Switch to XT may leave gaps in coverage

Some people in remote areas may end up in cellphone dead zones when Telecom shuts down its CDMA mobile phone network as planned at the end of next month.

Telecom announced a year ago that it would shut down the network at the end of July, after which all customers will need phones that can run on its newer XT network.

Telecom reported in February that 300,000 customers had used the CDMA network in December but spokeswoman Jo Jalfron said usage had declined since then and retail chief executive Alan Gourdie said there would no last-minute reprieve.

Ray Taylor, manager of Napier broadband provider Taylor Communications, said he knew quite a few people in Hawke's Bay who were within range of the CDMA network but not XT.

"Every so often I'll come across a customer when I'm setting up a radio dish for them who live on the fringes of cellphone coverage and will mention it to me in passing.

"There might be a room in their house where they get perfect CDMA coverage, but to get XT coverage or Vodafone, they have to drive a kilometre up the driveway to the road and stand on one leg."

Ms Jalfron said that, overall, the coverage of its XT network was more extensive than that of its CDMA network.

"However, no two mobile networks will match exactly in terms of coverage.

"If there are any individual customers experiencing coverage problems then we encourage them to get in touch with us through our website or on 123," she said.

Mr Gourdie said Telecom had been heavily advertising the CDMA closure for a year. "The campaign has proved very successful and we're comfortable with migration numbers.

"Our in-store reps have noticed a spike in customers visiting our stores to replace their CDMA mobile over the past few weeks indicating final customers are now realising it's time to migrate."

People with outstanding pre-pay balances on their CDMA phone when the network closes would have until October to transfer that to an XT phone or get a refund, Ms Jalfron said.

Federated Farmers telecommunications spokesman Anders Crofoot said he would not be surprised if some people found they could connect to CDMA but not XT.

But he said XT was the better network and he did not believe there would be much value in keeping the CDMA network beyond July.

"The important thing is they expand the overall coverage which is easier to do if you are supporting one technology and not two.

"As technology moves on, people are finding all sorts of uses for smartphones and the lack of coverage in rural areas gets a lot more frustrating," he said.

Vodafone was extending its mobile network as a result of the Government's $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative, but would build only two more cellphone towers in the Wairarapa as a result of the initiative, he said.

Federated Farmers had suggested that the money the Government raised from selling off radio spectrum for next-generation 4G mobile networks this year or next could be funnelled back into improving rural mobile coverage, or that conditions attached to the auction could achieve the same result, he said.