Monday, December 16, 2013

Will the real BT stand up?

Over the weekend I read three stories about BT which paint a confused view of just what it's future might be. On Saturday the Guardian reported that thanks to BT TV complaints have shoot up. The Yesterday's Sunday Times had two stories in the Business Section about the return of BT Mobile and a feature on NEW CEO Gavin Patterson's £2bn bet on sports TV.

If you read on paper you get the view that BT's retail strategy is in need of a major review. The customers are unhappy with the failings of not just it's TV product but also it's Broadband product. The only provider that gets more complaints for it's Broadband is EE.

Read the Sunday Times and all is good for BT it's about to get back in the Mobile Phone business after leaving in 2001 and BT TV has seen 3M on Virgin and Sky take the service. Then a full page feature on new CEO Gavin Paterson and his £2bn bet on sports TV is a bold gamble that aims to grow the business after a period of cost cutting. He will use a Quad Play offer to drive up incomes having bought some 4G spectrum and struct an MVNO deal with EE.

The problem is that Simon Duke in the Sunday Times does not seem to understand that BT has had MVNO agreements with O2 and Vodafone ever since it sold of it's mobile arm after over paying for 3G spectrum in 2000. He also does not seem to understand that since 2008 BT has failed to invest the money need to provide the long term upgrade in super-fast fibre to the curb rather than cabinet just as it failed to match European spending in ADSL deployment ten years previously.

When you start to understand that last week OFCOM reported that the UK has the lowest consumer prices for Mobile services in Europe you start to ask it's not just Duke that fails to understand the realities of a very competitive telecoms market but BT also.  For too long the Company thinks that one of its prime roles is to defend itself against the regulator rather than invest in it's Network so that it survives long term.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

You lost the love....

Hey Mobile Network Operator just what is going on. We have been together for some years now and whilst my love of mobile has grown stronger you have lost the love for me you once had. When we first started you were happy and helpful, giving and gracious. Nothing was too much for you, my calls were picked up by a human quickly and presents were given. Today it takes an age to get through the machine before a grumpy despondent surly conversation leaves me thinking why did I call because you don't love me any more.

I pay my bill on time, I accept you declining coverage when it comes to a phone call and the fact that when ever possible you hand me off to a wifi network. I know that the present of a new shinny device once a year was too much to ask and can now wait two years or go out and buy a replacement device myself.

Yet you now seem to think that the transaction should be something that is best undertaken at lowest cost despite the fact that I still manage to spend £100+ when others around are giving you far less each month. I know that at this time my leaving to join another makes no sense as you are working to an Industry Standard but it cannot be sustained soon I could become a nomad and operate with just wifi and tablet. I am not someone who is looking for the lowest transaction cost but rather the service that my loyalty and spend justify when seen against the average. Keeping me is about more than a calculation of margin over Subscriber Acquisition Cost it is about your Brand Values meaning something.

Looking at Twitter and chatting with mates it seems that I am not the only one that feels that you have lost the love for the consumer. It is not that our standards are raised rather that yours have dropped. Soon I will be embarrassed to say that I work in the Mobile Industry and can no longer recommend my supplier to those looking to change as at this time the reasons to change are difficult to see.

Please roll back the changes, stop trying to be a faceless heartless corporate and show some empathy not just for me but for each of the contract customers once more. You might just be rewarded yourself with growing revenues and fewer contract cancelations.         

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's not about the technology....

A friend on Twitter pointed me at this article on how Blackberry could have avoided becoming a footnote in business study classes looking at the Kodak Moment.

I am surprised that someone who works for an Advertising Agency fails to point to the obvious factors in Apples success.  When none of the others were directly advertising to the consumer on TV, Apple were.  When few were advertising handsets in the Press Apple did. Others at that time had stopped advertising above the line because they were selling products via Partners those partners were the Mobile Operators who used the coop funds to pay for in store and brochures which lets face it looks old and out of date compared to Apple.

NOTHING on a iPhone was new to the mobile industry what was fresh was the promotion and development of the aspirational quality of the handset.  It has been helped by the "exclusivity" model used by Apple to "limit" mass market appeal. This fashion label allowed Apple for a time to lead the Smartphone market but was quickly overtaken in terms of volume by Samsung who used it's Far East cooperation ethos to appeal to those that where anti-Apple to grab the market.

The big question is will my Grandchildren read that Apple was just another Levis Strauss in that it helped establish a sector, almost died, had a return to fashion and then a slow but inevitable decline?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An act of stupidity by a desperate Prime Minister

I picked up my morning paper and almost tore it in two reading the latest stupid PR stunt from David Cameron. When Ed Miliband made his Conference Speech this September we were told that price controls could not work and were wrong. Yet with his back to the wall Dave has decided that all utility companies need to be told that his government will not accept price rises in the run up to the 2015 election.

This is an act akin to King Canute except the Prime Minister does not understand that he cannot turn back the tide of price increases.

An analysis of the players in the market will show that many are subsidiaries of  overseas businesses rather than British and thus have little loyalty to local politicians. They are in the majority investing in significant infrastructure programs that mean that rather than pay taxes they have losses to cover.

What the Prime Minister should be doing via the offices of the Department of Culture Media and Sport and Ofcom is making sure that telecoms networks are able to deploy high speed broadband to the majority of the population in the majority of places. It is with such a network that the economy will grow and income rise at such a level that people do not feel price rises.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Questions Raised

Over the last few months my work projects have seen some recurring observations develop into points of interest.  I am not sure where the answers are, I am not even sure that people are making the same observations let alone crafting solutions. I thought that I would hang a few of the observations out and see if people want to respond.

So if I am using multiple devices, why can't I share "history" across them? I don't want just the synchronise my end points rather I want to map the footsteps that I travelled in getting from A to B.  Thus this is not a synchronisation problem rather it is about replication. Who can I trust to store and retrieve these journeys?

If it is about the software are we getting to a point when the hardware doesn't need to be replaced so frequently? With hardware now priced a $600+ for a premium device why can't I get it built to order and so specify what I want? If that happens then the Mobile Networks need to change their business model as they are no longer financing the device rather they are facilitating connectivity!

If you look back at the history of 3G technology you discover what we saw at launch phase quickly changed as customers declined to take the product served up by the Mobile Networks.  It was only once 3G had become established that Apple entered the market and disrupted the whole industry. The current generation was launch two years ago in two years time it should be established enough for someone to enter the market and disrupt it once again. The speed and quality of the data connection should make for a number of interesting possibilities, the loss of trust in established players and the advertising based funding model for the Internet means that for someone a massive opportunity awaits.    

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

So will we be wearing our next mobile phone?

The excitement over the summer has been about wearables when it comes to mobile technology.  Will our next device be in the form of smartglasses or smartwatches or even a smartsuit?

To be honest having got into some of the futurology that saw mobile phones becoming just a piece of jewellery in the form of a single earring I have a bad track record. I thought that we would be living in smart houses that sensed everything that went on and the handset would become the ultimate remote controller. I saw the mobile network morphing into a service provider that would be trusted to hold and manage all your personal data.  To be honest these were forecasts back in 20th century and Google and Facebook had not become the cornerstones of many lives and we did not thing the NSA would read all our data.  The Mobile Network was going to become everyones personal assistant and we would all have exemplary concierge levels of service.

What I do think that is that we will not live with a single connected device rather we will have a number of devices which will have a personal network connection to a modem that offers highspeed broadband and voice services. Some people who are happy with "popular" music can live with Spotify and YouTube whilst others will want a music device that plays back their musical collection. The same can be said for e-reader, camera, media consumption screen. Some are happy to map their run using an app on a phone whilst others have a more detailed record tanks to a Garmin Watch, in future the Watch will connect to the web via your personal modem.

As Augmented Reality develops we might expect the specialist glasses to become contact lenses or a protection device as seen with fighter pilots head up displays.

As healthcare gets involved we could start to see a number of devices that are warn to sense vital signs and mobility.  We can expect to these developed for the Defence and Old Aged markets before they become mainstream.  We might also be able to see tags used to enable smart seats, beds or toilets in connecting them to a mobile device and using proximity it will allow differentiation of different people within a building. These devices are likely to be manufactured thanks to 3D printing development rather than Samsung/Apple/Google design labs and Chinese factories.

The big issue will be that the deployment of smart buildings and thus smart cities is going to be the ability to get political buy in and consumer uptake.  Very many of the senior executives I meet alongside senior politicians and very rich individuals do not carry a phone and have no wish to do so. Thus in areas of New York, Switzerland, London, Paris and Berlin now can to build the infrastructure needed to mesh new services together?  

I think that we will see a number of prototypes come to market when it comes to wearables most of which will fail because we would be embarrassed to wear them and be seen as some form of cyborg. If the wearables could be made to look like "normal" products then fear that you are being "stalked" would force social pressure to stop use. Would you want someone with a wearable to share the changing facilities with you at your gym?

My advice to Mobile Networks invest in building the fastest best quality network, develop tools to manage ID, offer storage and form federations to innovate service fail to that and expect to fall.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some thoughts about the recent developments in the handset space

Well the summer has been an eventful one for Handset Manufacturers.  We have had the expected refresh of the benchmark for smartphone from Apple and whilst they have managed to break sales records thanks to clever marketing and management of supply they didn't in my opinion retake leadership of the sector. Samsung continues to drive ahead with the expansion of the Galaxy brand thanks to a refresh of the Note and the introduction of a wristwatch form factor as remote control/2nd Screen. The car crashes have been spectacular with Nokia exiting the market via a fire sale to Microsoft quickly bettered by the offer for BlackBerry by Fairfax. Have not started analysis of the performance of HTC, LG, Sony who seem to have become casualties in the OS wars of recent years not server enough to kill them but bad enough to make them marginal players.

On the Apple front I was pleased to see just like others in the fashion industry they have given up trying to make size zero yet slimmer. I just hope that they and others will take note of the reviews of the two new iPhones side by side that report the 5c feels better in the hand and start adding curves. But please don't go over the top with a Kim Kardashian inspired monster, if that were to happen it would be on a par with the Pink Motorola V3 razr and signal that innovation had died and marketing was going to kill the business. On a negative front the changes seen with iO7 seem to be cosmetic rather than a genuine shift that takes into account that a 4G handset is a very different device to one that spends most of its time on Wifi. Perhaps next year the designers will rock up with a new OS that moves the world forward rather than paint lipstick on a fading star?

Samsung is a company that always surprises me when ever I interface with it. It's old school centralised command and control structure and long term planning seems inflexible yet surprises in getting the market right.  Unlike any of the other Handset Guys it still seems to value it's channel partners and has strong relationships with the mobile networks who after all will sell the majority of its handsets. Yet design by committee does seem to be throwing up some strange selections. The Mobile Phone business has spent twenty years telling people that don't need to wear a device on the wrist to tell the time and yet they come out and launch such a device.  Looking at the functionality I would have hoped that they would have followed Polar and combined fitness applications alongside the ability to be a second screen for a tablet/phone.

What can I say about Nokia without sounding like Tomi Ahonen? I would point out that when Nokia overtook Motorola to become Number 1 in the world it did so working with the Network Operators and up until the arrival of Elop maintained strong links.  The business was not in bad shape until it started listening to those say they need to get like Apple and so they put all their eggs in the Microsoft basket.

Until last week I was sure that Nokia would be the Business School case study in the decline and fall of mobile phone businesses but then we had BlackBerry!  Just WOW when will the lawyers start filing claims against the Board for mismanagement? When will the regulators start asking questions about financial mismanagement? When will the stockholders realise that Fairfax are the undertakers rather than saviours for the business and the body has greater value to others and seek better offers?  I don't think that we have heard the last on BlackBerry and would not be surprised to see Microsoft own the business once the dust has settled.

I think that we need a decent competitor to Google when it comes to Mobile OS and Apple is not it because it is focused just on the high end. I stronger better Microsoft that uses features from BES/BIS and can manufacture low cost devices that are sold via partners is just the kind of business that would scare the Californian Tech set and in doing so might force them to innovate and develop for a world based on 4G connectivity rather than the patch work networks we see today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

As we move towards 4G what might we expect?

Futurology is a difficult thing, it is easy to get trends right but very difficult to predict just when something might happen and how big it will be.

So here in the UK we have finally sold the spectrum for the launch of 4G services and can expect rivals to EE to start launching services in the Summer.  Will I be standing in line as a fan boy on launch date waiting for an upgrade?

No I don't think it will be an upgrade rather I think that my will be adding a MiFi device to my account so that I can make use of the faster data connection and the wifi connections on my Laptop, Tablet, MP3 player and e-reader when I am mobile and in an area without hotspot action.  Having been at the launch of 2G, 2.5G, 3G and 3.5G services I am experienced enough to know that what the Mobile Operator wants to sell me may not equate to what I need and will not be priced in a manor that encourages use.  Just look at the "smartphones" that were available at the start of 3G against the current suite of Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry or iPhone devises. Most people got their first experience via a dongle that connected a laptop to 3G than handsets, why would 4G be any different?

What I do expect to see is more innovation from the Networks when it comes to pricing.  The thing about 4G is that it is all about faster data connections and thus you do not multiple accounts/devices rather a single account that allows you to connect as many devices as possible to consume a set amount of data.  I do not expect the present simple structure to work, the first issue is that user has no idea of now much they have use/have left and adding multiple accounts will only make it harder to understand.  I expect that we might see something that reflects the number of devices and times that you expect to use the service.  A Family plan that allows say up to 20 devices use a single connection point mainly before 8:30 and after 16:30 Monday to Friday and at Weekends and a Business Plan that sees connectivity take place between 08:00 and 19:00 and has a higher speed and capacity than the Family plan.

I hope that the introduction of 4G will see innovation from the Networks that see them working with developers rather than against them to use things such as Augmented Reality and Big Data to improve user experiences. I hope that rather than have a service forced upon me that is backed by advertising I have the option to buy a subscription that means I can remove adverts.