Spark's new move ignites the wrath of coastal customers

By Don Farmer -
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Bill Walker, (left) Karl Andrews and Jim Fine rely on their cellphones to keep in touch. Photo / Emily Norman
Bill Walker, (left) Karl Andrews and Jim Fine rely on their cellphones to keep in touch. Photo / Emily Norman

Attempts by Spark New Zealand to improve cellphone coverage at Ocean Beach in South Wairarapa have backfired according to residents.

Ocean Beach people claim they have lost all ability to use the 027 network since Spark relocated a cell tower, taking it from its Wharepapa Station location further inland to Wharekauhau Farm.

A three-man delegation to the Times-Age this week outlined problems the coastal area was facing as a result of the tower move that was designed to improve coverage.

Karl Andrews, who works for an earthmoving company, said nobody living in any of the 48 homes and baches in the remote coastal settlement could get proper 027 coverage.

"It was no trouble at all when the tower was on top of a ridge at Wharepapa," he said.

Bill Walker, a rural postman, said he had contacted Spark four or five times complaining about the lack of 027 coverage.

"I get the same answer every time - it's 'leave it to me' but nothing ever gets done.

"The fact they don't get back to us and let us know what's going on is the most frustrating part," he said.

Jim Fine lives in Wainuiomata but has a bach at Ocean Beach.

He said he stays at the bach for two or three weeks at a time, sometimes longer, and is not cut off from phone contact with people elsewhere.

"My wife had to go to hospital in the Hutt and people tried to contact me, but couldn't.
"There's no reception and we can't even use 111," he said.

The residents are worried about having to summon help in case of emergencies, especially as the area has a camping ground and cycle trials, along with the possibility of incidents at sea.

They believe the problem is not just restricted to Ocean Beach and that bach owners and householders further afield, including at Ngawi, are being denied cellphone reception.

Mr Andrew said they were concerned with the safety of all people in the coastal area.
"We want answers on how Spark is going to fix it,' he said.

Spark spokeswoman Leah Topp said Spark had to move the tower from Wharepapa to Wharekauhau because lease agreements for the land were due to expire.

"Whenever a tower is moved the coverage footprint is never quite the same.

"Due to the challenging terrain some of the residents at Ocean Beach may have experienced a reduction in coverage.

"Spark has been in regular contact with many of them about this," she said.

Ms Topp said at the same time as the tower move Spark "co-located "on the Palliser Bay RBI site, providing 4G coverage across Ngawi, Lake Ferry and Palliser Bay areas.

On July 12 it had adjusted the antenna on that RBI site to "optimise the 3G and 4G coverage" along the extreme western end of Ocean Beach and also the DoC campsite.

"We will be drive testing this to check coverage next week," she said

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