The presence of BT and PCCW – which owns fixed-wireless 4G operator UK Broadband – among the bidders in the UK’s upcoming 4G spectrum auction has put a new twist on the narrative for the country’s mobile market. In the run-up to the auction, which will see regulator Ofcom sell off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies, the perceived wisdom was that challenger operator 3 UK would pick up the 800MHz block reserved for an operator that holds no sub-1GHz spectrum, and the rest would be business as usual. However, with these companies entering the fray, the picture becomes much murkier.
In the eternal chess match that is the German telecoms market, Vodafone may be readying a move to take its king out of check, by buying cable player Kabel Deutschland (KDG). If press reports are accurate, and Vodafone really does buy up Germany’s largest cable provider, it could break out of the fixed-broadband stalemate it finds itself in currently while jumping far ahead of incumbent Deutsche Telekom in the increasingly important TV market.
In a bid to compete with its smartphone rivals in the largest mobile market in the world, Apple has started offering instalment plans for its products in China, the first OEM in the country to do so when selling its own products directly. According to reports, the company has taken this step because it has been struggling to shift its products, which are typically more expensive than those of its competitors. Regardless of the near-term competitive environment Apple faces in China the instalment plans are a bold and innovative way for Apple to make the iPhone more attractive to consumers who are used to buying smartphones from local rivals such as ZTE for much less.
It took a while, but the spectrum auction in the Netherlands is finally over. The mobile operators are essentially in a position to fully roll out 4G services, and as the regulator had desired, a fourth entrant is poised to come in and shake things up. But it’s worth remembering the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same: increasing competition by adding a fourth operator may well result in one of the existing players exiting the market.
Ofcom doesn’t get a whole lot of days like this. I suggested back in March that when you get a bunch of mobile operators in the same room to talk about spectrum, the one thing they’ll be able to agree on is that somewhere, somehow the regulator has dropped the ball. The Finally 4G Westminster e-Forum featured none of that, presumably to the great relief of the Ofcom representatives in attendance.
Vodafone has become the latest UK operator to jump onto the handset leasing bandwagon, with its new Vodafone Red Hot tariff. Similar to O2 Lease, which launched late last year, the scheme allows customers to rent top-of-the-line handsets for a term of 12 months, at the end of which they return the phone, swap it for the latest model and take out a new contract. Also like O2 Lease, Vodafone Red Hot comes with insurance bundled into the monthly price, which is key, since customers returning a damaged handset at the end of the contract will be charged a fee.
The UK’s 4G saga may have reached its climax in August with Everything Everywhere receiving permission to launch its own LTE network early, but the story isn’t over yet. UK regulator Ofcom announced yesterday that it would move forward the auction for the Digital Dividend creating by switching off analogue TV, and that clearance of TV transmitters will be brought forward by around five months.
Back in April I looked at some of the issues surrounding Everything Everywhere’s proposal to launch LTE services over its existing 1800MHz spectrum, noting that all parties, regulator and operators, have shot themselves in the foot by delaying the upcoming 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum auction. With O2 and Vodafone complaining about state aid on the one hand, and Ofcom issuing consultation after consultation on the other, it was beginning to look as if the UK might never get 4G.
Network sharing agreements are becoming more common, as the cost of carrying mobile traffic increases and MNOs have to fight harder for profit. Three in particular has been very active in making these deals, for example in the UK, where it has a network sharing agreement with Everything Everywhere. We expect this trend to accelerate, as operators seek to cut costs by reducing infrastructure and capex where possible.
O2’s network outage ran into a second day. Not only demonstrating how seriously a problem like this can damage an operator’s business, it is also making it painfully clear how important it is for an operator to be proactive and communicate effectively with all of its customers in a situation like this. Although O2’s attempt to use Twitter and its website to provide updates on the problem went some way to keeping customers informed, it was not proactive enough to avoid giving customers a poor perception of its service.
China Telecom launched its long-awaited UK MVNO this week, under the snappy name of CTExcelbiz. Using Everything Everywhere’s network, it’s aimed at Chinese residents of the UK, as well as students and tourists, and promises to meet the specific communication requirements of the UK’s Chinese population, voicemail services in Chinese, bilingual customer service and free on-network calls. China Telecom is the first Chinese operator to launch an overseas MVNO, and has a potential market of around 500,000 customers of Chinese descent, in addition to the estimated 1 million Chinese tourists who visit each year. The UK is just China Telecom’s first stop in launching MVNO services throughout Western Europe and the rest of the world.
The month of May has brought a spate of LTE launches in the Netherlands, as telecoms operators scrambled to meet the coverage obligation deadline for the 2.6GHz spectrum they all bought two years ago. Cable operator Ziggo was the first, followed by the incumbent, KPN, and the rest have now followed suit, with T-Mobile the latest to announce its launch.
Following on from the discussions at last month’s Westminster e-Forum, Everything Everywhere has continued to argue its case to be allowed to roll out 4G on its existing 1800MHz spectrum. The company held an event for analysts at its offices in Paddington, where CEO Olaf Swantee, senior public policy advisor Kip Meek and head of network strategy David Salam went over the benefits that will accrue to the UK as a whole if they’re allowed to proceed.
It’s pretty safe to say that if you get three mobile operators in a room to talk about spectrum auctions, they won’t agree about much. But what they are likely to agree on is that it’s the regulator’s fault, whatever it is.
M2M and connected devices were an important part of the CeBIT fair in Hannover, which took place this week – exhibitors were keen to show off their solutions for everything from vending machines to shipping to healthcare. While a section of one of the exhibition halls was given over completely to M2M, many of the telecoms operators present also devoted space in their own stands to their connected solutions.