EE holds onto Opensignal MNO crown

EE has held onto its position as the best performing UK MNO according to the latest figures from Opensignal.

For 4G download performance, EE maintained its leadership position with average download speeds of 29 Mbps between June and August, while it also led in upload speed, latency and availability. This is not to say there weren’t improvements elsewhere, Vodafone grew its average 4G download to 21.9 Mbps, though Three’s dropped with the telco slipping down to third place in the performance rankings.

4G might not have been a fruitful playground for Three, but it did steal the top-spot for 3G speeds off EE. With average speeds of 7.8 Mbps it edged just ahead of EE at 7.2 Mbps, though this will come as little comfort as telcos increasingly look to re-farm 3G spectrum to bolster 4G performance.

Interestingly enough, O2 is still maintaining its position as the leading telco in terms of market share, despite a damning review of the telco from Opensignal. O2 sat in last place for all categories aside from latency (3G and 4G) and availability, where it was second behind EE. O2 might arguably have the weakest network in the UK, the power of promotions seems to counter this position. The Priority loyalty programme is perhaps proving its worth in gold here.

While many will preach the benefits of having the best network, these figures show it’s not always about being the fastest.

Opensignal Awards

Ofcom isn’t happy with EE and Vodafone’s coverage predictions

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has opened separate investigations into coverage predictions offered up by EE and Vodafone.

In what seems like a fairly pedantic move Ofcom has announced it’s looking into information provided by the two MNOs when it asked them to say how much of the country they expect to cover. Bizarrely EE is suspected of overestimating its 3G coverage, while Vodafone may have under-predicted its 4G coverage.

Why any of this matters is unclear. Ofcom uses these estimates for its own studies into UK mobile coverage, which are ultimately politically sensitive due to the tendency for politicians to grandstand on behalf of those people with dodgy coverage. It’s possible that Ofcom is getting political heat and is looking for scapegoats. Here are the two Ofcom statements.

“On 1 October 2018, Ofcom opened an investigation into EE’s compliance with requests for 3G mobile coverage predictions across the UK under these rules. This followed on from the identification by Ofcom of errors in the 3G/2100 MHz coverage data that EE provided which meant that its 3G coverage was over-predicted, particularly in rural areas.”

“On 1 October 2018, Ofcom opened an investigation into Vodafone’s compliance with requests for 4G mobile coverage predictions across the UK under these rules. This followed on from the identification by Ofcom of errors in the 4G/800 MHz coverage data that Vodafone provided which meant that its 4G coverage was under-predicted, particularly in rural areas.”

As indicated by the beeb, the operators will claim some combination of innocence, mitigation and contrition, so it’s hard to imagine anything significant resulting from these probes. Maybe Ofcom just likes to throw this sort of thing at operators every now and then just to keep them on their toes.

BT targets 2022 for 3G power down

We’re not too sure whether we missed an announcement over the last couple of months, but BT has now stated it intends to turn off 3G by 2022.

Speaking at the 5G World event in London, BT’s CTIO Howard Watson has essentially made the 2022 target public. The target isn’t a hard deadline, more of a lofty ambition, fitting into the wider network transformation strategy as the business attempts to enter the digital world.

“We see 2G and 4G co-existing, but the demand of 3G lessening considerably,” said Watson.

As you can see from the slide below, there are a number of objectives over the next four years, one of which is the 3G switch off. Although we are not surprised these conversations are happening inside the BT business, we’re somewhat taken back there hasn’t been more communication with the industry about the ambitions.

Of course, BT is not alone. Three has stopped selling 3G devices and is in the process of re-farming the spectrum to boost performance in 4G. Orange hasn’t put any timelines for the switch-off date, but progress is being made. Soon enough 3G will become redundant, partly thanks to the cost-effectiveness of 4G devices, but also because spectrum is a finite (and expensive) resource. Re-farming the spectrum into 4G and 5G is an important process.

That said, perhaps this is genuine evidence progress is being made. The fact there are concrete conversations about turning off 3G suggests there is notable progress being made in 5G. Some might assume operators are more talk than walk, but maybe we aren’t giving them enough credit.

OpenSignal report reveals relative performance of UK MNOs

The latest State of Mobile Networks: UK report from OpenSignal has EE as the clear leader according to its metrics, with O2 and Three needing to raise their game.

You can see the charts for each of the nationwide 3G and 4G metrics below, but to cut a long story short EE won nearly all of them. It also leads in 4G availability with 86.6%, followed by O2 on 83.4%, Vodafone on 79.5% and Three on 66.6%. However our average 4G speed of 23.1 Mbps apparently lags even Armenia and Mexico. Maybe the extra 4G spectrum O2 just got hold of will help it do better in 4G next time.

Opensignal April 2018 4G speed

Opensignal April 2018 4G latency

Opensignal April 2018 3G speed

Opensignal April 2018 3G latency

Opensignal April 2018 regions

Google takes wifi on a road trip to Mexico

Over the course of 2017 Google was making a lot of noise about its connectivity mission in India, but now it is sharing its wifi love in Mexico.

Google has announced it is working with Internet service provider Sitwifi to convert their existing hotspots to Google Station, the internet giants own wifi platform. Google Station will now be available in 60 high-traffic venues across Mexico City and nationwide, including airports, shopping malls and public transit stations. The aim is to take this number north of 100 by the end of the year.

“In Mexico, the third highest Internet penetration country in Latin America, most people access the web through mobile,” Google’s Jack Fermon said in a blog post. “But even as data plans are more affordable than ever, people are always looking for ways to enjoy the web without using up their data. And access to information is still a challenge for many.”

Mexico is now the third country to gain the attention of the Google Station team, following successful ventures in India and Indonesia. In India, the initiative started with train stations but has now been expanded to smart cities, following a partnership with engineering and construction company Larsen and Toubro. This partnership will focus on bringing 150 Google Station hotspots to the city of Pune, on top of the 270 railway stations which are already connected.

Indonesia was next on the road trip after partnerships with service providers CBN and FiberStar. This initiative is focused on bringing ‘hundreds’ of hotspots to the regions of Java and Bali. The rollout also included the launch of its data-friendly YouTube Go app, after the same version proved to be a hit in India. As with India, Google is getting into the connectivity game in a region which is seemingly about to explode into the digital economy.

Mexico could be seen as another country which fits the bill. It has a large, relatively Westernised population which is currently underserved from a connectivity perspective in certain areas. While there are internet services in all of these countries, the penetration of areas such as ride-hailing, eCommerce or digital banking is low compared to European or North American markets. It is a sensible place for Google to make a mark as it looks to supplement its core search advertising business.

As with India and Indonesia, Google will provide free, high-bandwidth internet access to individuals who would not be able to gain access otherwise. The initial outlay might be a bit of a cost, but don’t forget the more people who are on the internet, the more people who will be using the default Google browser and the more money the internet giant makes. As with everything in the business world, philanthropy comes with a profit in mind.

Why is data expensive? Because we’re terrible capitalists – Safaricom

Usually telcos are quite guarded with the truth. Announcements and statements are filled with PR nonsense about aiding the greater good, but Safaricom’s new Chief Innovation Officer has been surprisingly honest.

“I don’t want to sound like a terrible capitalist, but I am a terrible capitalist,” said Safaricom’s Chief Innovation Officer Kamal Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya was talking about the price of data and connectivity in Africa. Data tariffs might not seem expensive to us in the Western markets, but remember we have considerably more disposable income. Compared to monthly wages, data is expensive in Africa, but Bhattacharya has been surprisingly honest.

“It comes down to a commercial decision; I charge what I can,” said Bhattacharya.

What might be worth noting is that Bhattacharya is new to the job. He’s been Chief Innovation Officer for six months, and this is his first post in the telco space, having worked for IBM previously. This honesty might come at a cost or it might be seen as a refreshing change.

Either, nothing will happen because people don’t pick up on it. Or there will be public backlash as Bhattacharya has effectively admitted to holding the Safaricom customers to ransom. Or the industry will respect the own-it attitude Bhattacharya is showing. Safaricom is a commercial business, and it is focused on making money.

Let’s be honest, every telco executive probably holds the same attitude as Bhattacharya, they’ve just been media trained to give off the impression of the third rising of Jesus. They all want to make money they are just afraid to admit it.

So that’s one angle. Data is expensive because telcos want to be profitable. But why else? Operational and network efficiencies is one explanation. Another could be the tendency for customers to have a preference for prepaid plans. Both of these reasons could be down to market maturity. Networks will get better, and as data consumption becomes normalized across the continent, more will move to the more cost effective postpaid contracts.

What we have here is your typical chicken/egg situation; do the telcos wait for demand to increase before decreasing prices, or do they stimulate demand by decreasing prices. It’s an interesting question.

The telco business has changed over the last couple of years. Revenues attributable to voice and SMS have been slashed by the emergence of OTTs, and making money off data is tricky. Demand is increasing meaning more will have to be spend on the network, but the price is only going to head one direction. It sounds like a lose-lose situation.

The price will probably stay as it is for the moment, until a disruptor enters the game and changes the rules; the race to the bottom we’ve seen in more mature markets. This has led to the majority of telcos heading towards the role of utility, but there are a few operators who have made it work. Take T-Mobile US for example.

Data in Africa is still expensive right now, and the operators are keeping it that way. So either they want to keep profits high, or they are afraid of failure. Greedy or cowardly? We’ll let you make up your own mind.