TWO competing internet network providers are battling it out on the Opotiki hills, putting their stakes in the ground while using a similar name. Evolution Networks say it has spent years building up its network in the Opotiki district, installing transmitters like this one on a hill near the intersection of State Highway 2 and Wainui Road. Photo supplied

A COMPANY that is 30 percent owned by the Opotiki District Council is crying foul after a Gisborne-based company with a similar name has moved in on its turf.

Evolution Networks chairman Andrew Friedlander said the issue came to his attention recently.

“Evolution Networks has been providing high-quality wireless internet to the Eastern Bay for more than three years and has customers spread from Edgecumbe and Kawerau to Te Kaha.

“Yet, a new entrant into the Opotiki area has begun using the Evolution name in a bid that’s intended to create confusion and trade on our good reputation.”

The new entrant, Evolution Wireless, which has been in business for more than 10 years and has transmitters installed across the Bay of Plenty, including in Opotiki, refutes the claims.

Mr Friedlander said he learned of the intrusion after a customer rang, asking about Evolution Networks’ advertising.

“Given we hadn’t advertised in that area recently, we were a bit puzzled – until we came across the new company that was using the Evolution name and was promoting itself on social media,” he said.

“In our view, this was an obvious attempt to confuse customers and to mislead people into thinking they were dealing with the Evolution Networks rather than a new company to the area.”

Mr Friedlander said Evolution Networks were all for open and fair competition in the Eastern Bay.

“The more internet providers there are, the better for everyone, us included. But as everyone knows, building a wireless network in our hilly and sometimes isolated terrain is far from easy,” he said.

EVOLUTION Wireless say their company name is older and that they’ve had an Opotiki presence for years, but that they are now expanding it. Director Aidan Kirk said more than 90 per cent of the Evolution Wireless
network is solar powered and the company can build a transmitter in less than two days. Photo supplied

“We’ve had to do it the hard way, talking to landowners so we can install towers, and working with individuals and companies to get them connected. And we’re proud of how much we’ve achieved in the last few years.”

Mr Friedlander said over the years, Evolution Networks had worked with iwi, local farmers and foreign investors, building relationships and creating specific solutions to cover the Eastern Bay with internet services.

“It’s disappointing to see another company come into the region and try to take a shortcut by trading on our name,” he said.

“As we understand it, the other company is established in Gisborne, but has limited coverage in our area, and was previously unknown to a vast majority of our region.”

Mr Friedlander said it would be some time before the competing company “could provide anything resembling widespread access”.

“Like us, they need to build their network and their reputation one connection at a time, and not by making out that they are the established wireless internet service provider in the Eastern Bay,” he said.

Mr Friedlander said Evolution Networks had sought legal input about the issue.

“This new company is welcome in the Eastern Bay, and they’re welcome to compete with us,” he said.

“But they need to play by the rules, and not pretend they’re part of Evolution Networks when it suits them, when they’re not.”

However, Evolution Wireless director Aidan Kirk said his company was the older of the two companies and not the newcomer on the block.

“Evolution Wireless was formed in 2008 to provide internet services to New Zealanders,” he said.

“As part of our commitment to providing connectivity everywhere we have recently begun marketing and selling ultra-fast wireless services to the Opotiki region.”

Mr Kirk said Evolution Wireless had more than 100 transmitters installed across the Hawke’s Bay, Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty, “with extensive success in running reliable networks”.

“While we’ve had coverage of much of Opotiki via our Motu transmitter since 2015, we have only recently promoted our ability to serve the area.”

The promotion drive was in response to a surge in demand during late 2018 and 2019.

“I understand there’s confusion around the similar names, but this is something we’ve dealt with since Evolution Networks’ inception,” Mr Kirk said.

“We strongly refute the claim that we are attempting to trade upon Evolution Networks goodwill – it’s unfortunate that our names are similar but we’ve built up one of New Zealand’s largest privately-owned and funded wireless networks and thousands of clients across the North Island already know and rely on the Evolution name daily.”

Mr Kirk said that during roughly one month of working in Opotiki, the company had installed five transmitters.

“Two of those are active and the other three are scheduled to be online before next Friday,” he said.

“We’ve almost achieved in a month what’s taken Evolution Networks years.”

Mr Kirk said his company’s focus was getting families and businesses online as soon as possible.

“Rather than be distracted by these claims, we are continuing to roll out wireless broadband to those who need it,” he said.

The company had experienced extensive uptake in its first few weeks of trading in Opotiki.

“Let’s be honest, if they were doing their job we wouldn’t be here,” Mr Kirk said.

“I’d like to thank the Opotiki community for the outstanding support so far.”