Pat Pilcher: ISPs launch slew of services

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Competition between ISPs in New Zealand is heating up - with Slingshot's latest offering allowing its customers access to geo-blocked content. Image / Thinkstock
Competition between ISPs in New Zealand is heating up - with Slingshot's latest offering allowing its customers access to geo-blocked content. Image / Thinkstock

Being an internet service provider isn't easy. Not only do your customers want faster and cheaper broadband but competition can only be described as intense.

With every ISP claiming to offer the fastest, cheapest and shiniest internet access in New Zealand, standing out from the crowd can be bit of a mission. Several ISPs have decided to play it smarter and have launched some innovative stuff that they hope will give them an edge over competitors.

Slingshot have launched a Global Access capability which allows Slingshot customers to access geo-locked content such as the US TV show streaming site, Hulu or the BBCs iPlayer service in the UK. Not to be outdone, Orcon have also launched Genius Go, a mobile app that lets Orcon Broadband owners use their mobile as if it were their landline. Telecom is tapping into techies on Gekzone.co.nz to crowd-source the specifications of their latest broadband router.

Slingshot users can get set up with global mode by logging into their Slingshot Account and clicking a checkbox.

Even though the service is being touted for visitors to New Zealand, Slingshot isn't checking if you're a visitor or a kiwi, so getting access to previously unreachable online services is now seamless for content starved Slingshot customers.

According to Slingshot GM, Scott Page, the lack of decent local online content spurred Slingshot into action.

"We're always looking for opportunities to innovate and differentiate - it is one of our core values as a business - This product launch addresses one specific problem (broadband experience of travellers), but we also hope it does creates some industry and community discussion about the services available to New Zealanders from overseas. There is a real lack of over-the-top content services in New Zealand and I can't help feeling that New Zealanders miss out as a result. It's exciting to hear that English Premier League will soon be available in New Zealand as a streaming service - services like this have been available overseas for some time, however not in New Zealand."

Slingshot have also indicted that they will zero-rate broadband traffic for streamed English premier league to their customers, so Slingshot football fans won't blow-out data allowances watching footy.

At the moment, Slingshot are the only NZ ISP offering global access capabilities, but they were not the first. Last year ISP Maxnet launched a global mode. Even though their legal people gave the service the all-clear, Maxnet's owner shut down global mode capabilities amidst concerns around possible issues with offshore content providers.

Either way, Slingshot customers can now get their fix of US or UK TV legally; thanks to seamless access to offshore streamed content. Best of all they won't have to pay for a bunch of channels they don't want or need from Sky or waiting months for shows to materialise on TVNZ or TV3?

Orcon haven't been idle either, having just launched Genius Go which is a mobile app for iPhones and Android hardware that allows Orcon customers to use their smartphones as if they were a landline.

Getting set up with Genius go is also pretty straight forward. Download the genius Go app from the Apple App store or Google Play, and follow some basic steps to link it to your home phone number. Calls to your landline number will also ring on your mobile, and calls from your mobile are routed through your landline. The big bonus however is that Genius Go calls are made at landline rates - so for Orcon customers, local and national landline calls can be free and they get the added benefit of having their landline phone in their pockets or purses.

In addition to mobile landline phones, Orcon have also added in a few extra bells and whistles in the form of instant messaging and the ability to see if other fellow Genius Go users are online. Orcon have also added a 3G data usage meter, and say there's more to come.

The Genius Go app uses mobile data to make and receive calls, Orcon CEO, Greg McAlister is confident that this won't add a huge amount to costs:

"Voice actually uses a tiny amount of data. Approx 0.36MB per minute. It's not uncommon to have a 1GB or 500MB data allowance on a basic plan these days, so we are pretty sure people can save a few bob."

Adding a mobile voice capability isn't just innovative, it also makes considerable commercial sense for Orcon who also offer a mobile service by allowing them to bundle up mobile, broadband and calling into a single packaged offering.

Data consumption in New Zealand continues to grow at an explosive rate, roughly doubling year-on-year as kiwis use the internet for a wider range of increasingly diverse purposes at home and on the go. This compares starkly to a decade ago when 56k dial-up was considered fast and most people used the net to access web pages and check email. Today the internet is one of the biggest tools for staying in touch via social media, catching music and TV via streaming services, and online gaming.

This is all good news for internet service providers whose wares play an increasingly central part in the lives of kiwis. The news isn't however quite so great for traditional media services as they struggle to remain relevant as a growing number of people move to online alternatives. TV broadcasters have struggled to attract viewers as downloading shows became increasingly easier and the plight of the music industry is also well known.

Either way there is no sign of this trend slowing down as increasingly fast broadband connectivity such as VDSL and fibre becomes more widely available and a second high capacity international link out of New Zealand makes for an increasingly faster experience as the array of digital alternatives to traditional media grows at an explosive rate.

Now that both Slingshot and Orcon have upped the innovation ante the big question is will other ISPs follow by bringing increasingly innovative offerings to market in a bid to retain and acquire customers?

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