Vodafone NZ, now officially One NZ, announces SpaceX partnership to eliminate blackspots

One NZ, formerly Vodafone NZ, has announced a partnership with the Elon Musk-founded US aerospace company SpaceX that it says will end blackspots and ensure cellular coverage for 100 percent of New Zealand from late 2024.

The company said during an emergency, even customers of other providers will be able to use its network to contact 111.

Meanwhile, 2degrees has also announced a trial with global satellite provider Lynk which will bring it "closer to providing mobile connectivity everywhere in New Zealand".

One NZ and 2degrees are two of the three major telecommunications companies in Aotearoa along with Spark. One's name change follows Vodafone Group selling it to Infratil and Brookfield in 2019, and also follows Spark similarly rebranding from Telecom in 2014.

The new partnership will see SpaceX's constellation of Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit help deliver One NZ mobile out to Aotearoa's territorial limit.

"New Zealand is one of the most isolated and rugged countries in the world, which makes it an ideal use case for SpaceX's Direct to Cell connectivity. We are excited to announce this collaboration with One NZ to bring cellular coverage across 100 percent of the country," said SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell.

One NZ CEO Jason Paris said the partnership with SpaceX would be particularly useful after a disaster that could otherwise cut off certain locations.

"This means the immediate communication issues experienced after Cyclone Gabrielle will be confined to history. It will give our customers more freedom with 100 percent coverage across the country and means New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses are safer with us," he said.

"Currently, our mobile network covers 98 percent of the places New Zealanders live and work, however due to the length and geography of the country almost 50 percent of the landmass still has no coverage. When the service goes live, there will be coverage across the country whether you're out on your boat, climbing a mountain, fixing a remote road or on your farm.

"It will revolutionise how businesses operate in sectors such as agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, tourism, forestry, transport and logistics; the private and public sector opportunities are endless."

Meanwhile, the 2degrees trial with Lynk is due to start "shortly".

"LEO satellites are going to be a future contributor to the mobile experience and we're committed to ensuring our customers have access to opportunities as they develop," said 2degrees CEO, Mark Callander.

"We'll begin with initial trials shortly and, over time, we expect 2degrees customers will be able to send text messages and ultimately get voice calls and basic data services from anywhere in New Zealand. Of course as satellite-to-cell develops, it is hoped that this technology could also play an important role in keeping customers connected following major events such as we've seen recently."

Vodafone NZ is now One NZ.
Photo credit: supplied/One NZ

Monday is the company's first official day as One NZ, with its online platforms and many retail stores and offices already having changed branding from Vodafone. The company retains an ongoing relationship with the international Vodafone company, including roaming agreements and technology partnerships.

One NZ said SpaceX will have the appropriate satellites in orbit and ready to provide connectivity from late 2024, initially only for text and MMS, with voice and data services coming later.