Calf Club Days The Key To Marketing Connecta

Connecta – A WISP profile by Ernie Newman

“It’s all about local knowledge – name a street anywhere in South Auckland and our installers can tell you all about the coverage available.”

Customer Jeanette Rae with Peter Mancer and Abilash Thangavel

So says the affable Peter Mancer, General Manager of Connecta, as we sip coffee in a  Pukekohe café. He and colleague Abilash Thangavel don’t look like the archetypal WISP – crisp white shirts reflect the peri-urban demographics of the Counties-Franklin area where they operate. Connecta feels like an apt name – you can catch a suburban train from Pukekohe to Auckland every hour, yet its marketing, like many WISPs, is focused on the traditional school calf club days.

Connecta’s had a lot of history. Way back in 2002 it started off as Wired Country, a fibre-focused subsidiary of Franklin electricity lines company Counties Power. Some truly futuristic thinking led to Pukekohe High School becoming New Zealand’s first fibred school and the lines company embracing telecommunications.

Wired Country grew rapidly in several parts of the country – Christchurch, Queenstown, Nelson and almost Northland. Many resellers were involved in marketing the service, including Watchdog where Peter – an industry veteran – worked at the time reselling Wired Country’s services to 260 rural schools at speeds way faster than the 56k service then available. All this happened long before Chorus became involved in fibre or the government thought about fibre in schools – Wired Country was a true pioneer.

But as the company diversified its communications business, it became obvious that its home turf south of Auckland was better suited to the flexibility of wireless technology than the constraints of fibre. The power company decided to return to its electricity base and sold Wired Country to Compass Communications under the brand Compass Wireless. Compass remains the parent company today.

Compass Wireless later migrated to the standards-based technology WiMax, allowing flexibility in the choice of equipment manufacturers. It grew steadily for a decade, then in 2015 started implementing Long Term Evolution or LTE, a leading iteration of 4G mobile.

On of Connecta’s Basestation at Pukekohe Hill

As Peter recounts all this we are climbing Pukekohe Hill, an icon of South Auckland surrounded by market gardens based on the rich volcanic soil. The tower at the summit is not a typical WISP tower. You can get there is a 2-wheel drive sedan up a public road. There’s mains power resulting from Connecta’s history as a lines company subsidiary – no need for pesky solar panels or batteries. The customer count from the tower seems massive. And like many of Connecta’s South Auckland towers there is a fibre connection. Everything feels well established, orderly and robust.

The brand was changed to Connecta in 2017 after Peter joined as GM. “The Compass brand was about cities, but we are country so we needed differentiation,” he explains.

Connecta has a firm hold on its territory. It covers the whole of the old Franklin and Rodney Council areas –  east to Clevedon, north almost to the Brynderwyns, and west to the Tasman Sea. It also has a heavy presence in rural Rotorua including the Broadlands Forest, Reporoa and Waikite Valley areas.

Peter sees Connecta as different to most WISPs in that nearly all customers are on licensed spectrum in the 2.5 or 3.5 bands. This reflects the comparatively dense population compared to others, meaning that interference is more of an issue. He talks up the benefits of LTE – “its near line of sight, capable of finding multiple paths, and less prone to interference in high traffic areas.”

Most Connecta customers are using it for voice as well as Internet, due to the strong technical support from the parent company and the poor quality of the residual copper infrastructure. Connecta offers very attractive voice pricing. It also provides hosted PBX services to a number of businesses, offering a major improvement in efficiency.

“We know our customers really well,” Abilash adds. “We know their business, know where their premises are, and geography. Lots are older people who need IT support, or families – rural people are more likely than city people to need help and we are happy to work with them.”

Connecta prides itself that the average length of time a customer stays is 7 years – even those who leave the district often re-sign with parent Compass.

The small Connecta team comprises about 7 people, working within Compass with its overall count of 90. Corporate services and billing are shared but otherwise Connecta staff are able to get on with their own specialist market segment.