A look back at the biggest stories this week

Whether it’s important, depressing or just entertaining, the telecoms industry is always one which attracts attention.

Here are the stories we think are worth a second look at this week:


Reports suggest the BT empire is beginning to crumble

No-one in the UK should be in the same league as BT, but poorly executed strategy has kept rivals within touching distance and now the foundations are reportedly being sold off.

Read the full story here


Microsoft doubles down on the telco cloud with Metaswitch acquisition

Don’t say you weren’t warned, telecoms industry. The tech big guns are trained on your home turf and they’re not afraid to splash the cash.

Read the full story here


Huawei threatened to pull investment from Denmark in response to new screening law

The head of Huawei Denmark sent a letter to the Danish Prime Minister indicating it would rethink its involvement with the country if special security requirements were imposed on it.

Read the full story here


Return to work messages start to appear as Twitter hands power to employees

One of the questions which has lingered over the last few weeks is whether the COVID-19 enforced digital transformation will persist in the long-term, though the answer is becoming a bit clearer.

Read the full story here


ETSI gets to work on new contact tracing app standard

With countries across Europe all trying to reinvent the wheel with their own contact tracing apps, standardization is long overdue.

Read the full story here


Reliance Jio signs a third deal to add another $1.5bn to its bank account

Vista Equity Partners has become the third-largest investor in Reliance Platforms, purchasing a 2.32% equity stake in the disruptive business for $1.5 billion.

Read the full story here


 

Reports suggest the BT empire is beginning to crumble

No-one in the UK should be in the same league as BT, but poorly executed strategy has kept rivals within touching distance and now the foundations are reportedly being sold off.

Rumours have emerged in the Financial Times to suggest BT is in private talks to offload a portion of the Openreach business unit. Australian bank Macquarie and an unnamed sovereign wealth fund have been linked in a deal which would value Openreach at £20 billion, providing cash to fuel the £12 billion broadband upgrade BT is committed to.

We’ve said this numerous times before, but no-one should be able to compete with BT. It has the largest mobile network, the biggest broadband network, five million public wifi spots, a content platform (albeit an average one) and a trusted brand which could theoretically be exported to other ventures.

This is a business with assets which could, and should, be embracing the convergence business models to obliterate competition and steal subscriptions easily, while investors roll around in cash.

But it is not dominant.

It failed to get ahead of fibre trends. It failed to build a competent content platform, instead throwing all its eggs into the sports basket. It failed to realise synergies from the £12.5 billion acquisition of EE. It failed to have the vision to create an all-encompassing connectivity giant.

There is still an opportunity to create this position, the Halo product is heavily driven by the convergence business model, but this should have been an established position years ago.

Then came COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic does not have the power to kill telcos, but it will expose weaknesses. BT should have been in a much more consolidated position by now but COVID-19 came at a time where it is in transition. A time where it needs to invest heavily in networks and marketing campaigns. A time where it should be enticing customers away from rivals to add valuable resources.

Yet the team is scrapping and scraping.

Share price is at its lowest since 2009. Market capitalisation has been slashed over the last two months. Dividends have disappeared for the next year. An O2 and Virgin Media presents a major competitive threat. Trading conditions are very tough right now, especially for a company which is undergoing a transformation programme to ensure competitiveness for the long-term.

Right now, selling a stake in the Openreach business would be a sensible means to source funds. BT needs cash to deliver on fibre promises and scale its 5G network, but diluting influence in its most profitable business unit which is critical for the future is not an ideal position to be in.

BT should be miles ahead of competitors and it should be in a secure enough position where it would not have to consider the sale of a stake in Openreach. But after years of content distractions, a G.Fast farce and a woeful attempt to integrate EE into the group, it is increasingly becoming a necessity.


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Ericsson gets to the core of BT’s 5G network

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson is celebrating a deal win with UK telco BT, which will be deploying Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core on its Network Cloud.

The dual-mode bit refers to a combination of Evolved Packet Core and 5G Core, which means the Ericsson package supports 4G, 5G NSA and 5G SA. It’s fully container-based, which makes it cloud-friendly and will allow BT to deliver it on its new Network Cloud. It will apparently form a key component in BT’s move to a single converged IP network.

“Having evaluated different 5G Core vendors, we have selected Ericsson as the best option on the basis of both lab performance and future roadmap,” said Howard Watson, CTIO of BT. “We are looking forward to working together as we build out our converged 4G and 5G core network across the UK. An agile, cloud-native core infrastructure is at the heart of our ambition to enable the next generation of exciting 5G services for our customers and give the UK the world-class digital infrastructure it needs to win in the future global economy.”

Marielle Lindgren, Head of Ericsson UK and Ireland, kept things contrastingly short and sweet. “Ericsson and BT have a long history of working together and we are delighted to continue that relationship with this new dual-mode 5G Core deal,” she said.

It’s not clear from any of the supplied information how big a chunk of BT’s 5G core business Ericsson has grabbed, but this is a handy win for Ericsson regardless. The absence of an offsetting deal win press release from Nokia implies Ericsson is the dominant 5G core supplier for BT as Huawei, of course, is out of the question.

BT pledges to no job cuts over the next three months

BT has introduced several news measures for employees to feel more comfortable and secure in their roles as more businesses face the threat of coronavirus.

Although the telecommunications industry is critical in dealing with the on-going COVID-19 outbreak, BT is a consumer business with functions which are becoming slightly redundant nowadays. High street retailer Debenhams is to file for administration thanks to the closure of its retail footprint, demonstrating the threat to those employees who work in the retail functions or non-essential roles.

“BT is stepping up, standing by the country in this time of need and standing by our people who are working tirelessly to keep everyone connected, safe and working,” said CEO Philip Jansen.

“I have been extremely proud of the commitment shown by BT colleagues to support our customers in the last few weeks and want to recognise that. This is an unprecedented situation and I want to give our people some certainty about the months ahead. This period requires sacrifices from us all, and I want our people to know we are all in this together.”

BT currently has more than 650 retail locations throughout the UK, branded with both BT and EE, accounting for 4,200 employees. BT has said it is also reskilling and redeploying some retail employees to provide services to some of the most vulnerable customers.

As part of this commitment, BT has said no employees will lose their job as a result of COVID-19 over the next three months, it will continue to pay all employees’ salaries in full and will not put any staff on publicly funded ‘furlough’. As of July 1, all non-managerial staff will be offered a 1.5% pay rise and every employee will be awarded £500 worth of BT shares in June.

At a time where many around the UK will be worried about their livelihoods, BT is stepping-up to be a more responsible employer, to offer peace of mind for at least the next three months.

UK ISPs show a bit of blitz spirit

All the UK consumer ISPs have been asked by the government to agree to some measures to help vulnerable customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

BT, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM have all signed up so the measures, which you can see below. We asked CityFibre why they weren’t on the list and they said it was because they understood the initiative was for consumer-facing companies only, but they they’re fully supportive of it. That impression seems to be supported by the measures, which begs the question of why Openreach is involved.

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

It’s great that everyone’s showing the old blitz spirit during this difficult time, but those commitments seems a tad vague. ‘Appropriately supported’? ‘Generous packages’? Let’s see how that plays out. Having said that, removing caps is a positive move, as is the commitment to prioritise the vulnerable for repairs, so it’s definitely better than nothing.

Everyone involved got a canned quote so you might as well see the lot of them.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time.

“It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.”

Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom said: 

“We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important. We’ll continue to work with Government and industry to help make sure people stay connected.”

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division said:

“The service and connectivity that BT provides are more critical today than they ever have been in our lifetime. During this national and global crisis, our priorities are the safety of our colleagues and ensuring that our customers, particularly those that are vulnerable, stay connected. Within the last week or so we focused on implementing a range of initiatives and additional services for our most vulnerable customers and we are pleased to support these sector-wide commitments.

“None of this happens without the dedication of our brilliant teams. I’m particularly grateful to our committed contact centre colleagues who are fielding unprecedented call volumes and helping our customers stay connected.”

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach said: 

“With connections to more than 24 million customer premises across the UK, we know our network is critical.We’ll do everything we can to keep people connected while prioritising our support for critical public services, vulnerable customers and those without a working line.

“Thankfully a large amount of the work we do – including fixing faults, adding capacity and building faster, more reliable full fibre networks – can be completed outside, so you’ll still see Openreach engineers working to maintain service across the UK.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media said:

“In these unprecedented times we know how important connectivity is to people’s lives. Alongside the many other steps we’re already taking, we’re committed to helping our most vulnerable customers and ensuring they are supported as much as possible as we work tirelessly to keep the country connected.”

Stephen van Rooyen, EVP & CEO, U.K. & Europe, Sky, said: 

“There has never been a more important time for people to stay connected. We will play our part to help everyone stay in contact with their loved ones and to ensure vulnerable people can access the help and information they need.”

Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

“At this time of uncertainty across the country, nobody should have to worry about connection to friends and loved ones. That’s why TalkTalk is dedicated to treating customers – whether consumers or businesses – with fairness and compassion, so they don’t fear losing service if current circumstances mean they’re struggling financially. We have also established a priority contact line for vulnerable customers, so they can reach us when they need.

“At a time where other bills may be going up, TalkTalk will not be adding inflation to standard bills from 1st April. And while people may need to use more landline calls, they will never pay over our low and fixed price package so that there are no nasty surprises.”

“It’s more important than ever that we all work together to keep Britain connected, and TalkTalk is proud to play our part as a provider of this critical national service.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica UK (O2), said:

“I’m delighted to see the industry and government  working together to help the UK at this critical time. At O2 we have long-established policies in place to support our customers, and right now, digital connectivity is more important than ever as we connect our customers to vital services and their loved ones.”

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK said:

“Whether you are at home, working from home or a key worker, Vodafone is committed to keeping the UK connected. We know that our technology is making a real difference in helping people through this health crisis.  We are committed to supporting those customers vulnerable to COVID-19, enabling them to keep in contact with friends and family and live their lives as best as possible. We are here for them.”

Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three said: 

“We take our responsibility to keep our customers connected during this time very seriously and are providing the government with our full support where possible. I am committed to ensuring that all of our customers are treated fairly and that they are supported by Three.”

Dana Tobak CBE, CEO of Hyperoptic said:

“Staying connected in these unprecedented times is of crucial importance to society. Our engineers are showing great commitment to provide an essential service to society and value the support and understanding they are receiving from members of the public. We are pleased to commit to these measures to help support the most vulnerable members of society, who must of course take priority in these circumstances.”

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear said:

“Gigaclear are proud to be playing a vital role in building and maintaining the UK’s digital infrastructure. We are working with our industry partners to support both our residential and business customers who are relying on our service now more than ever. In addition to the measures set out here, we are increasing the speeds of our customers currently on 30mbps products, as well as prioritising vulnerable customers who make themselves known to us.”

Dale Raneberg, CEO of KCOM said:

“As a provider of services people are relying on now more than ever, we are committed to keeping our customers connected throughout Covid-19 and determined in particular to support and protect vulnerable consumers and those who may become vulnerable as a result of it.

“We acted quickly to lift data caps and to provide reassurance that we will assist customers facing financial pressure over the period ahead to ensure they continue to have access to essential communications services.

“We are pleased to join with industry colleagues in putting in place the additional measures announced today and to back the Government’s wider efforts to address this issue we now all face.”

BT trims another slice from its Global Services unit

BT has announced it intends to sell its French domestic operations to Computacenter as it continues to trim down the Global division which caused so much heartache in bygone years.

The transaction is set to complete towards the end of 2020, and while financials of the deal have not been unveiled, BT has said the French domestic business accounted for roughly £104 million across the course of 2019.

“With this agreement we are close to reaching another milestone in the execution of our strategy to make BT Global a more agile business focused on the growing requirements of our multinational customers,” said Bas Burger, CEO of Global at BT.

“I believe this agreement will prove a key step forward for our customers, for our people and for BT. It also offers a positive future for our domestic customers and the people who support them.”

With a greater emphasis being placed on multinational corporations as opposed to domestic businesses, the Global business unit is undergoing a major restructure. This disposal adds to the sale of domestic operations and infrastructure in 16 countries in Latin America to CIH Telecommunications Americas. At the end of 2019, BT also announced it was selling its Spanish managed ICT services business, including its domestic network infrastructure, to funds managed by Portobello Capital.

While it is a perfectly sensible strategy to focus on high-margin networking, security and cloud services for multinationals as opposed to diluting profits too severely with a focus on smaller operations, this is a restructure which has perhaps been in the works for some time. Let’s not forget, the Global business unit is the rebranding for Global Services, a considerable headache from 2016.

The accounting scandal in Italy forced BT to look at the Global Services business unit operationally, and this could perhaps be traced as the root cause of the restructure which is underway today. The pensions deficit of 2017 is another financial hole to fill, perhaps adding to the wave of disposals which have been initiated over the last few months.

It is important to note that in each of these markets BT will retain a presence. This is not a complete closure of business in France, Latin America or Spain, but simply a realignment of priorities to focus on customers which offer more attractive profit margins.

On the financial side of this business unit, performance does seem to be stabilising. During the last earnings call, CEO Philip Jansen said revenues had dipped by 10% to $1.1 billion thanks to legacy portfolio declines, though the order book was up 21% to $4 billion on a 12-month rolling basis, the highest level for over two years, thanks to the new focus on multinationals.

BT suggests network traffic surge is no threat thanks to 17.5 Tbps horsepower

With suggestions telco networks might come under strain over the coming weeks, BT has unveiled the facts and figures of its network to calm fears of homeworkers and parents desperate for peace.

In a blog post, Chief Technology and Information Officer Howard Watson pointed to the capacity which has already been built into the network which powers the majority of broadband networks in the UK.

Interestingly enough, this is the first time a telco has stepped forward to calm fears with facts and figures. Most have simply been stating they would be able to deal with the increased network strain, though rhetoric is nothing compared to the security of hard facts. Hopefully BT’s rivals will follow suit with more detailed information to ease concerns.

“These facts give us confidence that the additional load on the broadband network is well within manageable limits and we have plenty of headroom for it to grow still further,” Watson said.

“But we’re not complacent. We’re monitoring the network closely and collaborating with the other UK networks and content companies. Our Network Operations Centre teams are operating around the clock to identify any issues and resolve them as rapidly as possible. And if more capacity is needed, our engineers are on standby 24/7 to make that happen.”

Watson suggests the BT/Openreach network is built with plenty of ‘headroom’ allowing it to support peak time traffic. The highest peak the network has seen, and dealt with, is 17.5 Tbps driven by videogame updates and streaming football. Normal day time traffic is 5 Tbps, and in recent days, the network has seen a surge in traffic of 35-60%, peaking at 7.5 Tbps. Even if these trends continue, BT is confident its network can stand up to the pressure.

This will come as welcome news, as hanks to the Openreach wholesale business unit, many customers around the UK are dependent on BT for home broadband.

Internet Service Provider Network owner Subscriptions
BT Openreach 9,110,275
Sky Openreach 6,216,219
Talk Talk Openreach 4,680,000
Virgin Media Virgin Media 5,271,000
Vodafone CityFibre 687,000

Statistics curtesy of Omdia’s World Information Series (WIS) – accurate to December 31, 2019

Interestingly enough, roaming traffic is decreasing by roughly 10% a day, down 55% over the last five days, which will ease some of the pressure on mobile networks. More people connecting to wifi routers which will also help the mobile network, while it is also becoming more evenly distributed across the country as less people travel into the urban centres. This is welcome news, but also presents a challenge as less urbanised areas, which are perhaps less resilient, will have to be scaled up.

The resilience and adequacy of the UK’s network will certainly be tested over the coming weeks, though it does appear BT is in a strong position, both in terms of mobile and broadband, to respond accordingly.

How UK operators are helping customers during the COVID-19 outbreak

With telecommunications now acting as the foundation for almost every element of society, how telcos react to the on-going coronavirus outbreak will be critically important.

Although the UK Government has stopped short of measures implemented on the continent, at least at the time of writing, this week has seen a much sharper response to the global pandemic. With movements becoming increasingly limited, the telecommunications networks will become more critical, but what are each of the telcos doing in reaction.

Each of the telcos have made slightly different concessions to customers, though we suspect the plans will looks remarkable similar in a couple of weeks. Each will likely learn from competitors as none will want to look like they are doing less for customers than rivals.

Vodafone

At Group level, CEO Nick Read announced a number of measures to be applied across the European footprint.

Capacity is being increased to deal with the new spikes in internet traffic, Vodafone has said it has seen a 50% increase already, while consumers accessing government-supported healthcare websites and educational resources will be able to do so without worry about data consumption.

In terms of working with the Government, Vodafone has said it will offer anonymised data, where legally permitted, to aid in tracking people’s movements and the spread of COVID-19. Government departments have also been offered the opportunity to deliver targeted text messaging where technically possible.

To assist its own supply chain, Vodafone has said European suppliers will be paid in 15 days, instead of the customary 30 to 60 days.

From a scientific perspective, Vodafone’s DreamLab, a specialist app that uses smartphones’ data processing capacity to help cancer research projects while users are asleep, will receive a £200,000 cash injection from Group to repurpose the app to support research into antiviral properties.

Elsewhere within the Group, Vodafone Italy Foundation has donated €500,000 to support the Buzzi Foundation and the Italian Red Cross, Vodafone Czech Foundation’s emergency app Zachranka is pushing out public health alerts to its 1.3 million users and the remaining business units are all creating initiatives to help young people gain access to their digital learning platforms.

Virgin Media

From March 23rd, Virgin Media’s postpaid customers will be offered unlimited minutes to landlines and other mobile numbers, as well as a 10 GB data boost for the month at no extra cost. For broadband, any data caps on legacy products will be lifted.

In terms of technicians and home visits, Virgin Media has now set-up procedures to protect its own employees. Three days before a scheduled visit to a customer’s home, a text will be sent to ask if anyone living at their property has been asked to self-isolate or has flu-like symptoms. If the answer is yes, the appointment will be re-arranged for two weeks later. 30 minutes prior to the appointment, the technician will phone the customer to ask the same questions.

Although this will come as little comfort to those customers who are in need of a technician, the precautions are completely understandable. In these cases, new customers will be sent a self-install QuickStart pack which will hopefully mean a technician is not needed. Vodafone has not responded to questions to what the plan is should a technician be the only option.

O2/Telefonica UK

Like many other telcos, O2 has said all NHS UK websites will be ‘zero rated’, meaning any data used on these sites won’t count towards a customer’s monthly allowance, while it will make efforts to help those who are not able to pay their monthly bill. Customers who are concerned about the impact coronavirus will have on their monthly income are urged to call 202 to discuss the situation.

Little has been said on what work will be done to ensure the network remains resilient during the period of heightened pressure. This seems odd, as the O2 network shut down in certain areas this week, not related to increased internet traffic or congestion. Some customers might want more reassurances considering the dependence on communications infrastructure over the immediate future.

Elsewhere in the Telefonica Group, the Spanish business unit has said it will add 30 GB of mobile data to all Fusion and Movistar convergence customers for the next two months.

BT/EE/Openreach

In response the potential of increased strain on the network, BT is seemingly not that worried; the following is an extract from the website addressing the immediate challenges:

We have more than enough capacity in our UK broadband network to handle mass-scale homeworking in response to COVID-19. Our network is built to accommodate evening peak network capacity, which is driven by data-heavy things like video streaming and game downloads, for example.

By comparison, data requirements for work-related applications like video calls and daytime email traffic represent a fraction of this. Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work applications to run simultaneously.

This is a confident position to take, though the team has also said it will prioritise emergency calls and systems supporting emergency services such as the NHS, Airwave and the Emergency Services Network (ESN), critical national infrastructure and vulnerable customers, should the network come under intolerable pressure.

The BT Group has not unveiled any new measures for consumer customers yet, though it has put in additional procedures for enterprise customers due to the increased demand for home working.

The enterprise business unit has said it will work with customers to provide short-term upgrades for network capacity, increased virtual private network (VPN) connectivity, additional conferencing and collaboration tools, as well as call routing/forwarding solutions to divert calls to home phones or mobiles.

Three UK

Although Three UK does not seem to have introduced any additional policies in respect to the coronavirus outbreak, it does already have several initiatives which could prove to be quite useful. For example, free home delivery for customers and Three Store Now, which is a live stream to connect customers to in-store assistants for demos or to discuss potential purchases.

Sky

In response to almost all major sporting events being cancelled, Sky has said it will allow customers to ‘pause’ Sky Sports subscriptions without any additional charges. With the Premier League being suspended until early April, England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka cancelled and PRO14 Rugby postponed for the foreseeable future, there will certainly be a shortage of programming for this element of the premium TV offering.

On the broadband front, although Sky has reiterated it believes its service will be consistent, it does not need to make any announcements regarding data caps, like operators in the US, as these limitations are very rare in the UK market.

BT and O2 fall foul of UK advertising rules

Both BT and O2 have been given a slap on the wrist for airing misleading advertisements in the UK aired across the course of 2019.

While the misleading claims from telcos are starting to be weaned out through new regulations, old habits occasionally creep through. Once again, creative marketers are determined to undermine the trust the consumer places in the telcos by making misleading, unsubstantiated or just inaccurate statements.

All of the telcos are guilty of this nefarious marketing practice, though looking at the number of complaints directed towards the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone are particularly underhanded.

Starting with BT, the complaints were made by Virgin Media, Vodafone and fourteen members of the public, suggesting the team made misleading claims for the performance and technical capabilities of its wifi products.

Firstly, the accuracy of two statements were called into question; ‘only we guarantee wifi in every room’ and ‘we guarantee a strong signal in every room’, through the deployment of additional wifi discs which could be placed around the home. BT has said it has data from trials with 1078 customers which prove in 96% of cases full coverage could be achieved throughout the home with one additional disc, while the remainder were satisfied with two additional discs. Only one customer was entitled to a £20 discount as coverage could not be given throughout the home with the additional discs.

The ASA conceded that customers were likely to understand that exceptional circumstances could be applied, however the statements were too bold and promised too much, while the science to back up the claims could not be effectively reproduced on scale. The data was also not specific when it came to devices or time of day.

“…we were concerned that there appeared to be no reliable, reproducible methodology whereby each room or the further points from the router were tested, with no data reporting which rooms of the house had been tested,” the ASA statement reads.

The evidence did not show what speeds were being achieved on the devices, so we were unable to verify that the signal was strong enough to provide the minimum speed needed to carry out typical online activities.”

The second complaint was that BT advertising suggested these devices would not need to be plugged in. BT said it was common knowledge that electrical products would have to be plugged in, but in a world of wireless devices, this is simply not true. BT is either trying to pull a fast one or demonstrating incompetence with this response.

In terms of the O2 complaints, these were from Virgin Media and Three, questioning whether the ‘Custom Plans’ communication was accurate and appropriately comparing the O2 to tariffs to those of rivals.

In short, both complained that the adverts were not making it clear what tariffs were being compared, while Three suggested results of an overpayment calculator on O2’s did not reflect the actual costs charged by competitors and Virgin Media pointed out that it and Sky also offered custom plans. This appears to be a simpler case to consider for the ASA, as all telcos have made efforts to ensure customers are not continually charged for devices once the products have been paid for.

‘Custom Plans’ have been a significant element of the O2 advertising assault over the last 12-18 months, and looking at the financial statements, it appears to be a very successful campaign to entice customers away from rivals.

Naturally, O2 tried to defend its position, claiming it was doing everything possible to compare comparative deals and that the consumer could make their own reasonable assumptions, though the ASA clearly disagreed.

According to the ruling, the explanation below the overpayment calculator were not detailed enough, O2 did not do enough to indicate rivals also have unbundled deals and it could not make such direct assertions as it does not know the prices rivals charged for devices. The advertisement was deemed misleading as much of the claims were based on assumptions and inaccurate statements.

Misleading advertising is not something which is going to go away anytime soon, and unfortunately the telcos don’t seem to want to sort their own problems out. The dreaded ‘up to’ metric has been removed from the landscape, but this was only down to regulatory intervention from Ofcom not the telcos wanted to be more honest with their customers.

Unfortunately the ASA has not been empowered to do anything which would genuinely curb the creative advertisers who seem hellbent on misleading the consumer. Telcos seem to pray on the misinformed, quoting numbers which mean little to many and self-validation techniques which few have the time and/or competence to make use of.

The ASA does not have the power to direct financial penalties to those who fall short of expectations, nor does it have the manpower to react in a time appropriate manner. In these examples, the BT advert aired in July 2019, while O2’s hit the screens in January 2019. These adverts are no longer being used as the telco has already realised the rewards. All the ASA can do is issue a generic statement, dictating the adverts can no-longer be used in their current form; this is redundant action.

With little enforcement, the responsibility to be fair and reasonable falls on the advertisers. Unfortunately, these companies have shown little respect to the consumer to communicate with them honestly and accurately. Telcos are as bad, if not worse, than most and there seems to be little ambition to change for the better.