Technology Journalist and Copywriter

Kate O'Flaherty


Welcome to my blog, featuring industry musings and opinions on the latest products

By kateoflaherty, Feb 5 2015 12:26PM

What was once a market of five mobile operators is about to become three after BT confirmed today (5 February) it will acquire EE for £12.5bn. With Three also poised to buy O2, consolidation is set to continue.

So what does this mean for the mobile market? With three operator giants, several big MVNOs in Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and the upcoming Sky network, competition could ramp up significantly. This will see sheer scale potentially pushing costs down.

But it could face delays. Behind the scenes, things are more complex: it is likely the regulator will be watching the market closely. According to Matthew Howett, practice leader, regulation at Ovum, the competition investigation for the BT/EE deal is likely to focus on network issues such as spectrum holdings and wholesale access. He points out: "BT was particularly successful in the 2013 4G auction, acquiring spectrum at 2.6GHz - and the inquiry is likely to assess what adding this to EE’s already sizable lot will mean."

This, he says, is further complicated by the planned acquisition of O2 by Three: the combined entity would itself hold a concentration of the lower frequency spectrum - which is ideal for providing coverage - but lack the higher frequency spectrum at 2.6GHz needed for capacity. Howett predicts that there could be a reorganisation of spectrum holdings between the two enlarged operators as a result.

Additionally, Three, O2 and Vodafone are worried the BT/EE acquisition could impact on them getting a fair deal in the future, since they all currently rely on BT's wholesale products for backhauling traffic.

But once these issues are resolved, the consumer can start to benefit. If BT/EE and Three/O2 are approved, the market will comprise three operator giants, several big brand MVNOs, and multiple smaller offerings. Choice will be vast, potentially pushing prices down - which can only be a good thing.

By kateoflaherty, Apr 29 2014 02:12PM

The PR machine behind mobile payments is once more grinding with the launch of Paym, a service that allows users to transfer money via their smartphone.

This is intended to be a gateway to the Holy Grail - a cashless society where consumers pay for everything using the device they carry everywhere, their mobile phone.

The move is part of an unrelenting cycle. From NFC through to Bluetooth, mobile payment technology has tried and failed before. Contactless payment cards were intended to open the door for NFC but years later phones still aren't being used for transactions.

Numerous alliances have been set up over the years and gradually fizzled out. Apple is said to have held things back by not including NFC on its devices, despite ongoing predictions that the market is about to take off.

Perhaps Paym will be the technology to break this ongoing cycle. The banks, of course, are on board too, with Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Cumberland Building Society, Danke Bank, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Santander, and TSB already signed up. Other banks and building societies - namely Natwest - have committed to join Paym later in 2014.

But in reality, the Paym service is simply an extension of the mobile banking app; it's hardly revolutionary. For mobile payments to really take off, a technology needs to be found that consumers understand and are compelled to use. It could be Paym, it could be an Apple NFC phone. But one thing is certain: until that happens, the so-called "mobile wallet" is unlikely to become mainstream.

By kateoflaherty, Jan 30 2014 09:44AM

When Google bought Motorola in 2011 for $12.5bn, its other hardware partners were paranoid. Would they still get the same share of the Android ecosystem? Perhaps the software giant would prioritise Motorola, or use it to launch a succession of own-brand Google phones.

But Google kept Motorola separate, using LG and Asus to make the hardware for its Nexus devices. Meanwhile, it launched two Motorola smartphones, the Moto X and Moto G. Both suffered from poor sales and in the December quarter, Motorola posted an operating loss of $248m.

Perhaps this was the last nail in Motorola's coffin, as last night, Google announced it had sold the smartphone brand for $2.9bn. Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement that the software company would keep Motorola's patents, which it would "continue to use to defend the entire Android ecosystem" - a thinly veiled reference to Microsoft.

So Google didn't really lose $9bn when it sold Motorola; this is simply the price it paid for the majority of its17,000 patents. Google is primarily a software company, with hardware partners, and makes its money through advertising and getting its ecosystem in as many hands as possible.

On the hardware side, the firm is also concentrating its efforts on wearable technology such as Google Glass. Earlier this month, it bought smart home device manufacturer Nest for $3.2bn, possibly for the data the company holds.

Meanwhile, along with gaining 2,000 patent assets, Chinese firm Lenovo acquires the strength of the Motorola brand in markets such as the US, where it is aiming to increase share. Lenovo has already had success there with the ThinkPad brand, which it bought from IBM in 2005.

It seems the sale was a move to suit all parties. Lenovo, which was apparently prevented from buying ailing BlackBerry by the Canadian government, gains the foothold it wants in the US mobile market. Meanwhile, Google retains Motorola's patents and frees itself of the albatross that was pulling its revenues down.

By kateoflaherty, Sep 11 2013 09:49AM

The launch of the iPhone 5S saw Apple take a long hard look at its architecture, but the form factor remains the same.

Last night's event also saw the launch of the iPhone 5C, a cheaper but certainly not cheap, version of its device to sit in the mid-range of the portfolio. The handset is hardly a revolution, but it does see Apple offering more choice in the mid-sector, taking a long-overdue swipe at its Android rivals. It also sees the manufacturer target the lucrative teen market, taking aim at ailing BlackBerry.

Additional business features are a sign of Apple targeting the enterprise market, as an increasing number of iPhones continue to infiltrate BYOD scenarios. This was already evident within iOS7's features, and Apple further fuelled this when it announced last night that free app downloads including Keynote will allow users to get involved with productivity from the get-go, when they buy an iPhone 5S.

Last night's iPhone launch didn't see the bigger screen desired by many, a feature that is ever-present on its biggest rival Samsung's multitude of smartphones. But it did see the introduction of a super-fast A7 chip, fingerprint scanner, top notch camera and motion coprocessor for fitness - viewed by some to be the equivalent of the rumoured iWatch on a smartphone.

Apple's event wasn't full of surprises; most of the information had already leaked online. One of the biggest revelations was the removal of the iPhone 5 from Apple's line up; the manufacturer has never taken away such a new model before. Instead, users can buy the iPhone 5S as the high end model; the iPhone 5C as the mid range; and the iPhone 4S as the free phone on a contract.

iPhone 5S features

• Available in gold, silver and 'space grey'

• A7 chip brings 64-bit desktop-class architecture; up to twice the CPU and graphics performance

• M7 motion coprocessor that gathers data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 for improved power efficiency

• Touch ID, a fingerprint scanner built into the home button, uses a laser cut sapphire crystal, together with the capacitive touch sensor, to take a high-resolution image of your fingerprint and intelligently analyse it

• 8 megapixel iSight camera features a larger f/2.2 aperture and a new, larger sensor with 1.5μ pixels for better sensitivity and low-light performance

• True Tone flash variably adjusts colour and intensity for over 1,000 combinations; new Burst Mode, Slo-Mo video with 120 fps, a new FaceTime HD camera for better low-light performance

• Aluminium body with diamond cut chamfered edges, a 4-inch retina display and glass inlays

• 10 hours of talk time on 3G networks, up to 10 hours of web browsing on Wi-Fi and LTE networks and up to 8 hours on 3G networks, and up to 10 hours of video playback and up to 40 hours of audio playback

• iPhoto, iMovie, Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps available as free downloads with the purchase of iPhone 5S

• Suggested retail price of £549 for the 16GB model; £629 for the 32GB model and £709 for the 64GB model

By kateoflaherty, Sep 3 2013 09:11AM

The news that Nokia will be bought by Microsoft for $7.2bn signals the end of an era. But it's hardly a surprise; and it becomes part of much wider consolidation in a complex and sometimes fragmented mobile market consisting of multiple operating systems and manufacturers.

What is surprising is the speed of the market's transformation, which can be traced back just seven years. Hark back to 2006/2007; each manufacturer had carved out a niche. Consumers had a Motorola Razr in their back pocket; or a Nokia; Samsung and Sony Ericsson were making decent handsets. Businessmen had a BlackBerry.

Then came the iPhone in 2007. Smartphones to rival Apple's device came along and with them, multiple operating systems and new manufacturers. HTC stormed the market with Android devices, while emerging players such as Huawei and ZTE started making their mark.

And with this deluge of smartphones came multiple operating systems, the biggest revolution being Google's Android, which immediately became a cheaper and more flexible alternative to Apple's iOS. Samsung's share grew as it jumped on the Android bandwagon. Sony Ericsson trundled along until it was eventually bought out by Sony.

And where was Nokia in all this? Although it was still selling the most smartphones by volume until recently, it was quickly losing traction in the consumer space, focussing instead on emerging markets and churning out boring feature phones.

In 2011 came the news that Nokia and Microsoft - which was struggling for share itself in the mobile market - would partner. The phrase, "two turkeys don't make an eagle" was uttered by execs. Why didn't Nokia go with Android?, the industry asked. Google later bought Nokia's rival Motorola.

But despite criticism, slowly, the Microsoft/Nokia partnership was becoming a success. Just this week, it emerged that Nokia's Lumia smartphones had boosted Microsoft's share of the operating systems market to nearly 10% in Europe.

Then came the news of Nokia's sale; it was inevitable. And as consolidation happens fast, the mobile market is changing again. There is only room for a certain number of players, signalling that it's only a matter of time before Blackberry - and others - are bought, too.

By kateoflaherty, Aug 1 2013 09:10AM

Nearly a year after EE's launch of 4G in the UK, O2's move to offer the technology at the end of August is a welcome addition.

But O2 will need to raise the bar substantially if it is to lead in the LTE space. The operator's 4G announcement has been much more low-key than its rival EE, which launched 4G to 11 cities in October last year. In contrast, O2's network will go live in just three cities - Leeds, London and Bradford - indicating an urgency to get 4G out before EE steals even more of a march.

O2 will launch to 10 additional cities by the end of the year, with tariffs starting at £26 a month (slightly more expensive than EE's Sim-only £21 a month deal) but it hasn't yet revealed what customers get for this entry 4G package. O2 also hasn't indicated whether 'sharer' plans will be offered, allowing customers to share a 4G data plan in an office or between households and devices.

O2's Achilles' heal in both the business and consumer market will be a lack of iPhone on its 4G network. This will mean losing a huge proportion of the market in iPhone 5 customers, until the launch of the next Apple device later this year.

Yet O2 will fight its corner. Already a well-established player, O2's potential in the business market looks promising - and it's likely the operator will start pushing these credentials heavily. This is confirmed by O2's business director Ben Dowd, who is quoted as actively encouraging business users to sign up to 4G in today's statement.

As Vodafone waits in the wings to announce a 4G network as soon as next week, O2 has a long way to go before catching up with EE's 700,000 4G customers - and not having the current iPhone will hit it hard. But the operator has held the lead in the market once before; it will need to up its game - using deals, add-ons and clear messaging - if it is to do the same in the LTE space.

Read my TechRadar Pro article on choosing a 4G provider for your business.

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