CDMA users to ignore three-month deadline?

While the news of a three-month delay to the closure of Telstra's CDMA network has been welcomed by many, a number of problems still haunt Next G.

While the news of a three-month delay to the closure of Telstra's CDMA network has been welcomed by many, a number of problems still haunt Next G.

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) president, David Crombie, has been campaigning against the switch-off and welcomed the delay. "Many farmers are only now able to access and assess the new network fully," he said.

"Realistically, farmers and rural Australians haven't had much time to get, and adequately test, the new hardware to know whether Next G fulfils its requirement of being as good, if not better than CDMA."

Labor's political rivals also gave their conditional support to the decision.

Nationals leader Warren Truss said it is critical Telstra and the government work together to ensure CDMA users are able to obtain comparable service on Next G.

"It has been clear to many thousands of Australians living outside the major cities that Next G is not yet providing the service and coverage that users have come to expect under CDMA," he said.

The Opposition communications spokesperson, MP Bruce Billson, backed the decision by Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy to postpone the closure, labelling the delay a direct result of actions taken by the Coalition during its tenure.

"This postponement decision was made possible by licensing conditions put in place by the former Coalition government that Telstra's Next G network must provide equivalent or better coverage than CDMA before the shutdown can occur," he said in a statement. "It will provide Telstra with additional time to fine-tune its Next G network and assist customers to make the transition."

Billson however criticised the Broadband Minister over comments that CDMA users should "find out what they need to do to replace their CDMA equipment and services ... [and] act quickly and carefully to ensure they obtain the right handsets, other equipment and services suitable to their needs".

"In many parts of rural and regional Australia mobile phones provide an important lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people and therefore it is vital they are serviced by a network that instils confidence by providing broad and reliable coverage," he said.

"While Telstra was confident its Next G network provided equivalent or better coverage than CDMA, anecdotal reports from around the country suggested this was not the case for everybody."

A survey of 1,200 farmers carried out by the NFF last week found that 71 percent believed CDMA to be more reliable than Next G and 23 percent said they had yet to make the switch to the 3G network.

However, an audit conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that while Next G performs in terms of coverage, hardware problems still dog the 3G network.

The question of appropriate equipment has been of particular concern to some, including the NFF. The Federation said the most common complaint raised by its members was that Next G handsets often needed a car kit to work, whereas CDMA phones can get a signal without additional equipment.

"From where the government sat, it was difficult to have a win-win situation. There are a number of complaints from rural areas -- it was difficult to please them and Telstra ... It really came down to a handset issue -- a number of handsets were not as sensitive as their CDMA peers," Nathan Burley, research analyst at industry watchers Ovum, said.

In announcing his decision, Minister Conroy also queried whether Next G can currently meet farmers' data needs. "Many essential service providers, farmers and agricultural companies use CDMA telemetry systems for remote data communications. I am concerned that some of these customers may not have had access to the necessary Next G equipment in time to migrate to the Next G network," he said.

Telstra in turn said it will "demonstrate that Next G Wireless Link and Telemetry customers have access to the necessary Next G equipment and have been given every opportunity to migrate".

CDMA users play waiting game
Telstra has so far declined to say how many users remain on CDMA but it has been engaging in a number of marketing initiatives to encourage the laggards to move to Next G, including crediting those moving from CDMA to a Next G contract with AU$100 against their bill and giving customers who agree to a three-year contract on Next G a handset upgrade every 12 to 18 months.

However, Telstra does not believe that the announcement of a three month period of grace will discourage the remaining users from finally making the switch.

"The majority of customers have made the move. There's some offers in the market now that won't be around in two to three months' time, so we're not concerned," the spokesperson said.

Ovum's Burley, however, said the delay could well stimulate procrastination among CDMA users: "There's no doubts from Telstra's comments that there's a lot of users waiting until the last minute and there's a lot of users who will wait an extra three months," he told ZDNet.com.au.

Despite the necessity of keeping the two networks running concurrently for an extra three months, Burley said that Telstra's bottom line is unlikely to be hit hard.

"I don't think it will be a significant impact," he said. "If you look at what the financial analysts are saying it's not a huge cost and potentially they may keep some customers happy [by keeping CDMA open]."

Telstra said Conroy's decision will not affect its financial guidance for the year.

AAP contributed to this report.

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