Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A bad day for Britain's Mobile Ecosystem

Today at the Science Museum Everything Everywhere entertained the dumb and witless of the British Press to its "plans" for the launch of LTE services in the UK.  Next month they will give the opportunity to a few to have a service that is so far away from 4G standards that it's laughable. EE are offering the consumer the chance to experience a Mobile Broadband experience of up to 8Mbps which is slower than some with HSDP+ devices on Vodafone are capable of getting.

This launch has every opportunity of being an even bigger disappointment that 3G was in 2003 when coverage was very poor and devices were not best suited for the improvements offered by the new technology.  The real benefit of 4G is not in services to "smartphones" rather it will be improved connectivity for laptops and tablets or it will be delivering highspeed broadband to rural areas. Everything Everywhere has no intention of offering such services any time soon.  Perhaps that is because at present it has problems giving 3G services to these markets.

The UK Government has so far managed to fudge and fiddle the sale of 4G spectrum and hopes that in allowing Everything Everywhere rights to run a second rate service they can force Stakeholders to participate in a flawed sales rather than seek judicial review and see yet more delays.  I would rather have a delayed launch of 4G that gives Britain a significant uplift that enables it to compete with rivals that a glitzy marketing launch of an inferior service that history will see as willy waving - all be it with a shinny new iPhone.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Just how stupid were the Conservative Government to privatise British Telecom?

In 1984 I left school with a few A levels and started looking for a job rather than go to University. At the same time Margaret Thatcher's Government were in the process of Privatising the Nationalised Industries and the floated British Telecom.  We were told that the new company would be more efficient and the Economy would benefit from a better run business.  "We want BT to have the complete freedom that a private company has.  Only in this way can the needs of the country and of BT be met.  The Bill creates freedom from Treasury and ministerial control.  It also gives freedom to BT to grow, to operate overseas, and to make acquisitions... the market is growing so quickly that BT can expand only by becoming a free, independent company" (Kenneth Baker, Minister for Industry and Information Technology, 29 November 1982).

"If we were to continue with the old cosy relationship of a public utility with an exclusive privilege, having its accredited manufacturers continuously supplying equipment to the same specifications, this country would become a telecommunications backwater" (John Butcher, Under Secretary of State for Industry, 15 February 1983).

So lets wide the clock forward to 2012 and look at what the UK needs in terms of telecoms products and how BT are able to service those needs.  Today in Parliament the Prime Minister said the he wanted hi Secretary of State for Culture to build the High Speed Broadband the country needs to get the Economy growing.  I almost chocked on my coffee, just how was she going to incentivise a Private Company to invest in infrastructure at a rate where it was likely to lose money?  The Chairman and Chief Executive of BT can rightly say that regardless of what the Government wants they answer to the shareholders who want a return of their investment.

Back at the time of the first Internet bubble in the late 1990s Britain was a laggard when it came to Broadband services and speed.  The issue was that BT had not invested in new service because the regulator and the shareholders were acting as an anchor.  In other parts of Europe State Owned Monopolies had been able to get a march on the UK with the deployment of ADSL services.  In an effort to remedy this the Regulator decided that BT would have to give access to it's exchanges for rivals to install equipment and hopefully introduce competition that would force BT to launch faster services to maintain customers.  Rather than achieve what they hoped for the Regulator they found the BT went slower holding back the introduction of faster services and future Upgrades to High Speed Broadband have been even slower.

Over the past year I have watched the deployment of High Speed Fibre to my local exchange in West Hertfordshire.  The project was first expected to be completed in January 2012.  The Exchange did no go live until July 2012 a delay of six months. The service available to most households is not the Infinity product advertised on the television but rather a service a quarter of that speed.  The reason is that the suburban town that I live in has too much copper buried in the ground rather than running through ducts.  This is expensive to replace and only seems to be done by BTOpenreach if the cable has been stollen.  Thus the market does not seem to be working for the benefit of the consumer or the Economy because BT does not have a financial incentive to maintain the best possible network.

In the last financial year BT has generated some £2.5Bn in free cashflow, it has also paid a dividend to shareholders.  These funds could have been used it the Utility was still in State ownership to invest in the deployment of Highspeed Broadband across the whole of the UK. The Privatised BT has not become free and it has not increased the number of suppliers used to build and maintain it's Network rather it has decreased them as they seek to reduce costs.  The cost cutting measures has also seen less money spent on training and development of Engineers the almost total closure of it's R&D facilities and consumers suffering poor quality service. (NB Once I have an update on my current service complaint to the Chairman's Office at BT I will write another post on just how they are failing to deliver)

I look across at France Telecom, Deutsch Telecom and KPN and think that  Conservative Prime Ministers have very little understand of the strategic importance of world leading communications networks.  When I visit somewhere such as Korea and Japan and see what they have achieved with Super Fast Broadband delivered via a form of planned economy and I wish that my Parents had not returned from the Far East in 1976 and I worked there.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What I'd like to hear in Barcelona next week

Have been thinking about the upcoming MWC2012 and rather than looking at what shinny new handsets will be shown and how the GSMA will be "helping" the industry move forwards through strategic alliances I have written a wish list of what would help the mobile industry move forward.

As we make major strides toward the fourth generation of mobile networks I would like to see the head of Ericsson lead the industry forwards with an honest assessment of the current state of deployment of 2G, 3G and 4G networks what they are capable of doing and how they need to be melded together to deliver quality of service and best speed possible. The need for better chip design and roadmap to LTE terminals capable of using the high-speed network. What networks need to do to match services with capability.

I want the CTO of a Major Mobile Network to stand up and talk about Security, Security, Security as the cornerstone for the business if we are to move towards cloud based services and leave behind the world of Apps. I am looking for a CTO who can tell me how his Network is secure, my Device is secure and finally my Data is secure. Once he can tell that all three are secure then we can start to talk about the quality of the network in terms of bandwidth and coverage to enable me to do stuff via the Cloud rather than solid state.

I would like a Politician to start talking about how the consumer needs to pay for the use of the resources they consume, how spectrum is a key resource and in an effort to stop people wasting it people need to understand the present model of billing is no longer fit for purpose. In an effort to aid the consumer his Government has stopped selling spectrum but rather is now licensing blocks to Networks and the effectively regulating them for poor services, once the network is built and running effectively they intend to tax the Networks on profits made. The Regulation of New Mobile Networks will be done of the basis of coverage and speed in relation to the population and to assist in the quick and effect build out of networks planning permission has been revised to allow replacement of old equipment with the latest without needing a new permit.

Can we have an evangelist from the Silicon designers who is capable of explaining why System on a Chip designs are a compromise whilst we await better batteries, how the new Wifi and Fixed Wireless Broadband standards will impact on the development of GSM standards and how at this moment there are no chips capable of covering all the available spectrum and thus Software Defined Radio is once again stalled. Will the industry representative also take a stick to the current trend towards smaller smartphones and point out that what is needed are designs that will get teens, blue collar and emerging markets doing more with mobiles?

Finally can Martin Sorrell talk about how marketing is killing mobile as only an idiot would expect advertising to generate the revenues needed to give someone a free phone. As we become more aware of the way data on our habits is sold what kind of fool would allow themselves to be ripped off? What Brand would coupon customers to such a level that they make no money, once to get someone in the shop fine but if you have to keep doing it then they are parasites not customers because they will never afford what you are selling. Effective marketing is about getting people with money to pay as much as possible for stuff, when they stops the business starts to die and finally goes bankrupt. Consumers use of mobile is different from fixed and so don't just think that it is a new media on which to send junk mail.

The above are my hopes, my expectation is that we will be talking about a few new handsets that will keep Android out in front of the iPhone, RIM still has not got what it takes to compete with Apple and Google and Nokia can still make great hardware. The GSMA will talk about m-Health being the next big market for mobile and Machine-2-Machine is going to be massive (it's not as big as they think because lots of smart-meters will use powerline technology rather than 3G) and look at the success of M-Banking.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Apple is bad for the Mobile Industry

If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter then you will know that I am no fan of Apple.
I do not buy into the myth that they are interested in what the consumer wants but rather feel that they are very good at marketing compared to their peers.

The current focus on lets make everything a slim as possible is not a benefit but rather an obsession in controlling component manufacturers and in doing so setting prices. Why is Apple's management of the supply chain OK and Tesco's controlling of farmers wrong when they are both the same thing?

Recently I have been using my old Ericsson T68i and the ergonomics of the phone makes it a joy to hold and use. More importantly put the handset down on a surface and the rubber back means that it does not slide around. OK I am use the T68i as a PHONE and so was interested in calling and SMS rather than web based apps but then I was working rather than looking to fill dead time.

Because of Apple's lead as the trend setter other makers of Smartphones are all attempting to make handsets that look and function in the same way as an iPhone. I had hoped that design at Nokia had not been sacrificed on the "burning deck" of re-engineering the Firm undertaken by Steve Elop but unfortunately they seemed to have lost all their corporate intelligence. Nokia Engineering had grown too big but at one time they had people who were concerned by the response a user got when pushing a button and attempted to make the experience better.

What concern does Apple have for the user? I fear that it is more akin to IKEA than Georg Jensen. After a while as consumers learn more about how to use products that they own they understand the failings of low cost mass design and production and are willing to pay more for a better experience. Yet what improvement do we see with the iPhone in terms of industrial design?

If Jonathan Ive is a Design Hero then he needs to demonstrate such by following the actions of Dieter Rams rather than just mouthing kind words about his ability. Rams with Vitsoe and Braun was capable of designing products that function on a higher level than Apple has ever done. If you want to learn more then get yourself a copy of As Little Design As Possible.

Others are starting to realise that Apple's business practices are bad for the sector as a whole they do not seem to be in the UK or US but rather Germany and France where the company has a smaller impact as a whole. I have long been a advocate of the fact that most people do not seek to converge to a single device but rather are happy to carry a number of them. Sit on public transport and you can watch people switching between phone, MP3, e-reader, tablet rather than using a single device. Apple has benefitted from this divergence getting people to buy iPhone, iPod, iPad yet when it comes to the phone they offer one single device in terms of form factor.

If I want to create something then a touch screen device does not make it easy. Yes I know David Hockney makes art on his iPad but he also uses a Hasselblad and very large canvases and paint for his large public works. A keyboard with good design allows faster typing than I can do on an iPad even if that is a simple one such as on my T68i let alone a QWERTY design.

Then how about Apple giving a screen that is better in bright light that is also capable of falling three feet without breaking? My observation of others on Public Transport usually allows me to spot two or three broken iPhone screens. I do not see any broken Sony Ericsson, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry or Nokia screens.

If an iPhone is about wonderful User Interface design the can't I expect more of a physical interface than a single button?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Thinking about Mobile Handsets

Over the last few weeks I have been looking at upgrading the handsets of my three daughters and so have reviewed what is on the market and what they wish to do with there phones.

This will be the fourth handset that my Twins have owned. At the moment they are happy users of a Blackberry Bold which are starting to show signs of age. They are not heavy users of either text or voice but they use BBM and Facebook with a little email. They are thus happy with the QWERTY form factor and when asked if they wanted a Blackberry Touch they declined as the find the lack of keyboard slows them down. They are looking for something that is robust enough to live with the knocks of life in a teenage girl’s pocket and bag that means it has to bounce before it breaks.

The youngest wants her second mobile phone to have a few more features that the basic candy bar she currently has. She does not want an iPhone as “the girls who have one at school are bullies and they all seem to be broken within a few weeks.” I have been looking at a number of Android handsets but she seems to like the Nokia Lumina 800 I have been playing with because it does not look girlie, has a good camera and the battery lasts.

When you look at the shelves in a phone retailer at the moment if you take the Blackberries away what you see is a Smartphone format that is almost uniform. It reminds me of the mid 1990s just as the industry was about to under go massive expansion and all you could have was a black brick, then Nokia launched the 5110i with snap on covers and Motorola and Samsung decided that we might like silver clamshells.

Perhaps we can pause for breath on the development of Operating systems and start to look at form factors? For a number of years I have thought that mobile users are unlikely to carry just one mobile phone when they are able to purchase devices and looking at fellow travellers on the train it does now seem that time has come. Not everyone wishes to carry a device with a 3½ to 4½ inch screen as a phone, so why not have some devices that don’t have a touch screen but rather a simple keyboard?

The interesting thing is that none of the three seem to be demanding a wide range of Apps with which to “personalize” their handset. The number of people they “chat” with on Facebook is a subset of their “Friends” with whom they are social both in the real and virtual world. They do want a device that gives access to YouTube. A VPN which would give access to catch up TV from both the UK and US would be very welcomed. But if that was not available no problem as they can do so via Laptop or Tablet.

When it comes to an upgrade of my handset, something that I can quickly synchronise with my car, laptop and headset would make life easy. As I tend to use my phone whilst driving something with very good voice command would be welcomed. I would love to get rid of the touch screen as too often I put my current phone in my pocket after use and the discover that because it was still active I have played audio books, surfed the web and changed the keyboard, theme etc. . Over the last 14 months my favorite handset has been my Vertu Ascent because it does what I want it to do and when I need something I just use the Concierge service.