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Spark increases profitability as revenue flattens for FY19

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Spark extends Cat-M1 IoT network across New Zealand
Just five months after launching the network, Spark has announced that its Cat-M1 IoT coverage now reaches 98 percent of the New Zealand population.

New Zealand telco Spark has reported a sharp increase in its profits for the 2019 fiscal year, reporting that net profits increased 12% to NZ$409 million, and earnings before finance income and expense, income tax, depreciation, amortisation, and net investment income (EBITDAI) broke past the NZ$1 billion mark with an 11% jump to NZ$1.09 billion.

Compared to last year, revenue was absolutely flat at NZ$3.53 billion, made up of contributions of NZ$1.27 billion from its mobile business representing a 2.7% increase and NZ$486 million from voice which was a 15% fall. Spark’s broadband business saw revenue increase by NZ$20 million to NZ$685 million, its cloud and security business grew revenue by 8.1% to NZ$400 million, while managed data and networks saw revenue drop 4.8% to NZ$197 million.

In terms of connections, Spark added 57,000 mobiles to record 2.5 million in total, while voice and broadband were mixed. Legacy technologies of copper broadband and POTS and ISDN connections dropped by 28% to 249,000 and 17.8% to 329,000 connections respectively, while fibre connections grew 28.6% to 306,000 and wireless jumped 20.7% to 140,000. VoIP connections now total 62,000, and voice over wireless recorded a 86% increase to 26,000 connections.

“We’ve grown our business in the highly competitive mobile and cloud services categories, held our broadband position, entered new markets like sports streaming, led on cost management and transformed our company culture,” Spark chair Justine Smyth said.

“It’s very pleasing to achieve these positive outcomes in a year during which we implemented and embedded massive organisational change with the move to agile ways of working.”

Speaking to New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) ban of Huawei in Spark’s 5G network, the company said it is was working through its vendor selection process and considering whether it should present any mitigations to GCSB. The telco said it expects an NZ spectrum auction to be held in late 2020.

“Spark is gearing up to launch 5G services as soon as relevant spectrum is available,” CEO Jolie Hodson said.

“We are pleased the government signalled recently it is considering an early, temporary allocation of some spectrum within the ‘C Band’ earmarked for 5G — as this would enable rapid delivery of 5G services while the details of the longer-term spectrum allocation process are sorted through.”

Earlier this year, the NZ Commerce Commission made a decision to deregulate Spark’s copper service, with consumers currently making the switch away from legacy copper-based voice services. 

Other providers offer wholesale voice services that compete with these services, meaning regulation is no longer necessary,” Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale said at the time.

“We consider that competition has been established, is increasingly effective, and is no longer dependent on access to these services.”

Related Coverage

Spark NZ tests 5G autonomous car

A self-driving car connected to Spark’s trial 5G network is being tested in Auckland’s Innovation Precinct.

Commerce Commission gives Infratil all-clear to acquire its half of Vodafone NZ

With Brookfield Asset Management to acquire the other 50%, the overall deal is worth a total NZ$3.4 billion.

Spark copper voice services to be deregulated across New Zealand

There is enough competition for New Zealand to deregulate copper voice services, the Commerce Commission has decided.

Vodafone New Zealand signs 5G network deal with Nokia

5G will be launched in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown later this year.



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Apple Car made by Kia might still be on the table

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The past few weeks saw a rather amusing circus of reports, leaks, rumors, and speculation about who Apple will choose to work with to make the long-rumored “Apple Car” electric vehicle. A slip of the tongue may have cost Hyundai that prized position but, as always in the world of business, not everything is what it seems from the outside. Industry sources are now talking anew about how things may still work in Kia’s favor but that partnership might not be what people or even shareholders expect it to be.

Earlier this year, Hyundai slipped and revealed that it was in talks with Apple over electric car plans. Other names were thrown around, including Kia, which is part of the Hyundai Motor Group, but Hyundai later retracted its statement, denying it was in such talks. According to rumors, Apple was none too happy about the way Hyundai handled the secrecy.

That, however, doesn’t mean things are over between Apple and Hyundai, especially for Kia. The latter was considered one of the best options to make the Apple Car considering it has a production plant in Georgia in the US. Korean news site Chosun Biz reveals that negotiations between Apple and Kia haven’t completely collapsed but it might revolve around electric cars specifically.

According to its sources, Apple and Hyundai Motor Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last year that covers collaboration in eight sectors. That does include electric vehicles but the latter also covers what is referred to as “last mile” mobility, covering the short distance between car or vehicle to the door. Analysts say that Hyundai’s statements about its communication with Apple don’t negate this possibility.

Unsurprisingly, Kia shares rose after this news broke out, even if it may not be the Apple Car envisioned and expected by everyone. It might, however, be an easier market for Apple to break into instead of jumping into self-driving electric cars immediately.

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2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Review – When you can only choose one

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If your dream garage only has space for one car, you could do a lot worse than fill it with the 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback. Not for nothing has the A7 carved out a space at the top of luxury four-door fastback list. Mercedes’ CLS may have got there first, but Audi’s pared-back styling refined it, and the A7 has arguably come to epitomize the “four-door coupe” category.

The RS7 takes that pretty base and packs it off to Marine bootcamp. With an even crisper body kit, more aggressive wheels, and of course a burly twin-turbo V8, the $114,000 Sportback will still cosset just as neatly as an A7 can, but now you get 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque to play with. 0-60 mph arrives in 3.5 seconds, the 4.0-liter engine keeping things going to a top speed of 174 mph or – with the $8,500 ceramic brakes package – 190 mph.

Even among Audi’s handsome line-up, the RS7 stands out. My Tango Red Metallic review car was hardly a surreptitious shade, though the $1,000 sport exhaust’s burble turned heads even before the bright red paint job came into view. It’s wider and sharper in the detailing than the regular A7, trading some of the timeless elegance of that car’s curves and strakes in favor of aggressively gaping grilles and vents.

The $2,750 Black Optic package throws on black exterior trim and gets you the glorious 22-inch V-spoke matte titanium wheels. 21-inchers are standard and would probably help smooth out some of the rumbles over lesser asphalt, though with its standard RS-tuned adaptive air suspension in Comfort mode it’s surprisingly compliant.

Though you could cruise around like that, better to switch to Dynamic mode where the RS7 has the goods to back up its looks. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a sport rear differential and electromechanical progressive steering. You also get four-wheel steering. The combination of raw power and tech means it’s exceedingly easy to make the RS7 go very, very fast.

Some recent S-badged Audi models have been dinged by virtue of being a little too restrained in their sportiness. The RS7 makes no such stumbles. Wet roads, snow, slush, tight turns or lengthy straights, nothing seems to make a difference to how willing the Sportback is when it comes to throwing itself forward and gripping until it’s your nerves, not the adhesion, that gives.

The 3.5 seconds to sixty sounds, frankly, conservative: the RS7 snarling through its achingly rapid 8-speed Tiptronic transmission. But don’t go thinking this red rocket is a one-trick pony for the straight line: the addition of rear-wheel steering and that trick differential swings the power around predictably and potently. It’s a sweet balance of the reassurance of Quattro and the purist pleasure of rear-wheel drive.

I didn’t have the carbon brakes and I can’t say I felt I needed them. The standard steel versions – comprising ventilated 16.5-inch front discs and 14.6-inch rear discs – don’t lack in bite. As for the 48v mild hybrid system, it’s more there to smooth out the stop/start system and keep the electronics running.

As a result, thirst can be an issue. The 2021 RS7 is rated for 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg combined. They’re about realistic, if you drive it as you might an A7 but, of course, you won’t.

Inside, the A7’s cabin gets a makeover to leave it feeling suitably special. The core niceties remain: a dual touchscreen infotainment system, with Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium sound, four-zone climate control, power sunroof, and Sirius XM. Audi’s MMI keeps getting refinements: it’s clean and crisp, easy to navigate, and the lower display keeps things like HVAC controls available persistently even if you’re projecting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto up top. Dedicated buttons for the drive modes are joined by an RS button on the wheel, which you can configure to your choice of settings for one-touch access.

The $2,500 Executive Package extends the leather and adds heated rear seats, power soft-closing doors, and a head-up display. There’s a surprising amount of space in the rear, too, even for taller folks, while the 24.9 cu-ft of cargo space is almost the same as you get in an Q5 SUV.

In fact the only frustration, really, is that the Driver Assistance Package is a $2,250 option. That adds adaptive cruise control with lane-assistance, upgrades the active safety tech to include Audi side assist, rear cross traffic, and pre-sense rear, plus intersection assistance. I can’t help but feel like it should come standard, as the parking sensors, 360 camera, forward collision warning and assistance, and lane departure warnings do.

All-in, including $1,045 destination, my review car totaled up to $125,140. Not cheap, certainly, but still less than the starting price of Porsche’s Panamera GTS, and for more power and arguably cleaner looks.

2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Verdict

What drives the RS7 Sportback’s charm is the absence of compromise. Need a luxury ride? Switch to Comfort and waft along. Want to make the most of driver-friendly roads? Hit the RS button on the wheel and get ready for some fun. Need to stock up on a month’s groceries in one go? That big trunk is surprisingly capacious.

For me, that adds up to a worthy candidate for the one-car-dream-garage crown. Indeed if there’s a competitor, it may very well be coming from inside the house. The 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT quattro will have 589 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque and do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds; it’s also all-electric so as well as the everyday flexibility you’ll be able to avoid the gas station, too.

Perhaps, then, the EV is the future. For now, though, the 2021 RS7 Sportback is the sports car of choice for all seasons.

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2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch gets brown leather and a Western charm

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For the first time ever, the 2021 Ford Explorer is getting a King Ranch version this spring. The King Ranch name is derived from a ranch in Texas and has been offered in previous generations of the F-series pickup trucks for the past 20 years. As expected from a King Ranch Ford SUV, the newest Explorer is brimming with Western vibes.

“In 1853, Captain Richard King bootstrapped the King Ranch in the harsh landscape of southern Texas until it became a shining example of agricultural and livestock innovation and success, said Lee Newcombe, Ford Explorer marketing manager. “Ford Explorer families can now enjoy a piece of the King Ranch’s renowned craftsmanship and the multigeneration legacy that still thrives 168 years after its founding.”

According to Ford, customers want an Explorer with a more luxurious interior. The newest Explorer King Ranch has standard mahogany Mesa Del Rio leather seats. The front and second-row seats are perforated to add a premium touch, while all seats bear the illustrious ‘Running W’ King Ranch logo. Meanwhile, it also gets a Mesa Del Rio leather armrest with a King Ranch logo insert in the center console.

“Introducing King Ranch’s specialty leather, genuine wood, crafted details, and signature colors to Ford Explorer elevates the SUV’s brand,” said Janet Seymour, Ford color and materials manager. The newest Explorer King Ranch has leather door trim rollovers, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and steering wheel, and various Sapele wood appliques throughout the cabin.

Meanwhile, King Ranch Explorers have a Stone Gray mesh grille insert, bespoke 20-inch aluminum wheels with a Running W center cap, King Ranch badging, quad chrome exhaust tips, and a liftgate scuff plate. The Premium Technology package throws in massaging front seats, a larger 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system, and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system.

The newest 2021 Explorer King Ranch is powered by Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine pumping out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Here’s some trivia for you: Explorer King Ranch RWD is the first time a real-wheel drivetrain is available with Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6.The engine sends power to the rear wheels (4WD is available) via a standard 10-speed automatic gearbox. The Explorer King Ranch can tow up to 5600 pounds, just right for the segment.

Safety features are aplenty in a King Ranch. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 is standard on all Explorer trims. Still, King Ranch gets Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ which comes with adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and Stop-and-Go, evasive steering assist, a voice-activated navigation system, Sirius XM, and speed sign recognition, among many others.

The 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch arrives at dealerships this spring. Base prices start at $53,595 for RWD and $55,595 for AWD.

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