Recently the XT network failed. BIG time.  If I was more Internet savvy I might even say “EPIC FAIL” or something similarity poignant.  But I am not, so I won’t.

Anyway, this isn’t the first time it happened, with a similar (albeit slightly shorter outage) of a day in late 2009.

But before I talk about this, I would like to give some (brief) background on where I think the NZ mobile space stands, in particular reference to Telecom and their XT network.

In nutshell, until VERY recently, with the arrival of 2 Degrees Mobile, NZ has had duopoly with Telecom (on CDMA) and Vodafone (with a GSM network).  The VERY short version of this is that until Telecom bit the bullet and upgraded their network they have had an inferior network, with inferior handsets, and most certainly an image problem of “not cool” (I think this is partly coz they are the old “Government department” and also because their product was worse).

Anyway .. XT fixed that, and some.  It was FASTER (way way faster) for data.  Used sim cards (about time) meaning phones were as good as, if not better than the Vodafone offering, and had 3G coverage in 97% of NZ (far better than Vodafone – they claim similar high 90s coverage – but lots of that isn’t 3G).  XT runs the iPhone WAY better than Voda (see my tests here), even though Telecom don’t officially support/sell it. They kept flogging a dead horse (CDMA) for WAY to long IMHO.

So, the upshot is, XT rocks!  Data superior to anything else on offer, and great new handsets.  Well yeah, kinda, except for the outages.

You see I don’t know if Telecom quite realise the damage they have done, nor the time it will take to repair it.  A couple of major outages for extended periods (and in mobile terms extended is anything more than 20 minutes) causes one to question reliability.  And the last thing Telecom wants is large businesses thinking “We COULD go with Telecom, but I wonder if it will work OK”.  If one was reviewing mobile needs right now and things were comparable price wise (and they normally are) with say Voda and Telecom, then one would be hard pressed NOT to go with Voda.  That only needs to happen a few times to a few big customers (and all of these customers do their homework, assessing risk, pros, cons etc).  Of course it’s very difficult to quantify this, since it will be just one of the many factors businesses will make their decision on, but one thing is certain – it will be a factor.  (I do acknowledge it won’t really hit the consumer market much, not having a phone for a day or two is a pain, but not the deal breaker – unless you are teenager I guess and need to text, I mean txt yr frnds abt the nw fone u hve got frm voda.  A good marketing plan will pick up consumer end customers easily enough.  But that’s not where the money is, and Telecom knows this.

Of course the only real test is time.  But that means for the next 12 mths at least XT has to be more or less perfect.  Even then people will still refer to this for sure.

UPDATE (30/1/10): I think XT rocks, I still do.  It may also be the cause of all this was hardware failure (Alcatel), so not quite the “Telecom screwed up” message.  But none of this changes the fact it will take a long time to build back trust in the network.

UPDATE 2 (1/2/10): Telecom got some stick for their 1st compensation (they gave free calls all weekend, and also credited equivalent of one days calls from the previous week).  Some say that’s too stingy (i.e. “give us $5 or $10 instead), but in fact I think that approach is VERY fair – heavy users get more credit, light users still get some (but less).  $10 may sound like a lot to many consumer users, but for some businesses users, that would be a fraction of what they might use in a day.  So the “credit x days from last week” is a fair approach.  Of course we can all debate on what the “x” should be!  The question for this outage wont just be free calls though, it will be “damages”.  Mind you, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for business users who say “I couldn’t work for 3 days” – ummm, get real!  Help yourself here -  go get a $2 sim from 2 degrees, throw it in your phone, and get Telecom to divert calls to that #.  I am sure Telecom will credit the diversion calls (if they don’t then that WOULD be a battle worth fighting!).

Black and White Version: The fall out from the XT network failures will be felt for years to come.

Hat Tip: I stole the idea of the new coverage map off Lance Wiggs, buy I re-gigged it.

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