Vodafone ‘rips up the rulebook’ with new 5G pricing model

With EE claiming the ‘first’ accolade many telcos seem to think is critically important, Vodafone needed to do something different to gain attention; this pricing move might well be an important one.

The idea is simple. Instead of tiering pricing plans on monthly data allocations, unlimited data packages can be purchased with tiered limits of speeds. Customers can select the package which is best suited to the way in which they use their devices.

This approach is certainly an interesting one and certainly has the potential to disrupt the status quo. Vodafone is not the telco giant it once was in the UK. It sits third in the market share ranking for mobile subscriptions and is a comfortable distance away from the top two. However, a new approach to pricing might get the team back to its former glory days.

Brand O2 EE Vodafone Three
Market share 36% 33% 20% 11%

Statistics from Ovum’s World Cellular Information Service (WCIS)

With ‘Unlimited’ data plans, the tariffs are designed with 5G in mind. Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey pointed out that 5G is much more than a smartphone. A tsunami of devices will be connected to the network soon enough, and consumers will be digesting data in new ways; the last thing 5G consumers want to worry about is reaching a monthly data allocation.

“These tariffs are perfect for the over-the-top generation,” said Consumer Director Max Taylor.

Instead of tiering tariffs on consumption allocations each month, customers will be able to subscribe to download speed limits, with unlimited data pools. As you can see below, there are three tiers to take into consideration.

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Taylor suggested each of these tiers have been designed with experience in mind. The slowest, with a maximum speed of 2 Mbps, is for those who do little more than message, browse the internet or distract themselves on social media. The next tier is for those with an average data appetite; 10 Mbps is more than enough to run SD video on the go, while the final tier is for the heavy data consumers, gamers for instance.

Although this is a very interesting approach for Vodafone, what is worth noting is this is not the first time this pricing structure has been used. Elisa in Finland has been tiering its data plans on speed limits for years, but this should not take away from what is a very interesting switch from Vodafone.

“Vodafone’s move into unlimited data and its decision to price 5G the same as 4G indicate the emergence of a challenger mentality,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight. “This is in sharp contrast to its traditional premium-focussed approach. It could spell bad news for Three, which has built a strategy based on challenging industry norms.”

One party which will not be happy with the news is Three. Over the coming months, the ‘challenger’ telco will be launching its own 5G proposition and we suspect it might be brewing up its own disruption. As Heavy Reading’s Gabriel Brown noted to us at the launch event, such an announcement from Vodafone might ‘steal some of the wind from Three’s sails’.

What is worth noting is the ‘Unlimited’ tariffs will only be available for SIM-only customers. You can see the pricing tiers for subsidized handset contracts at the bottom of the article, there is some opportunity for competitors to undercut Vodafone.

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Finally, Vodafone is taking a page out of the BT playbook by tackling the connected everywhere challenge. In launching its ‘5G Gigacube’ FWA product, the team are also supplying a convergence tariff to allow for seamless connectivity everywhere and anywhere. And for £50 a month, with an Amazon Alexa smart speaker included in the bundle, it is an attractive proposition.

Like Three, Vodafone is looking to challenge the traditional home broadband market. The FWA offering doesn’t need a landline or an engineer to hook-up the equipment, it is a simple and cheap alternative to fixed broadband. With home and mobile broadband, both 4G and 5G, bundled in with an Amazon Alexa for £50 a month, this might turn a few heads.

If Vodafone is to make moves in the UK connectivity market, it needs to do something different. This is what the last couple of years have all been about, turning the oil tanker. It now has a new converged network, Redstream, more legacy IT systems are being switched-off each year, nine more in 2019, and the financials have returned to growth for the first time in five years. When you add in the new pricing model, convergence strategy and innovation hubs to bolster the enterprise business, things are looking positive for Vodafone.

After giving up its market-leading position years ago, Vodafone is starting to look like a business which can challenge at the top of the UK connectivity market once again.

Don’t listen to the moaners, phones are great – Three

Three has launched a new marketing campaign designed to counter all the moaning about how bad phones are for you.

In a new campaign, simply named ‘Phones are Good’, the telco imagines how historical moments would have been different if smartphones had been around. From Henry VIII on Tinder, to the Titanic with GPS, it’s a bit of fun which indirectly encourages people to use the internet more, playing directly into Three’s USP.

“At a time when we are being told to get off our phones, Three’s customers are actually using them three and a half times more than other providers,” said Shadi Halliwell, Chief Marketing Officer at Three. “That’s because, unlike others, we understand how real people use their phones.

“And although we shouldn’t be on our phones 24/7, if it weren’t for our mobiles how would you find love lounging on the sofa? Buy new shoes while sitting on the toilet? Or get a chicken cooked, seasoned, garnished and delivered to your door at the drop of a hat? As the Best Network for Data, it is our duty to challenge the cynics, and help everyone see that Phones Are Good.”

As you can see from the video below, it’s a creative way to get Three’s message across, and quite entertaining.

While Three is suggesting all these wonderful ideas on how mobile phones could have changed the course of history, there is of course the other side of the coin…

  • If the Mesopotamians had used MyBuilder.com for its reviews of local tradesmen, their grain storage units would have never leaked and beer would not be a thing
  • The Spanish Armada of 1588 could have been successful in its mission to conquer England if Sir Francis Drake was taking numerous selfies for the perfect Instagram post instead of gazing onto the horizon
  • Had a clumsy Chinese chef been following a YouTube recipe he might not have dropped a natural coagulant called nigari into a pot of soybean milk and created Tofu
  • Juliet might never have fallen for Romeo had she done a bit of Facebook stalking beforehand (admittedly this didn’t really happen)
  • If Percy Spencer had been using a calorie counting app, he would have never had that chocolate bar in his pocket and invented the microwave
  • Finally, without the power of Twitter the US might have a logical and caring human being in charge…

Of course, the revolutionary impact of mobile devices, not just the smartphone, is countered with negatives. Instead of talking to that lonely women on the bus, we stare at cats playing the piano and or toddlers biting siblings fingers. But, we more connected to family members on the other side of the planet. There’s always rough with the smooth.

Ultimately Three is attempting to push the advantages of the internet and encourage more people to consume more data. As the telco which sells itself to the more digital-enthusiastic users, using the internet more benefits it. It sells itself on data volume more than anything else.

The idea of the smartphone contradicts all the lessons of politeness and paying attention which we were taught as children. Perhaps the next thing we should be worried about is virtual reality. Parents have been telling children all around the world sitting too close to a TV screen is bad for your eyes, yet VR places a screen inches in front of your face.

Consumer focused telcos are treading on thin ice – China Telecom

We are paraphrasing with the headline, but the message from Lui Aili, President of China Telecom was very simple; evolve from a consumer focused business or struggle.

To demonstrate this message, Aili used a bowl of soup as an example. At the beginning the bowl of soup is full, but every time it is nudged a little spills out. Keeping the bowl steady is impossible, therefore the volume of soup will always be decreasing. The volume of soup is the total revenues in the telco industry, while the nudging of the bowl is the constant battle for consumer subscriptions.

In China, mobile subscriptions already exceed 100% of the population. It is an incredibly saturated market, with little room to grow. There might be more consumers entering into the dual-SIM lifestyle, but this is already a trend which has been developing for some time. Relating this back to the analogy, the bowl is unlikely to get any bigger any time soon, therefore the volume of soup is also unlikely to increase.

This is the challenge with the consumer facing business. Every time a telco steals a customer (nudges the bowl), the monthly subscription of that user also decreases. When this happens numerous times, the total amount of revenue in the industry gradually decreases (soup spills out of the bowl). Undercutting current providers is the primary way in which telcos gain new subscriptions, and it does not look like there is grounds to justify an increase in ARPU right now. This might change with the introduction of 5G subscriptions, but that remains to be seen.

This is one challenge for the industry, the total revenues are getting smaller, but parallel to this, the demands of the consumer are also increasing. Aili points to global trends of increased data consumption as a worrying sign. Delivering on these expectations, limitless data tariffs are starting to become the norm nowadays, is an expensive business. With this in mind, focusing on the consumer connectivity business is a slow erosion of revenues.

The ambition of China Telecom is a simply one; as it stands it owns the pipeline of connectivity, but the future is all about owning the platform and content as well. In the household, this looks like delivering connectivity, but also the smart home platform which manages applications and products, but also content in the entertainment world. While it might seem like a simple point to make, there still are telcos out there striving to dominate consumer connectivity alone; with the soup bowl gradually emptying, and increasingly becoming more expensive to maintain, should this be deemed a sensible business model?

China Telecom doesn’t want to be a telco anymore, the ambition here is to be an intelligent services company, sounding very similar to cousins in the OTT world.