Vodafone New Zealand's new owners have officially taken control today - promising a more nimble operation while still having access to Vodafone's technology and global roaming (though some of the gloss was knocked off the latter with a 40 per cent roaming price rise last month).
CEO Jason Paris hit the ground running, announcing a 5G network launch in Auckland Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown in December - giving Vodafone a jump on rivals Spark and 2degrees, who are mired in Huawei's political troubles. Nokia Networks will be its technology partner as revealed by the Herald yesterday.
More than 100 cell sites will be upgraded to 5G by December - plus another 20 COWS (cell sites on wheels) will be deployed with 5G. COWS are typically used around sports events or concerts, or in holiday areas.
Another 400 or so cellsites will get a souped-up version of 4G called 4.9G (marked by some telcos offshore as "5G").
Other areas will get 5G "over the next few years."
To use 5G, you'll need a smartphone that supports the technology. Samsung's flagship Galaxy S10 series is among the few that already does. Apple recently bought Intel's 5G business, indicating that it the technology could be added to its next iPhone - though maybe not until next year's model.
Spark says it will over its first 5G service from July 1 next year.
2degrees has yet to set a timeline, though its new boss Mark Aue has indicated he's in no hurry.
Vodafone also announced a number of early customers: NZ Police, BNZ, Auckland's Rescue Helicopter and Waste Management.
The telco will utilise 3.5GHz spectrum it already owns while it waits for the Crown's spectrum auction, which has been delayed by an iwi claim.
At launch, there will be no extra charges for existing Vodafone customers. A premium is possible for new customers down the track (it could hinge, in part, on how quickly Spark and 2degrees catch up).
5G (see chart below) offers many times the speed of today's 4G mobile networks and none of the lag that can undermine data-intensive two-way communications like video calls under 4G.
Before the Infratil deal, Paris questioned whether 5G was worth the investment at a time when customers were not likely to pay more for 5G plans. A hologram call demo at today's 5G launch was impressive (bar a brief audio glitch blamed on an old 2G phoned used as a prop) but hardly an example of workaday utility.
Vodafone says its early customers, including emergency devices and Waste Management, show the technology's more practical appeal.
NZX-listed Infratil - best known for its infrastructure and utility assets such as Wellington Airport and its half-share in Trustpower - teamed with Canada's Brookfield Asset Management to buy Vodafone's NZ operation for $3.4 billion.
Paris remains in charge of management, while Infratil chief executive Marko Bogoievski (Telecom CFO during the 2000s) will head the telco's board.
The company will continue to use the Vodafone brand under licence.
Paris and Marko Bogoievski say they plan to accelerate Vodafone NZ's push into "fixed wireless" or using the company's 4G mobile network - instead of a landline - to deliver broadband into a home.
And both say they're open to shared infrastructure builds to save money - opening the way to Vodafone NZ potentially working cooperatively with Spark and 2degrees as the three telcos embark on 5G mobile network upgrades.
Paris also has plans to boost the profile and market share of Vodafone TV.
Earlier this week, Vodafone NZ CFO turned new 2degrees boss Mark Aue told the Herald "it will be interesting to see how it goes after the parental handcuffs are taken off."
• Vodafone's 'secret 5G rollout'
Paris - who earlier bemoaned his company was the last in NZ to offer an unlimited data mobile plan says we'll see faster rollouts of new products.
The ownership change comes on the heels of a sweeping restructure that saw some staff culled and roles outsourced to Indian-owned Tech Mandra.
The restructure was originally designed to whip the company into shape for an NZX listing in early 2020.
But while the company is now going private instead, Paris said the changes were necessary in any case to make the company more efficient and free up cash to invest in new technologies.