Simon Moutter is a man in a hurry. Spark New Zealand's managing director wants to build a next generation mobile network before the world arrives in Auckland for the America's Cup.

Spark has signed as the official telecommunications partner for the Emirates New Zealand team and for the event.

It is an important showcase for the nation and Moutter wants us to put our best foot forward. When it comes to telecommunications that means a 5G mobile network.

Although the races are not due to start until 2020, Moutter faces a daunting timetable.


Spark will need to install and test new network equipment and put new systems in place.

In some cases, it could mean new mobile towers, or adding sites to existing buildings.

But the engineering is not the biggest obstacle. Before any of that can begin, Spark needs to find more wireless spectrum.

Moutter says: "You can't move 5G unless you have the spectrum resources to do it.

"That process is controlled by MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment). It controls the spectral allocation choices and then, depending on how they choose to do it, runs the spectrum sale or auction process.

"MBIE has always done an excellent job of planning and allocation.

"I don't doubt it will do it again. We just need that moved along swiftly," he says.

The process could be complicated by the potential entry of a fourth bidder alongside Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. Then there are possible Māori claims.


"We understand those and the politics and the thing to get round that, and we need an outcome, we need a decision taken, and it can't be a long way away, because we need that spectrum to get going and we want to be up late 2019, early 2020 because we've got an America's Cup event to run and that should be 5G-enabled," he says.

The Cup is an ideal event to showcase the potential of 5G networks. Moutter says installing a 5G network around Auckland's harbour would be relatively easy and the high-tech boats lend themselves to the project. "They are great examples of how you could use 5G technology to enhance the experience.

"Grant Dalton will be dying to get 5G technology of those boats as a competitive advantage to get ready."

Spark isn't just interested in appealing to the competitors.

Moutter says: "You're going to have tens of thousands of competitors on the headlands and actually out in the water. They're all going to be on their phones wanting to follow the race.

"We obviously pipe up Eden Park for a big test match with extra kit, we've got to do the same for the Cup."

The America's Cup project is part of Spark's strategy of moving away from being a mere telecommunications company towards being a full digital services provider.

Moutter says Spark's connectivity anchors this approach, but it's no longer only about voice, these days moving data is far more important.

He says digital services are typically delivered by global giants like Netflix.

"They are exemplars in customer experience.

"If you're going to compete, even if it's Lightbox alongside Netflix, our strategy is always 'as well as'. You'll never beat them but to get to be usable you've got to at least approach their standards", he says.

This is why Moutter and Spark have invested so much in the Agile approach to working.

He says most of the big companies he is up against work that way. It means moving faster, improving quality and putting the customer at the centre of everything.

The Huawei relationship

Earlier this year Spark worked with Huawei in Wellington to demonstrate 5G mobile technology. The trial was a success. Last month, across the Tasman, the Australian Government formalised a ban that stops Huawei and other Chinese equipment makers from building that country's 5G network. Is the relationship now at risk?

Moutter says Australia's move makes him nervous.

"Huawei are our best provider of technology. They are the best in this type of technology and they are an excellent provider. They deliver consistently on time and on budget.

"We want them to remain a significant vendor. So we're trying to find the right way forward with our GCSB and making sure Huawei can stay in the mix and in an area where it isn't too sensitive", he says.

Though Huawei is shut out from Australia and the US, Spark's approach is closer to what is happening in the UK. Moutter says though there is no evidence of Huawei having back doors, or spying on traffic anywhere in the world, Spark will take a pragmatic approach.

He says the company will use the UK's testing system to verify Huawei products before they are used in the network.

Simon Moutter's Big Issues

Top three issues facing the nation

Addressing infrastructure deficits

Addressing climate change

Addressing social inequality (both real and perceived)

Biggest achievement past 12 months
First telco in the world to go all-in with Agile ways of working.

Biggest regret past 12 months None!

Top three business priorities for the next 12 months?
Digitisation and automation advancement
New ways of working (Agile)
Set up for next wave of mobile technology (5G)

Single biggest factor that would assist Spark to remain internationally competitive from New Zealand?
Early allocation and auctioning of 5G mobile spectrum by the Government.