New Asia Online owner bullish about future

With 10,000 Asia Online customers added to its existing user base of around 8500, Michael Spencer's company eSurf Holdings is now one of New Zealand's largest independent ISPs.

With 10,000 Asia Online customers added to its existing user base of around 8500, Michael Spencer’s company eSurf Holdings is now one of New Zealand’s largest independent ISPs.

“We’re probably the largest behind Ihug,” says Spencer who bought Asia Online’s business after it was put into voluntary liquidation late last month by its US-based parent company. The Asia Online group has been broken up and both Hong Kong and Australia’s branches have also been sold off.

The name Asia Online probably won’t be around for much longer.

“We will be rebranding just as soon as we can come up with a better name than Internet Corporation Solutions - we picked that one in a hurry during the final round of negotiations with Asia Online’s liquidators.”

Spencer already has a range of ISPs in his company portfolio and Asia Online more than doubles his user base.

ESurf Holdings owns eSurf Wireless, which has around 1000 corporate customers and works closely with Walker Wireless, and also Virtual ISP which in turn owns e3, Ezysurf and CoolNet - all consumer based ISPs.

“Asia Online already has the infrastructure in place and we’re keeping pretty much all the people onboard for now so it really will be business as usual for staff and customers.”

Spencer says he was less than impressed at the way other ISPs attempted to poach customers from Asia Online at a time when it was still operating, but in search of a new owner.

“Ultimately so many of them were out there circling that it backfired and customers are telling us they’re sick of it. It’s reduced their credibility, not ours.”

Spencer says without the overheads of running an international business and being part of a larger group, the Asia Online New Zealand operation is quite profitable and he plans to expand from its current base, although those plans do not include moving into Australia or elsewhere.

“We’ll partner with the likes of Telecom and Telstra to offer international supply but we’re wholly focused on New Zealand and will remain so.”

The main difference for the company, says Spencer, is that it will move out of its “expensive” Queen Street offices to eSurf’s existing premises on Airedale Street.

“We have the fastest ping times because the Mayoral Street exchange is right across the road.”

Asia Online fits well with the existing ISP structure of eSurf, says Spencer, and will continue to target the “premium corporate” market.

“It will focus on the medium to large business although we won’t be turning away smaller customers either. ESurf Wireless is also business focused but the two won’t clash.”

Spencer believes Asia Online will focus on “adding value to the bandwidth” in growth areas like offering secure networking and managed networks as well as web hosting.

“We offer customisation, flexibility and have a more personal touch than any of the telcos can offer. If you call us you’ll get the same person each time and because we’re a small outfit if there’s a problem they can’t handle they can walk down the corridor and knock on the door to the engineers who will solve it. It’s that close.”

Spencer says there will be more consolidation within the ISP market in New Zealand in the coming months.

“There are plenty of small ISPs that are run on an almost hobby basis. These people will get bored with that and sell them off one by one.” Asia Online, he believes, will not become the biggest ISP “but will be the most profitable”.

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