This week the Commerce Commission widened the scope of its mobile market investigation. It will now include 5G, looking at deployment and spectrum allocation. The Commission will investigate competition issues. Potential obstacles to current or future market developments are also in the spotlight.

The Commission released original terms of reference for an inquiry in October. At the time, the mobile carriers made it clear they wanted the Commission to keep its nose out of their business. 

Former Communications Minister Simon Bridges triggered the inquiry last year. He wrote a letter to the Telecommunications Commissioner. In it he pointed out a possible lack of competition including the near absence of MVNOs from New Zealand. 

Mobile virtual network operators are mobile companies that don't own their own infrastructure. Instead they buy wholesale services from existing network operators. They are common overseas and are indicative of healthy market competition. 

The commissioner, Stephen Gale says the study will allow regulatory efforts to keep pace with the rapid changes in mobile markets. 

He says: “Mobile technology is a critical enabler for business productivity and social interaction. We know that New Zealanders love their mobile devices with more than 6.4 million in use – or about 1.3 per person.

“This study will help us identify areas that may need more or less regulatory oversight from us." 

Gale says the investigation will also inform consumers, the industry, and policymakers on market performance. 

Tuanz CEO Craig Young welcomed the broader scope of the investigation. He says his organisation has called for an independent study of the market structure. The Commission review includes some of Tuanz's recommendations. 

Young says his members recognise recent benefits of improved competition. He names the third network and investments in technology as pluses. Yet he says they want to see a full review of where we are and what we need to ensure that strong competition remains in this market. 

The review will take time. The Commission says it will publish an issues paper around the middle of this year. But that's only the first stage. The whole process is likely to drag on for over a year.