Friday Fry Up: Virtual retail service providers in NZ, Conspicuous (Wi-Fi) consumption, Online acceleration, Ask the tech minister

Friday Fry Up is Computerworld New Zealand’s weekly look at the world of IT.

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Virtual retail service providers in NZ

Freshly minted retail service provider (RSP) YelloHalo has ambitious growth plans: 20,000 subscribers in a year. That’s about what Stuff Fibre achieved before it was sold to Vocus earlier this year—and that business was marketed via one of the most visited websites ( in the country.

YelloHalo’s unique selling point is that 100% of its profits will go to frontline ambulance staff, which it says makes it the first charity broadband provider in New Zealand.

Aside from its ambitious sales target (apparently 20,000 subscribers will enable the organisation to donate $1 million), both YelloHalo and Stuff Fibre are effectively virtual businesses that use (or used to, since the sale Stuff Fibre is migrating onto the Vocus network) Devoli to provide the network services.

Devoli sits between the wholesale providers—Chorus, UltraFast Fibre, Enable Networks, and Northpower—and the RSP (YelloHalo, in this case). Devoli CEO Karl Rosnell says it has 400 customers across New Zealand and Australia that “support tens of thousands of internet users”. Among them is Contact Energy.

It can do this in New Zealand because our telco sector is structurally separated when it comes to fibre and copper. Meaning you can’t own a fibre or copper network and be a retailer at the same time (telco-watchers will recall this is why Telecom had to separate into two companies, Chorus and Spark, about a decade ago).

YelloHalo CEO Graeme Blake says it isn’t providing fixed wireless services because it “is tapping into the government-backed Ultra Fast Fibre (UFB) network rather than using legacy telco networks.” Fair enough, but it may also be because fixed wireless networks are not regulated in the same way as the UFB is.

Good luck to YelloHalo —getting 20,000 New Zealanders to sign on, even for a good cause, is a tough ask. Stuff Fibre got customers by being part of a website that attracted 2.1 million visitors a month. So what is YelloHalo’s marketing plan? “As you will understand, given the competitive nature of the industry, I am unable to share this information for commercial reasons. However, I can tell you that YelloHalo is unlike any other provider in New Zealand. We offer two things: world-class broadband, and a great way for Kiwis to give back to their community heroes,” Blake says.

Will those be enough?

Conspicuous (Wi-Fi) consumption

Mention of networks, this week’s CIO New Zealand feature on Network for Learning (N4L) highlights what a huge undertaking providing Wi-Fi to about 2,450 schools is. Especially as network consumption continues to rise, although COVID-19 did put the brakes on this year, as this graph demonstrates.

n4l data 2013-2020 N4L

Data consumption using N4L’s managed network: percentage change year on year.

As parents of school-aged children are no doubt aware, during the nationwide lockdown students missed between 25 and 27 days of at-school learning in 2020. While in the Auckland August lockdown, Auckland school children (about a third of the entire New Zealand roll) missed another 13 days of at-school learning.

Online acceleration

And mention of the lockdowns is a reminder that stories about digital acceleration continue to emerge from that time. The latest is from BNZ Bank General Manager for Customer Connection Bridgette Dalzell, who was speaking at an Amazon Web Services event in Auckland this week. She says the lockdowns pushed the older demographic online—prior to COVID, about 20 customers aged 70+ years became digitally active a month, while post-COVID that number shot up to 1,700 a month.

Dalzell also announced the bank has moved its contact centre function, which supports 800 staff, from on-premises to Amazon Connect, and has tapped into AWS’s broader portfolio of cloud services, including machine learning, to develop a unique Amazon Polly brand voice called Āwhina.

Dalzell says the executive sponsor on the project is Russell Jones, BNZ’s executive general manager of technology and operations, who in August detailed the bank’s multicloud transformation to CIO New Zealand.

Ask the tech minister

Tech wasn’t a topic alighting much interest in the lead up to the general election, beyond the National party’s doomed campaign (its tech policy was launched twice by its leader). But NZ Tech is now looking to catch the attention of David Clark, ostensibly the new minister for tech with portfolios that include digital economy and communication and statistics.

The group, which represents 20 tech associations, this week released its briefing to incoming ministers. Much of it is not new, with calls for a national AI strategy, a boost to ICT education, and an increase in government-backed R&D funding for software development, all very familiar.

There was however a new twist on an old theme: the desire by the tech sector to be taken seriously by government. NZ Tech is proposing that a technology branch be established within the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, and that in the next 100 days the new minister launches a ‘Digital NZ Diagnostic’. The latter appears to be a stock-take of the tech sector—or, if you will, a ‘stock-tech’.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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