November 6, 2023
One New Zealand has agreed to acquire small cell provider UK-headquartered Dense Air’s local operation, a move that will bulk up its mid-band spectrum.
Under the deal, One NZ will get its hands on 2×35 MHz of 2600-MHz spectrum, which it plans to put to use in its 4G and 5G networks before the end of the year, significantly improving the performance of its fixed-wireless access (FWA) services. Dense Air has the rights to this spectrum for another five-and-a-half years, and so One NZ won’t have to worry about renewal until the end of 2028.
The acquisition is in line with One NZ’s network upgrade programme, under which it has either built or overhauled more than 500 4G and 5G sites over the last 18 months.
“Back in July we re-tuned the network leading to a 30% speed boost on 5G. Now we’re making our mobile experience even better by making this spectrum available to our customers,” said One NZ chief executive Jason Paris, in a statement.
“Connectivity is our core business and we’re committed to offering our customers a brilliant mobile experience,” he continued “Adding this new spectrum to our network, we’ll continue developing our awesome 5G network and get ready for next year’s launch of our SpaceX collaboration, providing coverage like never before for New Zealanders.”
The financial terms of the transaction were not divulged, but a One NZ filing with New Zealand’s competition watchdog, the Commerce Commission, lifts some of the fog that has been surrounding Dense Air’s Asia-Pacific business lately.
According to the redacted filing, Dense Air – which was bought by US-based Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) in late 2021 – conducted technology trials in New Zealand between 2018 and the end of 2022. During this time it also got its hands on 3.5-GHz 5G spectrum in exchange for investment and rollout commitments.
However, with the new parent came a flurry of new senior appointments and a stated intention to strengthen its focus on the US, in addition to the UK and Europe – no mention of Asia-Pacific though.
It is little wonder then that – according to One NZ’s filing – Dense Air never followed up its trials by launching commercial services. Furthermore, between March and June this year, Dense Air wound up its Kiwi operation entirely, laying off all staff, closing its facilities, and changing its contact address to its local legal representative.
The filing also states that Dense Air also recently agreed to sell its Australian operation to Telstra. Telecoms.com wasn’t able to dig up any official announcements, filings or even press reports about this particular transaction, and so we have contacted Telstra for confirmation.
There is a high degree of interest in neutral host providers at the moment, what with their ability to help public administrations and cost-conscious MNOs tackle challenging environments like high-rises, malls, stadiums, transport networks and so-on.
It is surprising then to learn that Dense Air has decided to throw in the towel in Asia-Pacific.
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