At that time I decided not to post how this was broken, but it seems Telecom New Zealand has moved quickly to fix the fault, and push e-mail seems to be working again.
Quick recap, I've noticed push e-mail not working while testing my Palm Treo 700wx, and double-checked with my Apache - which used to work flawlessly. I got the same results - or lack of, while the Windows Mobile devices connected to Vodafone's network had no problems, receiving e-mails instantly.
After a couple of messages with Telecom, it appears that connections through the CDMA network use some of the Xtra's routers, and those were configured to close long http and https connections. Now, everyone who knows how Direct Push works will see that closing a http connection without letting the device know is going to cause problems.
Why Xtra was doing this? Who knows... It could be they were trying to reduce SYN flood attacks, or something else.
This issues was escalated, and it's been fixed over the holiday period. It's all working again.
Corporate customers synchronising to their Exchange Servers via the Private Office service (a VPN offering) weren't affected by this, probably because the service uses other routing? I am not sure.
So, all is good again in the land of push e-mail.
Other related posts:
Windows Phone and Android apps screen comparison
Windows Phone 8 Portico update: at last here in New Zealand
Windows Phone updates, again
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