The telco formerly known as Vodafone NZ wants coverage to be One less thing its customers have to worry about and thinks satellites are the answer.

Nick Wood

April 4, 2023

3 Min Read
One New Zealand satellite

The telco formerly known as Vodafone NZ wants coverage to be One less thing its customers have to worry about and thinks satellites are the answer.

On Monday the operator officially completed its rebranding to One New Zealand. To celebrate the occasion, it announced a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink that will enable it to offer direct-to-device (D2D) satellite coverage to 100 percent of the country.

Network uptime and emergency coverage is a hot topic in New Zealand these days, after the devastation wrought by cyclone Gabrielle left thousands of people across the country without any means of communication. In that scenario, a fully charged smartphone directly connected to a satellite would have offered a potentially life-saving comms link.

With this in mind, One NZ said it will offer free emergency voice connectivity over Starlink to anyone with a compatible handset, regardless of their network provider. It has allocated a chunk of its mid-band spectrum specifically for this service.

“The immediate communication issues experienced after cyclone Gabrielle will be confined to history. It will give our customers more freedom with 100 percent coverage across the country and means New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses are safer with us,” said One NZ CEO Jason Paris, in a statement.

“This technology will save people’s lives and should be available to all. One New Zealand is committed to making life better for every New Zealander,” he added.

In addition to improving public safety, Paris said the Starlink service will “revolutionise how businesses operate in sectors such as agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, tourism, forestry, transport and logistics; the private and public sector opportunities are endless.”

Indeed, today, One NZ’s network covers 98 percent of populated areas, but that amounts to just 50 percent of the country’s landmass.

“New Zealand is one of the most isolated and rugged countries in the world, which makes it an ideal use case for SpaceX’s direct to cell connectivity. We are excited to announce this collaboration with One New Zealand to bring cellular coverage across 100 percent of the country,” said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell.

There is a slight catch though. The service won’t go live until late 2024, and when it does become available it will only support text and MMS services – voice and data will arrive at an even later date.

The reason being, Starlink’s second-generation low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation hasn’t entered commercial service yet. It received the all-important nod from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the beginning of December, and the first satellites were in orbit by the end of that month.

As far as commercially-available products and services go then, this is still brand new technology. The first smartphone to offer D2D connectivity has only just come on the market, and Qualcomm announced six OEM partners for its Snapdragon Satellite chip as recently as February. So it’s not as if New Zealanders – or anyone else for that matter – are spoiled for choice when it comes to D2D services.

Nevertheless, One NZ customers hoping to try out direct-to-satellite for themselves will have to be patient for a little while longer.

 

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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