Kaiteriteri firm loses cell callers

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 13:00 06/01/2014

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A Kaiteriteri business owner is frustrated by dropped calls and a lack of Telecom mobile service at the busiest time of the year for his business.

Martin Holmes, the owner of Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures, said that since Christmas he has had difficulty getting through to customers on his Telecom mobile phone and has also had problems with an online booking system.

It had been "incredibly frustrating and difficult", he said, and he had heard the same thing from others in Kaiteriteri, making him believe the problem was with the network, not his individual devices.

At the Kaiteriteri Beach Motor camp, Kaiteriteri Reserve manager Rob Guild said several campers had complained about phone reception issues recently but he had not experienced any issues with his Telecom mobile service.

Debbie Smith from Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles said the problems had been going on since last week and that, based on last year's experience, she expected them to continue for another week or so.

She said that when her receptionists were out of the office, incoming phone calls were transferred to their Telecom mobile phones and missed and dropped calls happened "all the time. It's just part of life around here".

She could not quantify what the problem might be costing in missed business, and said it was more an inconvenience for staff. She said the only solution was to note the incoming phone number and to return the call from a landline.

She had noticed that the problems seemed most acute on the nights of the concerts at the Riwaka Hotel, when up to 2000 young people could be updating their social media from the venue.

When Mr Holmes contacted Telecom, the customer service representative told him to reboot his devices by turning them off and on again.

"But it's not just my phone. It's my wife's phone and it's the T-stick in the computer [to access mobile broadband] as well.

"I feel a bit aggrieved by Telecom. We had the same issue last year and they've had 12 months to do something about it. The mobile system is not coping.

"Last year it was a bit garbled but this year you'll dial a number but it won't go through or you'll get half way through a call and then it gets dropped."

On New Year's Eve Mr Holmes had his catamaran anchored at Adele Island, a place where he has not has problems with reception before, but was unable to make any calls, meaning he could not connect with clients for the following day, he said.

On Friday his wife was talking to Telecom about trying to get a landline installed so that they could contact customers.

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Last new year Telecom mobile customers throughout the upper half of the South Island experienced garbled phone reception that made it sound as if they were talking underwater.

Telecom at first speculated the problems may have been exacerbated by higher than usual traffic over the holiday period but later traced the problems to a piece of faulty hardware at a Christchurch exchange tower.

Telecom communications manager Holly Wilkinson said on Friday that it did not appear there was a fault at Kaiteriteri but that it was experiencing "heavy mobile traffic congestion" typical of hotspots nationwide.

"We apologise for any disruption to customers during the holiday period when congestion on the network was experienced in the Nelson region and Kaiteriteri."

She said Telecom engineers had tried to expand capacity at holiday hotspots by looking at traffic volumes from a year ago.

They had forecast increased demand of about treble the level of last year's holiday spikes but traffic had been about six times the volume of 12 months ago.

"The congestion was caused by an explosion in the use of mobile devices" with peaks in traffic occurring on December 30 and 31, with flow-on effects on January 1, she said.

Where people may have formerly texted new year's greetings, this year they were more likely to use Snapchat or similar apps that were much heavier users of data.

She said that although Telecom had tried to accommodate the increased demand, it was difficult to predict what people's use might be, and at places such as the Coromandel Peninsula, Gisborne, Northland, and Nelson, there had been reports of dropped calls and text messages taking several hours to arrive.

She said traffic was beginning to return to normal levels.

She had talked to a network engineer on Friday morning who said data use was peaking near the Bombay Hills south of Auckland.

Telecom's theory was not that drivers were texting but that kids in the back seat were likely to be using mobile devices as their families returned home from the holidays.

She said "dozens of holiday regions, including the Tasman and Nelson region, have had increased mobile capacity enhancements made" to accommodate summer demand but she was unable to specify what those improvements were for Kaiteriteri as the relevant employees were on holiday until January 13.

Mr Holmes said the problem was a double-edged one. "It is good that there are so many people in Kaiteriteri at the moment but it is a shame that the network does not seem to be able to handle all those visitors."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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