I really want this company to be a success. The guys who run it, Rod Inglis and Bob Smith are true entrepreneurs, ballsy and genuinely nice people to boot. And the world needs a hero like Woosh to save us from "the monopoly" ie: Telecom. But I fear for Woosh's future, not just because recapitalising the company may prove difficult with the lack of interest among potential new investors.
I fear for them because it's still unclear as to wether Woosh can profitably run a mass market service using the wireless technology it has selected. WiMax is still a little way away from widespread release and the equipment is still expensive but it threatens to change the game for the telecoms industry. A number of players are piling into WiMax here, which is bad news for Woosh which has had a three year headstart but is only now getting its commercial VoIP service off the ground.
Here's what telecoms analyst Paul Budde has to say about Woosh in his 2006 report on the local telecoms market:
- The nagging question, whether Woosh has selected the right technology, won’t seem to go away. In particular there are questions about the spectrum. Their current allocation will not allow them to move into the standardised WiMAX technologies.
Nevertheless, the company continues to move forward, despite the extremely rocky road so far. I also remain worried about their continued defensive attitude, both regarding the regulatory environment and the technology.
Recently also the Wired City service unravelled – another sad end to a good initiative that entered the market too early. It is a pity to see this competitor disappearing. Of course, not all is lost, as Compass will continue to service the 2,000 customers currently on the network, but it is still a promising competitor lost.
At the same time we see companies such as Telecom juggling with a range of other quasi wireless broadband products based on their mobile networks. So obviously they were a key potential buyer of some of the Wired City spectrum, which would allow them to move into proper wireless broadband services. It is interesting to note that Telecom was specifically excluded from this spectrum in order to give facilities-based competition an opportunity in New Zealand. Telecom also thought about this and simply pre-empted any decision by buying the spectrum off Wired City without official clearance from the regulator. The Commerce Commission retaliated by immediately launching an investigation into the matter. It would be a pity if that policy were now to be undone.
The reality is that the future of wireless broadband and mobile is still under a cloud of uncertainty. There are three key developments
wireless in competition with fixed broadband
wireless mobility in competition with mobile data
mobile communications in competition with wireless mobility.
The key issues here are that fixed broadband based on FttH will be the endgame for most of New Zealand cities, both capital and regional. Wireless broadband in conjunction with satellite will look after maximum 20%-30% of areas where it is economically unfeasible to roll out FttH networks.
The real game for wireless broadband is in the area of mobility – similar to the fixed networks there will be a shift from voice to data. At present 90% of mobile revenues come from voice services; by 2015 this will only be 10%.
The current mobile networks, however, are unsuitable for the delivery of user-friendly high-speed broadband services for the mobility market. It will take at least another 2 to 3 years before they will have the next generation of such mobile networks available. WiMAX is a dedicated technology for wireless broadband and now also delivers wireless mobility, so, as a dedicated technology, the wireless operators are in a prime position to become successful in this new market.
This makes it possible for WiMAX to move into this market. Of course, they will be up against the formidable powers of the mobile operators who are certainly not going to sit back and allow their lunch to be eaten by the newcomers. This will set the scene for some very interesting battles between the mobile and wireless giants and it is still uncertain who will be the winners.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me to hear that Call Plus was sitting on some old 2G spectrum that it can now use for wireless broadband. It has been quietly testing some of these services. They are happy with the technical performance and as soon as the business case for WiMAX stacks up we could see them moving more aggressively into this market.
After a lot of messing around, calls to the Woosh helpline and tweaking Norton Internet Security settings to let me use the Woosh internet phone, I'm finally up and running for internet and voice.
I'll be writing a full review of the service for the Herald in the next couple of weeks so won't give away too much here but so far I'm reasonably impressed. The softphone doesn't offer great voice quality but I'll wait till I set up the gateway and plug in my regular home phone to see what type of quality that offers. I'll keep you posted...