Technology Journalist and Copywriter

Kate O'Flaherty

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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, 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, 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.


By kateoflaherty, Oct 4 2012 12:52PM

Tuesday night's decision to bring the 4G spectrum auction forward has been a long time coming and comes after multiple legal threats and years of operator squabbles.


The move means the auction will be held six months earlier than planned - allowing all networks to have 4G services by next summer. Although this gives EE - which was given the green light to roll out its 4G network last month - a significant head start, it has dulled Vodafone, O2 and Three's legal battle campaigns for the time being.


Ofcom's decisions over the last few years have never really encouraged the UK operators to work together. In fact, its actions during the period have led to fights between naturally competitive networks that should have worked together for the greater good.


Legal threats have been commonplace along the way, with operators worried that the others would have a competitive advantage if allowed to acquire or keep more useful spectrum.


This should not have been their concern. Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G as the media likes to call it, should have been rolled out by all operators before now. Many UK operator trials have taken place already, and the US has had the technology since 2010. Meanwhile, some areas in the UK are still struggling to get a 3G signal.


The regulator's decision to allow EE to roll out 4G early might have brought the technology to consumers sooner, but it didn't give them a choice of network if they want to use the service.


Everything Everywhere had previously campaigned to roll out its LTE services early, but was forbidden to do so by the regulator as it would then be given a competitive advantage. Now, of course, things have changed.


Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards, who said the regulator's latest actions "avoids the risk of significant delay", now says the latest move "is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services".


He added in yesterday's statement that “Ofcom's objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year".


Yes, Ofcom's decision has finally (nearly) aligned the operator landscape. However, if its decisions during the spectrum auction continue to mirror those of the last few years, the roll out of LTE could turn into a rather embarrassing disaster.


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