New Zealand's competition regulator has said that it is open to different mobile phone operators sharing a single 4G network.
The country's Commerce Commission (ComCom) confirmed reports today that it was open to "appropriate discussions" on such network sharing, which could take the form of sharing cell sites and masts or joint ventures.
The move follows IT Minister Steven Joyce announcing before Christmas some free spectrum could be made available for a 4G network from the switchover from analog to digital television.
The idea for one shared 4G network was raised last month by Rob Spray, chairman of the Telecommunications Industry Group, a lobby group made up of telcos and ISPs.
Spray said telcos in New Zealand faced a challenge of a saturated mobile market making declining returns opposing a need to keep up with new technologies.
Other challenges included New Zealand planning law, such as its Resource Management Act making it difficult for mobile phone towers to be higher than 14 metres. They are typically ten metres higher in other countries.
An LTE network, Spray continued, would need many more towers to pipe data, meaning New Zealand may need to double mobile phone tower numbers from 2500 to 5000.
"We are not flat out building a business case for 4G but we are working with the government and the public about how we evolve the network. This is the start," Spray said of the network sharing concept.
Open access would be key to such a network, according to Ernie Newman, chief executive of the Telecom Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), who said that he was open minded to the idea, but the devil would be in the detail.
"We wouldn't want three providers coming together and blocking access. There would need to be a structure to allow others to enter on fair and reasonable terms," he said. End users would welcome efficiency in a single network, but there would still need to be competition at the service end.
Among the telcos, both Telecom NZ and 2 Degrees have expressed support for such a shared 4G network, though Vodafone warned of competition issues.
"We have no idea yet what sort of spectrum the government will be offering (i.e what blocks they'll offer) so we don't know if we can share infrastructure or whether we have to," Vodafone NZ spokesperson Paul Brislen told ZDNet.com.au.