Monday, April 11, 2016

So just how many Mobile Networks does a country like Britain need?

Today the Competition and Markets Authority published a letter to the European Commissioner calling for the merger of Three and O2 to be blocked to protect the consumer. I had to check that it was not written ten days ago, the current government believes in the Free Market and the market has shown that the UK is not large enough to support five and now four network owners.

If the CMA wanted to protect the consumer then was BT allowed to buy EE and why was it not forced to spin out Openreach?

The role of Ofcom should be to provide assurance that the market for Mobile Infrastructure is not manipulated by the players in the market and that they are fulfilling the terms of licences granted via spectrum sales by Government.  The failure is not that Overseas Investors can no longer justify investment in an extremely competitive market but rather Regulators are under resourced and qualified.  The 2010 spending review by George Osborne and subsequent budgets has seen the money available to manage Ofcom fall and the remit rise this means that a regulator that had been struggling now is not fit for purpose.  Rather than resource the service correctly we have a Government that is taking others to undertake the role for it.

The second generation of mobile expansion saw just four networks build the industry at the fastest pace, with innovative product launches which the CMA now feels is a risk to the consumer! Alongside the network owners we also have a number of MVNOs that offer services to customers at a range of prices.  We might have fewer retail options on the high street with the demise of a number of independent retailers for the time of mass adoption of mobile but we are unlikely too see price rises as a result of Three buying O2.

I hope that the European Regulator has far more economists than the CMA and Ofcom and realises that the UK consumer is not able to fund adequately four mobile network operators.      

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

What do we do about O2?

Over the last few days the FT has focused on the potential for regulators to stop the disposal of O2 in the UK by Telefonica. They are now saying that the UK must not drop to just three networks but the market requires four.

This is such a simple belief in competition that you have to ask how much time have they invested understanding why two of the four incumbents courted BT when they signalled a wish to return to the mobile sector?  When former state owned players cannot make the numbers work to operate in one of the largest economies in the world then the market has failed!

The current level of competition means that at a consumer level the numbers are marginal.  The Infrastructure requirements to roll out 4G makes the market subprime. Rather than opt out of regulation Ofcom should seek to acknowledge that the solutions required needs them to take decisive action to improve the cost base whilst raising the quality of the networks.

If the Infrastructure can be improved and better wholesale terms can be achieved then at a retail level we might se more competition.  Over the past 15 years we have seen a decline in the number of retailers offering consumers mobiles as Independent players have gone to the wall and Networks have closed a number of there stores.  The exit of Tesco from the MVNO space can be seen as a warning flag that the consumer might have won on price but has lost on quality.

I would allow Three to buy O2 on the basis that Telefonica is current in a debt reduction cycle rather than investment mode, thus all the while it holds the UK asset it under invests meaning that it falls behind it competitors.  Without Three buying O2 the business would face a slow death.  Once we have consolidated the market to three players we require Ofcom to invest in staff with a deep knowledge of Mobile who are prepared to take action before breakfast, before lunch and after dinner to borrow a phrase from Michael Heseltine. At the dawn of Mobile thirty years ago we had a duopoly that was regulated in such a way that consumers had choice and a number of people became MultiMillionaires serving the consumer.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Think outside the box

Conversations since the return to work seem to focus on the presumption that the answer is Apps when it comes to mobile.

I fear that those I am speaking to are extremely short sited and need them to starting thinking about the end of the current smartphone OS ecosystems.  I think that more individuals are removing Apps from devices than adding them and too many new apps are clones rather than innovative. As 4G coverages becomes more widespread we have an opportunity to change the current power structures.  But this is only possible if those in the Mobile space change their mindset.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Valuing Vodafone

Yesterday Vodafone reported that it was no longer talking to Liberty Global about an asset swap and many analysts called it a mistake.  I have always seen it as a foregone conclusion, Liberty Global wants to exit Europe it has very little of interest to Vodafone and the pricing was always out of sync.

Earlier Malone had said that no deal was likely to happen with Vodafone as despite an investor roadshow pitching the "benefits" of such a deal to stockholders he had been unable to convince Executive inside Vodafone that a deal made sense and the price was right.

What has been a surprise to me is the rent a quote brigade who are all happy to say that it was an error on Vodafone's behalf.  Telecoms in Europe is a marginal one when it comes to profitability and more customers does not necessarily mean that the odds are better for success.  Investments are high and prices are falling, this could explain why Liberty wishes to exit before it can no longer pay debts, and competition is intense. Vodafone under Colao has not been about market share at any price rather it is about effective management of assets and seeking to maintain margins. Thus taking on Liberty's properties in Holland and Germany was not going to survive an introductory discussion.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

3UK Launches free VoLTE

Read this today and thought that once again Networks don't understand that Voice is the key product and whilst innovation is welcome, this is not it! To be fair to 3UK they are not the only ones to play games with the Customer EE have a similar VoLTE service that is only available to those taking a new HTC or have an iPhone 5/6.  

The first thing that gets my back up is that what is basically a software product has been launched on a single handset. It is not a marketing product to be used to force a different purchasing decision it's a service that should be capable of launching to ALL existing customers with a Smartphone not because you have bought a Galaxy S5.

Then we have the issue that the Executive put up to promote the launch is the CTO of 3UK rather than a dedicated executive for Voice.  If a mobile network cannot appoint a Board Member to oversea and promote a CORE product then just why should the customer respect it?

Since using a 4G handset I have experienced very poor quality phone calls. The ability to drop calls reminds me of the early days of Orange and One-2-One when in an effort to overcome such a poor experience Orange offered "free calls" if you had to redial as a result of dropped calls. 

For a long time I have spoken in private about the fact that voice revenues have declined in Mobile Networks because very little time is spent reviewing Voice as a product at Board Level.  I have not met a senior executive in Europe who sits on a board and has sole responsibility for Voice for the past ten years. As a result we have Customers not bothering to make phone calls on a mobile because the experience disappoints. 

I had hoped that by now Mobile users could have an active directory service which highlighted if a number in you contacts list was engaged before you called or inactive for a number of hours prior to your call.  Such a service could mean that rather than dialling the user could chose to send a text message.  I also hoped that the audio quality would have been upgraded to a level that allowed noise cancelation enhancing the ability to hear what has been said without asking the other person to speak up.      

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

BT has got NO friends!

Over the last few weeks it seems that the current Ofcom review of BT is unlikely to follow the pattern of "business as usual" when it comes to outcomes.  These could mean that the chickens finally come home to roost at BT.

Over the course of a week BBC Radio4 featured the failures of Broadband Britain to live up to promises on the Today programme.  It was not until 4 negative features that BT CEO Gavin Patterson finally agreed to an interview and that was not face to face rather it was prerecorded and broadcast on a Saturday morning.  You have to ask just what the PR team were doing, was it a failure or arrogance?

This weekend Chris Bryant wrote to The Telegraph calling for the break-up of BT because it had failed to provide the Broadband needed of UK PLC despite £1.8bn of grants to do so.  This is a shadow minister prepared to outline Labour Party policy in the middle of a Leadership election!

These events on there own might lead you to think that BT will be alright, it might find itself facing tighter regulation but it's unlikely that a break-up will be forced on it.  However take a look at the fact that industry rivals that are also calling for a split are also donors to the Conservative Party and you might start to thing that BT could be facing years of legal challenges and disruption.  Given that Ian Livingston's time in Government was shorter than a contract for one of BT's services you have to ask what friends they have?

Monday, August 10, 2015

The decline and fall of HTC

Over the last week a number of people have been speculating on the future of HTC saying that it is at risk of disappearing.  The problem is that having climbed the mountain of volume sales of phones to number three it has failed to ascend to the top and rather has slipped back as a result of poor sales for the flagship HTC One (M9).

The problem for HTC is that the "upgrade" to the M9 was judged by most not to be significant enough from the M8 and so growth stopped.

The creation of the mobile phone mass market was achieved by a few manufacturers who offered a range of handsets.  The manufacturers of my early days in mobile are now consigned to museums rather than still major players, Motorola, Erricson and Nokia.  But then others older than me will say the same about car manufacturers of the early 20th century and we still have cars.

The global dominance of Nokia was achieved not on a single handset but rather on a platform of devices that were conceived thanks to long term analysis and developed not just internally but also using the skills of the IDEO Group.  This meant that both hardware and software evolved dependent on the markets that the handsets were sold in to.

The Android Ecosystem leaves very little room for customisation by manufacturers and contract manufacture means that common components leave devices looking very similar.

The shame is that the early days of HTC saw it make a range of handsets that made use of touch AND keyboard. Why then now are we faced with a single form factor in just two sizes? Perhaps we can expect contract manufacturing will give HTC some space to recover rather than it fail but it is more likely that it will pass into history.