The broadband wars are heating up again, with Skinny offering six months' free for any new customer who signs up for a 12-month fixed connection.
Skinny - the budget brand fully owned by Spark - says the deal applies to any of its fixed broadband plans. If you plump for Skinny's fastest unlimited data plan, Ultra Fibre, you'll save up to $588, the company says.
The telco is pitching it as a lockdown boredom buster as we enter day 61 of the latest Covid restrictions.
"Thrill-seekers can watch and re-watch Squid Game season 1 on Netflix 541 times or keep aimlessly scrolling through their favourite memes non-stop for 182 days," Skinny says.
But beneath the Squid fun, there are some more serious industry trends in play.
The new Skinny deal comes as Spark seeks to rejuvenate its broadband market share, and faces possible sharper competition with a 2degrees-Orcon Group merger on the table.
At its full-year result briefing in August, Spark said broadband revenue fell 1.5 per cent to $670 million as the total number of connections fell from 709,000 to 701,000 - which it said was due primarily to increased competition in the market and slower overall growth as borders remained shut.
Spark's not-for-profit broadband product Skinny Jump was also impacted by some capacity constraints "We proactively manage the number of wireless broadband customers we have by location, to ensure all customers have a good user experience on our network. During the year we discovered that some areas of need are at capacity. To remedy this, we are prioritising the rollout of our 5G network in these areas," Spark said in its annual report.
At the same time, Spark said it would accelerate spending on its 5G mobile network upgrade. With Vodafone also expanding its 5G rollout, and 2degrees' 5G upgrade now underway (though not yet live), all three mobile players are likely to go on the front foot with fixed-wireless deals during 2022.
The other major pending development is the merger of the mobile-heavy 2degrees with the broadband-heavy Orcon Group (the newly rebranded NZ arm of the transtasman Vocus Group, which includes Orcon, Slingshot, Flip and Stuff Fibre in its stable, as well as a wholesale operation that provisions Sky Broadband).
If the two sides can agree terms, then competition law experts tell the Herald the merger is as good as a done deal - because the combined 2degrees-Orcon should benefit consumers by providing stronger competition across the board to market leaders Spark and Vodafone.
While talks continue, the industry's possible new coupling have continued to be on the front foot, even if their respective IPO plans are now on pause. 2degrees has its 5G upgrade, while Orcon is pressing from Hyperfibre at the high-end, and in the mainstream with its six months' free Slingshot broadband deal for frontline and essential workers, including the likes of supermarket workers and bus drivers.
We could potentially see a perk-up from the smaller internet provider MyRepublic too - which operates across Singapore (where it was founded), Australia and New Zealand.
On September 22, top-tier Singapore telco StarHub took a 50.1 per cent stake in MyRepublic for S$163m ($167m) and agreed to refinance $74m in debt. A possible S$92m earn-out is part of the deal.
That should pep things up for a player that entered the NZ market with a splash, but has more recently been in hot water with the Commerce Commission - which recently fined MyRepublic for dragging its heals with paperwork.
And if you're out of reach of fibre or fixed, Elon Musk's Starlink has become an option for Kiwis (read the mixed early reviews here).
The bottom line: broadband price wars will only intensify in the year ahead.
Spark shares closed at $4.66 on Friday. The stock is down 1.06 per cent for the year.