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.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

How Apple Pay highlights ALL that is wrong with the App ecosystems

So last week Apple Pay launched in the UK on a wave of hype, the Usual Suspects were interviewed on now simple it was to use to buy coffee and travel on The Tube and now disruptive it was; using just an iPhone or your iWatch. To watch the reports the mobile phone was finally going to replace your wallet doing away with the need for plastic payment cards and finally mobile payments were going to take off after years of false dawns.

But hang on Apple Pay only works on Apple Hardware and quite a few people I see out in public don't have an iPhone preferring to have an Android device. Also there is an issue with just what banks payment services are available at this moment as not all card issuers are set up on Apple Pay. So far nobody I have seen has spoken about how Apple Pay will allow the user to ditch their wallet as  with this version of the App it allows only one card to be associated with the service at any time.  But hang on the thing it seeks to replace has more than one payment card and so rather than a replacement at present the service is an alternative as most wallets are see have six plus cards in.

The first week of use, judging by my twitter stream seems to be users explaining how those in retail did not know that you can pay by phone or the service failing to work as the EPOS didn't confirm payment and so they are having to revert to traditional contactless cards.

Rivals to Apple are now promoting that they have or will have there own App that allows the user to do just the same and so you can add that to Apple Pay on your phone or remove and replace it.

What we are not told is that the service is not a full replacement for Internet Banking, the lack of interface with Payment Service Providers means that it will not allow you to confirm account balances, review all transactions on your account or make direct payments.  These services should be available and they potentially could be very secure however the Banks and Mobile Networks are at a standoff as to pricing such interactions.  The Banks wish to pay the Mobile Networks 0.0001p per transaction, The Mobile Networks want 5p per transaction because the massive volumes make it necessary to invest in more infrastructure.  Given that the Banks charge retailers over 50p per transaction it does seem that the Banks are attempting to rip of the Networks, but then I would say that because I work for MNOs rather than Banks.

Why should be accept such a limited service in a mobile payment app? I want something that allows me to replace cheque writing at the start of every school term with a simple system that allows me to send money by text.  It's not difficult Africa and Asia have had such services for years now.

Does Apple have a roadmap that means they will upgrade the services as volumes increase and users demand more features or will Apple Pay be a service like visual voicemail a flash in the pan that is quietly killed off?  Apps are not the disruptive innovation a journalist will have you believe they are compromises because infrastructure for different markets does not have the ability to talk to one another and the owners of the different systems demand so form of entry fee.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Which way does Microsoft turn when it comes to Mobile?

Yessterday Microsoft wrote off the full cost of the Nokia purchase confirming that the addition had failed to change its fortunes within the Mobile sector.  I have watched Microsoft continuely fail in the mobile space for over 15 years with either poor software or limited hardware.  So what does Microsoft do now, walk away from the sector or can it be an effective player?

I think that it has one last roll of the dice.  Look at Microsoft as a whole and whilst it does have some exposure in the consumer space it is predominately an Enterprise business.  If it is to be a success then it should embrace the Enterprise market for mobile solutions and buy BlackBerry.  In doing so it would have an operating system capable of interfacing with Exchange Servers and open up a wide range of poosibilities for itself and its partners.  A BlackBerry that is part of Microsoft would be able to move into the Blue Collar sector and stop losing Professional customers thanks to imporoved Channel Partners who could deliver customers in the tens of thousands.

In the early days of Mobile Data Windows CE was used in the majority of handheld terminals used in logistics, field service engineering and government sectors.  As mobile has become more important to businesses Microsoft has lost its focus and whilst some have attempted to eat into the market with the launching of Apps.  These Apps are a compromise given that iOS and Android do not have enough APIs to open up all the functionality needed for Enterprise Mobility.

The rise of Apple and Android has lowered the valuation of BlackBerry and Microsoft has a large cash pile that it can use to fund a purchase.  BlackBerry can be happy with a new owner that is unlikely to closedown it's Canadian offices and make large redundancies rather they will have someone likely to invest and increase the workforce so Regulatory approval will be easier than say selling to a Far East Manufacturer or Software company.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Don't believe the spin BT will not manage EE any better than it's current owner

The Chief Executives if BT and EE have recently been on a charm offensive aimed at getting us to buy into the view that BT buying EE is a good idea for more than the shareholders of Orange and DT.  They have presented interesting scenarios about Network Investments whilst managing to limit details about pricing and product strategy.

Looking from the outside I fear that in becoming a division of BT Retail the mobile tallent will walk away from the business rather than stay and execute on the plans of the Chief Executives.  Nobody is talking about staff retention for EE and if BT fail to do so then they will be serious trouble.  BT's history in managing Mobile assets is not a good one and for the past 15 years they have not had to, which means they have very little understanding of 3 and 4G Networks.  The Civil Service mentality within BT means that very few within EE will feel comfortable but their knowledge is vital is any progress is to be made post acquisition on the development of Radio Access Networks.

The addition of Mobile to the regulatory mix will give Ofcom the chance to balance the advantage that BT has held recently in gaming investigations.  The EE regulatory team will not find the present relationship carried forward and they might find that they are queried more about network coverage and quality. Becoming the largest operator in both Fixed and Mobile Networks means that BT will need to demonstrate that it is meeting access requirements as well as investing in upgrades.  The Consumer may well benefit in the short term from BT taking over EE in that I expect that a significant investment will be made in Subscriber Acquisition budgets in an effort to retain EE customers and switch BT ones to the Network.  Will shareholders be happy with gifts of subsidised smartphones and tablets?  The increased load on BT Wifi hotspots will also be an interesting traffic light on current investment in the BT Broadband network and upgrade cycle.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Is it possible to fix BT?

Ofcom has started another review into how BT effects the UK telecoms market, so 10 years after the first review. At the same time the CMA are looking at it's plans to buy EE.

This regulatory overview gives a chance to review how BT operates in the UK and what could be done to improve things.  Since the Privatisation of British Telecom the market has failed to offer an effective competitor rather it has seen a race to the bottom.  

Consumers in the UK have been very poorly served when it comes to keep up with Continental rivals when it comes to Infrastructure.  Whilst the cable industry did attempt to build out an alternative network it failed to do so with a sustainable business model and so we are faced with the situation that more households are not pasted by Virgin Media than are. The provider of the last resort is thus BT and as such is highly regulated with an obligation to wholesale network access to rivals.

Thirty years ago Britain got its first mobile networks, one of those had access to enough rooftops to build infrastructure needed up until 2000 thanks to it's only property portfolio and captive business accounts.  The other was Vodafone, a small start up based at the end of the Thames Valley with a sleepy parent focused on the defence industry.  Yet because BT focused on doing things that impeded its rival rather than do what was needed they failed so sceptically that they were forced to divest the Mobile business.

When it comes to the Broadband business it has repeated the same mistakes, rather than invest in the Network so that it was the best possible it has played games with rivals seeking to do just enough to avoid sanction.  We thus find ourselves in the UK operating behind the curve when it comes to digital services because of slow speeds and over capacity.

The last review took Ofcom two years to complete and saw the creation of Openreach as an effective remedy. Hindsight has proved that the actions have not worked and BT rivals are now asking for the business to be spun off from it's parent in an effort to improve capital investment. Such a option will not solve the investment lag rather it will make it worse.

I saw recent analysis of the performance of BT shares over the last fifteen years which highlight that the Management had managed to offer a negative return of some 20+% one of the worse performance with the FTSE 100. Thus shareholder seem just as ineffectual as regulators to force the Executives to run the business.    

Monday, March 02, 2015

GSMA Mobile World Congress 2015

So today the Mobile World Congress officially opened in Barcelona and I fear that it's days are numbered as an event because the Circus that is the exhibition is now too big and the Conference of little relevance to the Mobile Network Operators who make up the GSMA. For many MWC15 started on Sunday with a number of handset makers holding Press Events to launch new devices.

The GSMA in an effort to raise funds has grown the exhibition event to a size that it is no longer controllable.  Yet it has failed to attract the likes of Apple to attend either to exhibitor or talk at the conference. Every year the GSMA attempts to set the agenda and fails, it leaves me feeling disappointed and questions just what datapoints they select in an effort to predict the future.  This year they are focusing on the Internet of Things which I have to ask just what does that have to do with Mobile Networks over the next 5 years?

Just before Telecoms World collapsed we saw Internet Firms descend on Switzerland spending $1M+ on stands getting all the attention rather than presentations on the Conference stage.  I fear that we are witnessing the same with MWC.  At the end of this week I am sure that the GSMA will announce ever more visitors attended, more press attended and the whole thing was a success.  I think I will say that the event has become somewhat like a Conservative Party Conference all be it on a large scale. We took a trip to the seaside to walk around a massive soulless space and feel that we are close to the powerful only to discover that we have no influence let alone power to shape the future!