Substantial investment"
The Telecom Retail CEO tells NBR the company is making "a substantial investment" in the wi-fi network, but would not detail a number.

The company is using kit from US company Ruckus Wireless. The Ruckus ZoneFlex 7762 - spied on some phoneboxes by NBR - sells for between $US1500 and $US1999 a piece, suggesting the hardware side of things will cost around $4 million over the next 12 months - a modest outlay relative to the sums associated with the company's 4G cellular network upgrade.

Telecom says the wi-fi network is a step toward a single integrated cellular, wi-fi and fibre network (see email to Gen-i customers below). For now, there's no seamless switching between networks and a single bill, but Mr Quin touts the fact many Telecom customers get the wi-fi free, and that the service (like any wi-fi network) can remember your logon details, so you should only have to sign in once. 

Commercialising Telecom's phonebox wi-fi network: email to Gen-i customers spills the beans

Sept 27: An email to customers of Telecom's Gen-i services division appears to spill the beans on its wi-fi announcement, scheduled for tomorrow morning.

It says from mid-October, customers on other networks (Vodafone, 2degrees) will have to pay  a flat fee of $9.95 per month to access Telecom's phonebox-based wi-fi network, which has been so far free to all comers.

In May, NBR revealed Telecom had signed a deal with US company Ruckus Wireless to expand its wi-fi-on-phoneboxes programme from holiday spots to around 3000 phoneboxes in main centres.

The rollout takes advantage of the fact that while phone boxes are little used today, they provide a handy, already resource consented location to install wi-fi transmitters. 

At Telecom's recent annual result, announced August 23, CEO Simon Moutter said Telecom would eventually commercialise the wi-fi network, and possibly use it to offload data from its cellular network (and the email below raises the promise of an integrated network).

Mr Moutter said 130,000 customers had registered use the wi-fi network.

The email, forwarded to NBR by an industry insider, reads:

Dear x

As a valued Gen-i client, I thought I would give you a heads up on some very good news being announced by Telecom tomorrow.

Telecom has confirmed plans to rapidly expand and commercialise the extensive national WiFi network that started as a free trial for the summer holidays shortly before Christmas last year. WiFi will be offered free to all Telecom mobile customers on pay-monthly plans, as well as those on $19 and $29 prepaid packs. From mid-October, customers of other mobile networks and visitors to New Zealand will be charged a flat fee of just $9.95 per month to access the WiFi network.

This of course means that Gen-i clients on the Telecom Smartphone Network will have free access to WiFi.

By leveraging free Telecom WiFi, you and your team will be able to make your mobile data go further, and stay seamlessly connected via smartphone, tablet or laptop anywhere, anytime - at no additional cost.

In fact you’ll have access to an additional 1GB of data via our WiFi network per day, per connection.

I also anticipate that the off loading of data consumption onto WiFi will contribute to an ongoing superior mobile network speed and performance experience for you and your team.

But it doesn’t end there. Tomorrow’s WiFi announcement is just one significant step forward in the development of an integrated network of fibre, 3G, 4G and WiFi that will deliver the rich, relevant, real-time experiences and instant access to information your customers and staff increasingly expect.

I encourage you and your team to register for free Telecom WiFi today, if you haven’t already. You only need to register a device once, and you will then automatically connect to a Telecom hotspot whenever that device is within range, and has WiFi turned on.

A complete list of hotspots and more information on registration can be found on Telecom’s website:

Kind regards
Tim Miles
CEO, Gen-i

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