New Zealanders Jump On the Mobile Bandwagon

New Zealanders are getting wired. Cellphone supplier figures show a marked increase in the number of people signing up for mobile phones.

According to Vodafone Group PLC's Managing Director John Rohan, six times as many people are signing up for phones every day since it bought BellSouth Corp. last November.

In those eight months, he says, mobile penetration in New Zealand has risen from 19 percent to around 24 percent, this is still well behind Australia where penetration is at 35 percent.

Reasons behind the mobile growth are likely to include Vodafone's high-profile presence -- the company had 96 percent brand awareness in a recent survey, says Rohan -- and lower prices for both handsets and calls for the consumer market. Not all of the growth has been in Vodafone sales, he says, "but we've had a good share of them".

Angus Barclay, Telecom New Zealand financial communications manager, will not give precise figures on Telecom's mobile sales but agrees that growth has "just rocketed".

Prepaid phones have made mobiles more accessible, says Rohan.

Robert Forman, Dick Smith managing director, says he can't give specific figures for commercial reasons, but the market has been buoyant. "There's been a lot more connections than last year, particularly in the past month," he said. "June was particularly good because of both companies advertising promotions and bundling entry-level (prepaid phones) with cards."

The growth is in the consumer market, he says, with buyers "gravitating to prepaid."

The future, however, lies in data as much as in voice and Vodafone is preparing its systems for WAP (wireless application protocol) technology.

Vodafone is also spending NZ$200 million (US$105 million [M]) on upgrading its network. The next step will be the use of WAP technology with Nokia 9110 and 7110 phones. "The likes of SMS and upd@te (Vodafone's "push" technology which can send GSM phone users their horoscopes, weather or stock updates) are going well and I think that'll raise demand for data services. The 7110, with its mousing button, will really start to see phone-based Web browsing take off," says Rohan.

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