Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Step back and ask who asked for this service

Yesterday we saw 3 carry on with its disruptive approach to the mobile market with the launch of the Skypephone. Others have written how this is just the thing needed to break the walled garden and the arrival of free phone calls.

Last night the Gadget Show on Channel 5 here in the UK had a comparison of the iPhone against the Nokia N95. Time and again the two presenters showed how the American designed phone lacked the power Europeans demand in its camera, texting and connection speeds. However everyone want to look at the Apple phone because it was attractive.

Both these features meant that I was grumpy by the time I went to sleep as once again they demonstrated just what is wrong with Mobile at the moment. We are too focused on the latest technology than making sure what we have works.

What we need to look at is just who is going to buy a new service, and when they do are they going to be happy with the quality and price.

Taking the use of Skype, if I use it it is not because it is free it is because I know that I get to talk with someone rather than voicemail. Email no longer works with many of my contacts as they have a vast backlog of unread messages that means that too often the response comes too late. I use texts to set up a call with a few people because they are not on Skype. With Skype I check availability and then call on my mobile or landline because my monthly fee has a large call allowance which most months I do not fully use.

The free calls that 3 are promoting are on net Skype to Skype calls. This means that they in fact a closed community, if you want to call an real number then you are charge for it. Thus waht you have is a service that 3 hope will stimulate more calls terminating on its network in the same way that they were paying those onPAYG to receive calls. I do not think that the service is mass market and I do not think that its disruptive. I can see a few early adopters carrying a second or third handset to play with the service.

If rumours are to be believed this month Google will finally lift its skirts and show us what it has got in the way of a mobile phone service. Once again a few will say that they have seen the light and that the Internet has once again showed the dumb operators that open is best. What they might need to look at is the architecture models currently running in the networks that seeCAPEX cycles triggered when capacity hits 70% this is far lower than in the fixed world. This fact means that we have owners of the assets looking to manage traffic far more than those in the fixed world.

I know that this post is not well argued but then I am angry that once again hype has trumped logic. Use the comment box to ask a question or point out why I am wrong and I will respond in a more structured manner.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Evolution at work

Yesterday I went to a railway arch in South London to here now Orange see the future of work.

It was interesting to see that mobile data is on the up turn. Last year the event was compared by an Orange Business SVP and this year we had a BBC journalist.

After five years the guys at Orange Business Services are getting good at staging such events that aim to show businesses now to use technology to manage the work force. This year we were not force feed that the solution requires Orange Broadband for home workers.

Robert Ainger presented the latest findings from Orange Future Enterprise on emerging work culture. I now know that I might be a Replicant or I could be working in a Mutual World whilst last year I was living in a data cloud with selective integration. It would have been good it the facilitators were better educated when talking about the future of work.

Over the last few weeks I have been listening to presentations about how IBM and Shell have been working on the future of work. We were also treated to some figures from Microsoft on how mobile and remote working is developing and how they themselves live using just such solutions. The next few weeks I am going to spend time looking more into the generational as well as the geographic differences of technology adoption. Can see myself investing time with a few of those that have made me think over the last few months about how things are coming together.

Why the photo, well I think it shows Orange addressing 52% of the population with something more than a Pink handset. The sad thing was that over the two hours it was working I did not see one person indulge. Perhaps those that were manning the stands enjoyed it once we all left.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A road map for the future

Over the last few weeks I have been consulting more and more about what Mobile might look like in 2012.

An interesting element is that the mobile networks are remember that first and foremost they are telephone companies and thus voice needs to be at the core of what they do. I hope that Voice2.0 will see the network look at what they can do before, during and after a call. I hope that in the near term what we will see is the introduction of better call quality alongside something that gives presence information before I make a call.

I am less positive on what happens with mobile data with a fixation on taking what happens on the fixed web and making it viewable on a small screen. If you think people making phone calls whilst driving is bad, just sit behind a driver send a text message to see that motion and mobility is dangerous. However the ability to use voice to navigate a website is exciting, it is one of the things I love about my Opera browser. Imaging if the Mobile Network could let me find driving directions (using handsfree) on the basis that I am charged on a premium rate call for the few times that I am lost in a new town without a satnav. Orange once had a service called Wildfire that provided a voice driven PA, then they were bought by the French and it was closed. What it did have when it was running was a loyal user base who spent over twice what the ARPU numbers were.

Whilst I am happy to read a few RSS feeds from my favourite websites, very few of the headlines result in me loading the page in full. This blog was written on a laptop waiting to fly home after a business trip, it would not be done if I were using just a phone, that is done with twitter should I want to.

At present Mobile Data is still about SMS. The major money spiller is not one-to-one texts which are predominately part of a bundle, it is rather premium SMS services linked to TV promotions. In the UK this is something that we are going to see decline thanks to the current stream of fraud and scandal. So with fewer and fewer people texting to lose the writing on the wall is that the users are not demanding data services in big enough volumes.

I do not think that Orange will be the only network that changes the guard at the top of the business. With new management teams to be bedded in, we are not going to see large amounts of innovation. My fellow Consultants are looking a windfalls as new mandidates are given to undertake benchmarking projects. The only hope if you are a consumer is that 3 and T-Mobile continue to be disruptive. I do not expect the iPhone to be a major impact in the UK because they are not that great for those that send text messages.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Futures Bright?

The FT reports that Bernard Ghillebaert has been shown the door at Orange UK and that his replacement will be English and not a current FT employee.

Over the last few months I have become ever more frustrated at how far Orange had fallen from its heights. My day-to-day dealings with them have become a case book on how not to manage customers.

However a change of management will not change the business I am afraid that the move towards being more than a very good mobile phone company means that it has shifted to point that it cannot go backwards. I have never believed that convergence and multiple service offers work in telecoms. If you are Tesco's then you can cross sell to your customer base cheap what ever because they are in the market for cheap. However if you are offering an ever declining service what makes you think that someone will take more alternative services from you?
Would I accept the opportunity to once again consult to Orange?

I do not think that I would as the business is now an administration and stuck with meeting the demands of a distribution platform. Looking at the UK, Orange needs to say that the current infrastructure does not allow it to follow what happens in France and so something else is needed. I would advise them to look at the voice element of the business and at what can be done before, during and after a call takes place. Better voice quality will mean increased revenues, we are after all paying $1.3Trillion to use mobiles as a telephone and very little to watch TV, surf or shop!


The Independent had a short feature on Tom Alexander the man that Orange have turned to for leadership. Now a number of people that I have talked to this week have all said why? Tom you see does not need the money he was rich before NTL bought Virgin Mobile. He is also not very good at working in big companies, as anyone who knew him from is time at BT will tell you.

I have to say that the fact that the man he replaces has not been fired also speaks volumes. Just hope that the arrival of a new Chairman at FT will make things interesting.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Western Union's new mobile service

Yesterday the GSM Association and Western Union announced that they had struck a deal to bring the Money Transfer Service to mobile.

An agreement to use the GSMA platform does not mean that the service will be available on all if any of the 35 operators networks that are taking part in the scheme.

This is something that I see as a backward step in Mobile Commerce. The introduction of Western Union has to be a backward step. With G Cash in the Far East it is a service that works because it's cheaper to use than Western Union. The same is true in South Africa. Thus in an effort to get traction for a product the GSMA have allowed the fox into the chicken house.

The whole platform in general is something that I see as likely to fail as others GSMA projects have because this is not something that is driven by Operator demand. This like .mobi is something that the GSMA sees as a way to raise income for itself. They have not been able to demonstrate that the consumer or the networks want any form of mobile remittance or mobile commerce product.

In working with the Operators on M-Payment solutions the first thing that they look at is the risk of being seen as a bank. If you start to undertake remittance based payments then you are competing with the Banks on a transaction that has a good profit margin, thus they will ask that you are regulated in the same way as they are. This is something that no mobile operator can accept because of liquidity requirements. However if you were to build a platform that replaced low value transactions and thus reduce the banks cost base then you can work in partnership providing that you have something that is available across all of the mobiles in a particular country. Getting everyone to join a micro payments based service is however very difficult, so far every attempt in the UK has ended in failure.

Now if the GSMA was a trade association rather than a commercial organisation it might be able to do something in the world of payments. This action show that they are about income for themselves even if it does evil.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Latest toys

Since returning from my holiday I have replaced my handset with a new Sony Ericsson P1i and have a Jawbone as my headset.

The process has not been an easy one in terms of moving settings over from my old handset and setting up connectivity for data services from Orange. It has made me think that what's needed is some form of Vault which I can use to replicate what I have on one phone over to another. I did try to use a number of third party solutions but they did not cover all the basis. Orange were of little help because the handset is not yet available on their network and so they have no settings for it.

This got me thinking that the SIM free route for handset guys will require a huge investment in technical support which at present they don't have in place. If I pay someone over £200 pounds for a handset when my network give it for free they better have more than basic technical support available at the end of a 0870 number.

Over the last three weeks I have started to use it more and more as my only device. It does not take long to effectively use the Qwerty based keypad. The only draw back is when calling an IVR based Customer Services number that ask for two letters from you password and you have to quickly remember how to translate back to a numeric key pad. The keylock at times is a little to quick and for a handset this new I would have hoped for HSDPA data. Otherwise with a few mobile apps added to the standard set its very good. Having spoken ata number of events in the last two weeks the card scanner is excellent.

With Jawbone I have to date been very happy with the headset, its light, does not get in the way of my glasses and the audio quality is first rate. Battery life is great. The downside is that the dust cover keeps falling off and its only a question of time before I lose it.

Wonder if I will keep this handset until Christmas or am I going to be tempted by something more shinny?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thoughts from Carriers World

Last week I spent a day listening and talking to the wholesale telecoms world. A few interesting points came out of the conversations.

  1. The Carriers are only just now tarting to understand and plan for the demands of Mobile Networks. Looking at the backhaul network for one major mobile network who are running HSDPA they are using 2M lines, so I guess that explains why the service is slow even thought very few of your customers have signed up for it! It also places a massive question market over any data services because of the potential for a bottleneck that stops everything working.
  2. Customers still want voice, and lots of it! The rise of Voice thanks to VoIP offerings has been something that the Carriers have not been forecasting. One presentation by Lycatel showed that rather than cannibalise revenues the introduction of MVNO services in mainland Europe has seen revenue growth on the calling card side of the business.

A few of those present went on to talk about development in voice services, such as the Cisco Conferencing Suites that use enhanced voice solutions to improve the call quality. Having had some experience of the early video conferencing solutions move to the desktop I have to say that all is well until the CEO decides to try the service whilst skiing and cannot understand why the difference between his experience on ADSL and the fibre solution at the office.

The wake up call for me was that even after 20 plus years of having a mobile arm the wholesale demands are not fully understood by the Carriers. Just how can you to run data services as a mobile firm if your standards are different from the provider of Backbone connectivity? Even the understanding of IP standards does not seem to be the same? Security provides interesting headaches because on a carrier network they don't have SIMS that carry the ID management and so require protection across the whole network. Does this mean that my next generation handset will be getting bigger rather than smaller?

More Truephone "good news"

Truephone has demoed its software running on an iPhone just as Apple lock down handsets that have been hacked.

Will we see Truephone take Apple to court when they get locked out? They say that they have every right to run on the Apple platform using the browser and wifi to make calls.

Guess they have not read that one of the key elements in any iPhone deal is that Mr Jobs not only gets the tribe to pay top dollar for his equipment he also gets a share of the revenues. Hope that the Truephone guys can make the app work on a Touch because they wont get it to work on an iPhone for long.

Wonder if they can demo it on the T-Mobile network next month when it goes live in Germany?