Skinny Mobile launches urban 4G wireless broadband service
A new broadband battle has begun in New Zealand's urban centres with the launch of a 4G prepaid wireless internet service.
Skinny Mobile, a prepay-only subsidiary of telecommunications giant Spark, today launches Skinny Broadband, which it describes as a "game-changing" service giving New Zealanders their best priced 60GB broadband plan at $55 per month.
Instead of being delivered through copper or fibre optic cables Skinny uses Spark's 4G network to deliver wireless broadband into homes and workplaces - the same network used for Spark and Skinny's 4G mobile coverage.
Internet service providers already offer 4G wireless broadband to rural areas under the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative but this is the first time a provider has offered 4G wireless broadband to urban centres throughout New Zealand.
Skinny broadband customers could expect broadband speeds similar to 4G mobile, which should be faster than standard copper ADSL broadband but slower than ultra fast fibre.
Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Craig Young said by using Spark's 4G towers Skinny were cutting telecommunications infrastructure providers such as Chorus out of the loop.
"If they're using their 4G mobile network they're not paying Chorus or the fibre companies for access so they've got complete control," Young said.
However, Spark's 4G network could slow down if it became congested from too many users.
"As they load their mobile network up the performance will start to degrade.
"The only way to overcome that is to build more cellphone towers."
By releasing the service through Skinny, Spark were "dipping their toes in the water" to see what the take up was like and what the affect it had on the network.
While Skinny broadband may not suit gamers or people wanting unlimited data could be a "game changing" service for lower usage customers so long as the 4G network did not get overloaded, he said.
Skinny Mobile general manager Ross Parker said the service would be available in areas using the Spark 4G network but internet speeds would vary between customers.
"It's dependent on exactly where you are in the network but we're not providing it in areas where we don't think we've got a speed that's reliable and fast," Parker said.
Skinny has had a select number of customers trialling the product since December 1.
To connect users needed to buy a $199 modem. Set up took less than 5 minutes and no technician or external antennas were required.
Being prepaid customers were not locked into a contract and could skip months at their discretion.
If a customer used all 60GB in a month, they could buy an extra 10GB for $20. Unused data is not carried over to the following month.
Spark spokeswoman Lucy Fullarton said Spark would watch how things went with Skinny broadband as it decided what to offer next in the 4G market.
"We're very keen to use our big investment in new 4G technology to bring better services to New Zealanders," Fullarton said.
Spark has a range of broadband plans available starting at $69.99 for 80GB on an ADSL connection without a landline.
Vodafone head of consumer marketing Zac Summers said it offered 4G mobile broadband via pocket wi-fi devices which create a portable wi-fi zone using Vodafone's mobile network and allowed several devices to share a secure internet connection.
The devices started from $49 or were free with a 12 month contract.
Wireless Nation general manager Andy Derleth said it already offered 4G rural broadband services and was looking at the feasibility of providing urban 4G services.
Three years ago it launched an urban wireless line of sight service in central Auckland where apartment dwellers and hotels could get ultra fast broadband if they could see the top of Wireless Nation's towers from their window, and were within one kilometre.
The service costs $79 per month for unlimited data on a 6 month contract.
2degrees did not respond to questions regarding 4G broadband.