Technology Journalist and Copywriter

Kate O'Flaherty

TechBlog

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

By kateoflaherty, Jun 6 2013 11:36AM

Aggressive marketing is the pillar of EE's 4G strategy - and it's helped build a massive head start on its rivals.


It doesn't matter how you look at it; 4G's done well for EE. The firm announced today that it's added 500,000 customers since the launch of LTE seven months ago. You can quibble over the figures, but it's certainly not a bad start.


And with Vodafone's plans for a summer 4G launch already on hold until at least September, EE is taking further advantage of its lead. Last week, the operator launched affordable Sim-only 4G contracts priced at just £23.


Then today, EE announced shared 4G data plans, a revolution that's set to change the way mobile operators offer tariffs.The move was predicted by experts quoted in my recent article for Mobile Today.


According to EE, the shared tariffs will allow mobile customers to share their 4G data plans across phones and tablets, or with other people.


It's no surprise; shared data contracts are already the way things are done in the US. But it's a big change for the way consumers buy their data.


EE's also been targeting businesses hard, pushing 4G services through its direct channels and resellers, accompanied by advertising the benefits of 'always on' broadband.


The other mobile operators are getting left behind. As consumers start to take notice of 4G, their only option is EE and those with contacts coming up for renewal will be going to the only place they can.


Customer service isn't the biggest consideration anymore. Three is waiting until September for a low-key launch of 4G and Vodafone's LTE network is already delayed. Even O2 - if it does indeed launch this summer - will have a lot of catching up to do.


EE's been watching its competitors and biding its time; and the battle lines have been drawn. As CEO Olaf Swantee ominously said in the operator's latest statement: "We won’t stop here. Customers can be assured that, on EE, they are one step ahead.”


EE is, of course, one step ahead of its rivals too.




By kateoflaherty, Apr 24 2013 11:05AM

When Apple revealed its first profit decline in a decade, the firm's share price had already plummeted. Investors are nervous, and it's no surprise.


Apple's closed strategy and lack of recent design innovation were sure to hit the firm eventually. With growing competition from Google and its open Android OS, Apple's bumper profits were always going to be difficult to maintain.


Apple's results beat analysts' expectations, at $9.5bn profit in the second quarter and $43.6bn in revenue. This compared to revenue of $39.2bn and net profit of $11.6bn in the same quarter a year ago.


But share price has halved since last September, when shares hit a high of $700, making Apple the most valuable company in the world. This compares to the period before yesterday's results, when shares plummeted to around $400.


Apple knows it needs to adjust. Yesterday, CEO Tim Cook announced the firm is adding $50bn to its share buyback programme and $8bn to its cash pile, bringing it to $145bn. He promised that despite shareholders' worries, "the most important aspect for Apple will be creating innovative products".


Rumours that Cook is to be replaced will be fuel to those who say the death of Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs was the catalyst for the firm's decline. Perhaps so, as Apple is guilty of a lack of innovation in recent times.


The iPhone 5 failed to replicate the popularity of its predecessors, with only minimal design changes and limited new features. At the same time, competitors such as Samsung have captured the interest of the consumer with alternatives such as the Android-powered Galaxy range.


It will also be interesting to see how things work out for Apple in the retail and operator space. The technology giant has always controlled these relationships - and the networks and retailers had no choice but to cooperate.


The mobile market is a rapidly evolving landscape, and demand for Apple products still remains alongside the late Steve Jobs' legacy. But Apple's walled strategy - led by Jobs - has played a part in its latest decline. Whether the firm now rises or falls will depend on its ability to adapt this strategy in the face of competition from rivals such as Google's Android.




By kateoflaherty, Jan 31 2013 10:46AM

When RIM announced it would now be known as its smartphone brand 'BlackBerry', the obvious response was, so what? The average customer won't know the difference.


It is time the Canadian firm defined its audience. Once a business staple, the BlackBerry was aimed at consumers a few years ago and things started to go wrong. What was once respected as a business handset with convenient access to email became the phone of chavs. The London Riots didn't do the company any good either, when those involved reportedly used its BBM software to communicate.


BlackBerry also suffered a network outage around that time - and the downward spiral began from which it is still to recover.


When BlackBerry 10 launched alongside two smartphones - the Z10 and Q10 - yesterday, it appeared the firm is aiming at both business and consumer users, or specifically, the dual requirement for business handset capable of both work and leisure. BlackBerry has even kept the QWERTY keyboard on one of the new handsets, the Q10.


But the move hasn't done much for the ailing firm so far, with shares dropping by 12% when it announced the new OS and handsets.


Perhaps it just wasn't dramatic enough. The work/leisure partition which exists within the software is certainly a novel idea, but you have to wonder whether there is really a need for it. Android is capable of similar partitioning and is already a favourite inside many businesses.


On the other hand, maybe the firm has got it right this time, once again targeting a market it understands. That's something a name change alone won't solve.



By kateoflaherty, Jan 23 2013 11:26AM

There was a time when the mobile industry thought every brand would launch an MVNO. From Marks & Spencer through to Waitrose and even Manchester Football Club, the rumours were rife.


But the mobile industry's predictions often come early. Just look at mobile payments; the market has been pushing 'the year of NFC' for around four years now.


And after Phones 4u launched its own MVNO yesterday - arguably two years too late - talk began to circulate again. Everything Everywhere, the wholesale provider of Phones 4u's new network, began hinting that it was talking to other brands about launching an MVNO.


There are already more mobile networks than you might think. Carphone Warehouse has its own offering, Talk Mobile; Virgin Media of course also has an Everything Everywhere MVNO; Asda has a Vodafone MVNO; and Tesco Mobile runs on the O2 network. To top it all off, the spectrum action - taking place as we speak - is seeing new mobile operators bid for the rights to new airwaves.


If these networks too choose to provide wholesale networks to brands, the MVNO could really take off in the consumer space, with names such as Topshop or even bands or football clubs launching their own offerings. After all, a specifically-targeted MVNO has a perfectly honed customer base to market to.


The b2b MVNO market is already diversifying, with many small businesses entering wholesale agreements with the big mobile operators. Charities are also gradually entering the fray, while the international calling market is well covered.


Those who take an early advantage in the consumer space could be onto a winner. With big data analytics a real coup for Tesco, which can use Clubcard data to market to customers, it is surprising that more supermarkets don't have MVNOs. As the spectrum auction takes off and 4G becomes a reality, perhaps all the big brands needed was a little push.




By kateoflaherty, Dec 20 2012 10:13AM

The New Year is already looking interesting in the operator space. Ofcom has today (20 December) announced the players that will bid in the 4G spectrum auction, due to kick off in January 2013.


Of course, all the major operators will bid, including Hutchison 3G (Three as its UK arm is known), alongside bigger players EE, Vodafone and Telefonica (O2).


Also unsurprising is BT's part in the auction, through its subsidiary Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited. To be able to compete in an increasingly mobile world, the telecoms group needs its own mobile side - and although the firm did run an MVNO on the Vodafone network, it had little success. A 4G offering will directly allow BT to compete in both the consumer and business space, taking on companies such as Virgin Media, which already offers superfast internet, mobile (albeit through its EE MVNO) and landline.


Virgin Media's name is absent from Ofcom's list, probably due to its MVNO on the T-Mobile network, making 4G spectrum an unnecessary expense. Sky's absence is felt however - it seems to be happy concentrating on the pay TV market rather than launching a mobile offering to compete with its fixed line rivals.


Then there are the unfamiliar names. Also competing in the auction are HKT (UK) Company Limited, a subsidiary of PCCW Limited, which is a Hong Kong based telecoms conglomerate; and Bucks based network supplier MLL Telecom Ltd.


The spectrum auction itself will boost the airwaves available to mobile phones by more than 75% and is likely to drive down prices for currently premium 4G services. It will also break EE's exclusivity in the area.


The auction will not only provide faster download speeds for many still trying to get a 3G signal; judging from the variety of players, it will also add much-needed choice to the operator market.





By kateoflaherty, Dec 3 2012 12:07PM

The text message is dead. Well, maybe not dead - it is certainly on its way out.


It comes as the text message celebrates its 20th birthday today, after the first SMS was sent in 1992 saying "Merry Christmas" (a bit early, really) to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.


And as telecoms regulator Ofcom's press release this morning states, texting was to become a huge phenomenon. To throw some figures out there, the average UK consumer now sends around 50 text messages every week and in 2011, more than 150 billion text messages were sent in the UK.


The young have always been the most prolific texters. However, social networks and other forms of messaging such as Skype, RIM's BBM and Whatsapp are now eating into the SMS, and volumes have started to decline after reaching a peak at the end of last year.


Technology is moving on. Mobile networks don't make money from SMS - they are facing an eternal struggle to make money from voice instead. At the same time, data has earned itself a premium and pricing is often confusing, ending in hefty fines for consumers.


Many of the young generation have a data-enabled smartphone (four in 10 of all consumers, according to Ofcom's figures) and tablets are growing in popularity. Meanwhile, data hungry consumers are using 3G, or 4G if they are lucky, as messaging becomes more sophisticated and multimedia.


The smallest network Three has the right idea, offering unlimited 3G data packages, but EE last week reduced the rates on its new 4G tariffs after an outcry over prices. The other networks will certainly be busy preparing their own 4G rates for launch next year learning from the mistakes of their rival.


So as the text message celebrates its birthday, the mobile networks must be thinking they have a much bigger issue on their hands. Data is the new text message, and the next 20 years will see an entirely new revolution.


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