Vodafone is the market leader with 2.55 million subscribers (41% on contract) and claims to cover 98.5% of the population using their extensive 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE network. In 2019 Vodafone sold its NZ unit to local Infratil, an investment company that owns airports, electricity generators and retailers, renewable energy and a public transport businesses. It will maintain the network under the Vodafone brand.
It has a good overall network in 4G, 3G and 2G at a range of prices. It's 4G network is good, with fast coverage in all urban areas, many towns and some rural areas.
Vodafone (working with Nokia) will flick the switch on its 5G network in December and it wants New Zealanders to know this isn't some futuristic, space-aged technology far removed from the present. They will offer services in four cities using a 40MHz slice of 3.5GHz spectrum which they says they have warehoused for "many years." They are aiming to have at least 100 cellsites upgraded by December when they switch on the 5G network for customers to access and are also upgrading 400 existing 4G mobile sites to become 4.5G.
In a 5G ad campaign that launched nationwide on Sunday night, Vodafone pulls at the heartstrings with the story of an elderly man who takes his dog to the vet:
Spark the second largest operator with coverage over 97% of the population using their 3G and 4G network. Spark's network provides superior coverage (especially 4G in rural and suburban areas). Their number of subscribers: 2.46m (49% on contract).
It has a good nationwide coverage, but no fall back to 2G. Spark has the largest 4G network of all 3 networks in New Zealand, with universal 4G coverage in nearly every populated area, as well as many touristed areas and national parks. 4.5G (LTE Advanced Pro) is now available in many urban centres and rural areas on compatible devices.
2degrees is a relative newcomer, they claim coverage of 98.5% of the population (which includes areas where customers roam onto Vodafone's network). Its 4G network has less coverage in comparison to its competitors, and reception can be worse in rural areas particually in the South Island. However they have good coverage in urban areas including all cities, most towns and many rural areas in the North Island. Their number of subscribers: 1.41m (31% on contract).
2degrees closed down its entire 2G GSM/GPRS/EDGE network in March 2018. The provider's 3G network (including roaming on Vodafone's 3G network) now provides coverage of 98.5% of New Zealand’s population. They are also switching on 4G in the 900 MHz frequency band previouly used by the 2G network. That is helping improve their 4G coverage in rural areas as well as adding more capacity in urban areas.
Due to 2degrees's poor network coverage in comparison to its competitors, WiFi calling is available on compatible devices, meaning that you can use your call and text allowances over a WiFi network, whether you are in New Zealand or overseas.
Both Spark and 2degrees have long standing relationships with Huawei which has been banned by the government from participating in 5G on security grounds and neither has given and definite indication of when it will launch 5G services. Spark is also waiting on the 3.5GHz auction.