New BT logo looks more like a warning than an invitation

British Telecom has filed for a trademark on a new logo but it’s a bit rubbish and the internet is ridiculing it.

Whichever brand consultancy BT has hired, presumably at great expense, to refresh its logo presumably either couldn’t be bothered to think about it properly or was given bad advice by its client. The result is simply the letters ‘BT’ with a circle around them. Black letters, black circle, white background, that’s it. Even the font is boring.

The Guardian was one of the first to cover the filing and marketing mag Campaign pointed out that its seems to be an even more stark and boring version of a rebrand it was planning three years ago, but wisely put on the back burner. At least that one had some colour in it. Unsurprisingly the internet has been quick to mock this feeble effort, with a great piece of opportunistic guerilla marketing from Poundland our current favourite.

“We’ve shared our new logo with our colleagues today and will consult them on the detail as we gradually roll it out towards the end of the summer,” a BT spokesperson told the Guardian. “Our CEO has been very clear that the new mark symbolises real change. Making every BT employee a shareholder in the company is the first step towards transforming BT into a national champion that exceeds our customers’ expectations.”

While it’s understandable that new CEO Jansen would want to spray his scent on his new company we think he can afford to take a bit longer over such a momentous decision. Right now it looks at best like a functional street sign designed to warn the unsuspecting punter about BT rather than endear it to them. Not all change is good, Phil, and you might want to give the whole thing a rethink on your summer holidays.

The real branding challenge faced by BT is how to incorporate, if at all, EE. Its brand currently goes heavy on the letters-in-a-circle theme, albeit with a bit more creative flair, so maybe BT is trying for a bit of geometric alignment or something. But as we move into the 5G era, Britain’s biggest telco should think twice before rebranding itself to look like a speed limit sign.

The new Emergency Services Network is a predictable mess

The National Audit office has delivered a scathing assessment of the UK’s latest public project failure.

The delayed Emergency Services Network (ESN) is yet another waste of public funds, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). Designed to replace the legacy Airwave system run by Motorola with a new ESN using EE’s 4G network, the whole thing was delayed last year due to reasons and the NAO has just got around to working out what this is costing Joe Public. Here’s the summary table from the NAO report.

NAO ESN summary

“The success of the Emergency Services Network is critical to the day-to-day operations of our emergency services that keep us all safe,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. “The Home Office needs a comprehensive plan with a realistic timetable that properly considers risks and uncertainties. It has already been through one costly reset and is in danger of needing another unless it gets its house in order.”

How likely is that? The NAO seems pessimistic, stating that the revised target date is likely to slip, which would result in even more expenses. The NAO notes that EE seems to have raised its game since it last checked in on the project, but basic bits of technology such as the ability to communicate with aircraft are still not up to scratch. The following statements from the NAO announcement show just how unimpressed it is with how this project is being handled.

“The NAO does not think the Home Office has demonstrated that it understands the challenges emergency services face in introducing ESN, such as incurring extra costs by having to switch,” said the announcement. “Emergency services do not yet know how much money they will need to invest in infrastructure to improve the coverage or to make control rooms compatible. Some worry that this could place further financial pressure on other services they provide.

“There are also a number of commercial risks to ESN. The Home Office is currently renegotiating the programme’s main contracts with Motorola and EE, but these are behind schedule. Motorola needs to be carefully managed as it is both a main supplier to ESN and the owner of Airwave. It could therefore benefit financially from further delays if Airwave is extended. The Home Office is also yet to agree who will be responsible for running the ESN service once it is launched.

“The Home Office does not currently have the capability it needs to integrate and test ESN, which comprises multiple pieces of technology that must be made to work together. The Home Office is planning to let a new contract to provide programme advisory and delivery services in 2019.

“The Home Office expects ESN to be cheaper than Airwave in the long run, but the savings will not outweigh the costs until at least 2029. This is already seven years later than originally intended. The Home Office believes that ESN will bring £1.5 billion in financial and economic benefits by 2037. The largest economic benefit (£643 million) is  associated with increases in police productivity. Police representatives told the NAO that they had not agreed these figures with the Home Office.

“The NAO recommends that the Home Office test its overall programme plan to determine whether the new schedule for launching ESN and shutting down Airwave is achievable. The Home Office should also develop a contingency plan that sets out what it will do if the technology it is relying on does not work.”

The sad thing is that this is all entirely predictable and the only time UK public sector technology projects are surprising is when they deliver on time and on budget.

EE 5G festival claims cause a Ruckus

UK operator EE has claimed yet another 5G first but wireless tech company Ruckus Networks reckons it might have stuck its neck out too far.

Yesterday we reported that EE will be using its sponsorship of the Glastonbury music festival to market its nascent 5G offering by branding it the UK’s first 5G-connected festival. Eric Law, VP EMEA at Ruckus, saw the announcement but doesn’t seem to think all the hype is justified and may even be counter-productive.

“It is well known that mobile phones on the market today cannot make use of the 5G standard yet, which in turn means that attendees of this year’s Glastonbury Festival won’t be able to make direct use of the increased speeds and bandwidth the technology is set to offer,” he said.

“If 5G is to be used for anything at Glastonbury, it will likely be for mission critical applications such as connecting electronic payment devices and carrying live broadcast coverage, much in the same way it was at the 2018 Winter Olympics. This may have a positive impact on the mobile coverage of Glastonbury attendees, in that it will relieve some stress on the 4G network across the festival site, but it won’t deliver on the true promises of a 5G experience.

“With this in mind, proclamations of this sort threaten to undermine the true value and potential of the 5G era which we are soon to realise. By announcing that festival-goers will be able to access the network when it is technologically impossible, companies risk creating distrust in what is set to be a revolutionary technology.”

Over-marketing new technological generations is an issue endemic to the wireless industry. To date the most egregious offender in the current era has been AT&T in the US with its absurd use of ‘5G Evolution’ to describe its LTE-Advanced service. But since few people in the industry even seem to care about the damaging short-termism of all this over-promising, don’t expect it to end anytime soon.

Oppo zooms into Europe with the Reno 5G smartphone

Chinese smartphone maker Oppo has joined the likes of Xiaomi in seeking its fortunes further afield.

Oppo held its official European launch yesterday, with its new Reno 5G smartphone leading the charge. As well as a 5G modem, the main USP seems to be a camera that promises ‘lossless’ 10x hybrid zoom. Digital zoom tends to result in a loss of resolution, while optical zoom requires the physical movement of the lens, something that’s difficult to achieve to any great extend in a smartphone camera. Oppo seems to be saying it has achieved the best of both worlds.

On top of that (literally) is a front camera that pings out from the upper edge of the phone, thus enabling it to provide a screen uninterrupted by holes, notches, etc. Oppo has decided to equate this gimmick to a shark’s fin for reasons best known to its marketing department. The screen is a hefty 6.6” 1080p AMOLED and it comes with 256GB storage, so this is a pretty top-specced device.

In the UK EE will be the exclusive supplier of the Oppo Reno 5G, initially at least. “EE customers with an Oppo Reno 5G will be able to get the most from our new super-fast, high capacity 5G network,” said Sharon Meadows, Director of Devices, Partnerships & Business Development at EE. “Whether they are watching 4K content, trying out AR experiences or gaming with their friends, the Reno 5G will let them tap into the game-changing speeds and connectivity that 5G will bring.”

EE hasn’t committed to a price or release date but we would expect it to cost £800-900 SIM-free. Oppo has been a top five global smartphone brand for some time but has been slower than fellow Chinese vendors Huawei and Xiaomi to expand internationally. The European launch of the Reno 5G changes that and seems like a fairly aggressive statement of intent by Oppo. Here’s a vid of the launch.

 

EE to extoll the virtues of its 5G signal at Glastonbury

As a regular sponsor of the Glastonbury Festival UK MNO EE is going to use the opportunity to bang on about 5G this year.

Continuing its rich tradition of claiming every incremental 5G ‘first’ it can, EE has announced this year’s Glasto will be the UK’s first 5G-connected festival. It won’t be mobile 5G mind, just a 5G-powered wifi hotspot, but you can’t have everything can you? On top of that EE will be doing its usual thing of installing temporary masts to boost boring old regular mobile signals.

“Smartphones have become a festival must-have as we’ve seen each year with more and more data being consumed at Glastonbury Festival,” said Pete Jeavons, Marcomms Director at BTEE. “As the long-standing technology partner to this iconic event, we are committed to building a network powerful enough to cope with this huge demand. With the introduction of 5G this year, we are able to trial this new technology at Worthy Farm and make history as the UK’s first 5G-connected festival.”

Glasto took a gap year in 2018 but the year before attendees used 54 terabytes of data, according to EE. The operator reckons that number will be closer to 70 terabytes this year as festival-goers strive to top the virtue-signalling of previous years. There will be a somewhat retro feel to the event this year, with headliners The Cure joined by Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue as the 80s makes its presence felt, perhaps in a bit to lure rockstar politician Jeremy Corbyn once more.

EE takes step towards content aggregator model

Content is a tricky topic to discuss around EE and BT, such is the scale of the disaster over the last few years, but a tie up with Amazon Prime and MTV Play is a step in the right direction.

The new content offer will see EE customers receive six-month memberships to both Amazon’s Prime Video service and MTV Play. The news starts to make a more comprehensive content platform for the MNO, with customers already able to access Apple Music and BT Sport, all of which is covered under the EE Video Data Pass, a zero-rating initiative available to all customers.

“It’s our ambition to offer our customers unrivalled choice, with the best content, smartest devices, and the latest technology through working with the world’s best content providers,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division.

“In offering all EE pay monthly mobile customers Prime Video and MTV Play access, in addition to BT Sport and Apple Music – we’re providing them with a wealth of great entertainment they can experience in more places thanks to our superfast 4G network, and soon to be launched 5G service. So, if they want music on a Monday, telly on a Tuesday, films on a Friday or sport on a Saturday, we’ve got something for them.”

While the content play over the last couple of years have been pretty dismal this is an approach to content and diversification which we like. It allows the telco to leverage the scale of their customer bases, while also adding value to the existing relationship with said customers.

Content fragmentation is an irk for many customers, not only because of the various apps which need to be installed, but also the number of different bills. EE doesn’t seem to be addressing the first issue but consolidating bills to a single provider might well be of interest to some customers. It also has the advantage of making EE a ‘stickier’ provider, perhaps having a positive impact on churn.

“Content is a key differentiator for telcos,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “However, consumers are now spoilt for choice resulting in too much fragmentation. Telcos are very well placed to aggregate content, integrate billing and provide universal search. Whoever achieves this first will have a significant advantage over their rivals.”

Sky is one of the companies which has had a good crack at addressing the fragmentation challenge, Sky and Netflix content is available on the same platform and through the same universal search function, though EE’s push on the mobile side would certainly attract attention. Consumers no-longer consider entertainment as simply for the living room, new trends show more preference for on-the-go content.

While this is a step in the right direction for EE, this is only one step. The content options need to offer more depth to meet the demands of the user, while streamlining all the content into a single app would be a strong step forward. It would certainly be difficult to convince partners to hand over customer experience to a third-party, Netflix has shown much resistance to this idea making the Sky tie-up all the more impressive, though whoever nails this aspect of the aggregator model would certainly leap to the front.

Three UK shows off its new Nokia cloud core

Mobile operator Three UK has upgraded its network with a fully cloud-based 5G-ready core and has started internal trials of the service. It plans to launch 5G later this year.

Three announced that it is testing the world’s first fully cloud-based core network, delivered by Nokia. The software-based core network is 5G ready and is already carrying the ongoing trial for Three’s own staff. The trial is on the 3.4-3.8GHz spectrum Three bought with over £164 million in the auction concluded in April 2018.

The readiness is also achieved on the edge. Three announced that by December 2018, all its mast sites were already connected to the new cloud-based core networks, meaning when 5G is switched on all Three customers would be able to access 5G services, provided they have the 5G-enabled user devices (fixed wireless access modems, or smartphones and tablets).

Another infrastructure update Three announced is the expansion of its datacentre network. The operator used to have three datacentres in London and the Midlands. After the latest upgrade, it now has “21 data centres spread from as far North as Edinburgh to Portsmouth in the South” which are all live and “have been connected up with fibre”, said the statement. In practical terms, the more distributed datacentre network would reduce latency experienced by the users faraway from southern England, giving customers more or less equal user experience.

Indeed, “enhancing its market-leading customer experience and becoming the best loved brand in the UK by its people and customers” is the explicit target of Three’s latest network upgrading. The company reiterated its target to launch commercial 5G service later this year, after committing to invest over £2bn into 5G. “We have been planning our approach to 5G for many years and we are well positioned to lead on this next generation of technology.  These investments are the latest in a series of important building blocks to deliver the best end to end data experience for our customers,” Dave Dyson, Three UK’s CEO, said late last year.

According to the latest telecoms complaints numbers released by Ofcom in January, Three received 4 complaints per 100,000 customers, narrowly behind its mobile competitors EE and O2 (3 complaints each) but way ahead of Vodafone (8).

EE has a 5G smartphone announcement of its own

With Verizon and AT&T scrapping for attention with Samsung 5G smartphone announcements, EE is clamouring to prove its worth with its own OnePlus 5G declaration.

EE claims it will be the first operator in the world to deliver OnePlus’ version of a 5G-compatible smartphone. Whether this has any material impact on customer acquisition remains to be seen as recent trends suggest cash-conscious consumers are holding onto devices longer, while refurbished devices are gaining more and more traction. Another interesting factor will be UK consumers preference for more well-known brands.

That said, being a world-first for a challenger smartphone brand gathering momentum is a positive, while potentially being first in the UK to offer a device will attract the attention of early adopters.

“EE and OnePlus have a shared vision: to give our customers the best-connected experience possible,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division. “We’re working together on cutting edge technology to deliver that, and we’re leading the world on the journey to 5G. Adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network will increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most. We have an ambition to connect our customers to 4G, 5G or Wi-Fi 100% of the time.”

“The pursuit of speed has defined the OnePlus DNA since OnePlus was founded five years ago,” said OnePlus founder Pete Lau. “There’s no one more suitable than OnePlus to make a 5G smartphone. Our users are always eager to try new things and they are now ready to experience the next generation of connectivity and speed. In response, OnePlus has poured efforts into 5G research since 2016. Today, we stand poised to embrace the dawn of 5G.”

Of course, it might not mean much to the UK consumer. Recent research from UK mobile app developers Tappable suggests only 34% of consumers would consider purchases from lesser known brands. The latest technology is of course important to the survey respondents, but with OnePlus very much a challenger brand in the UK, this partnership might end up meaning very little in a brand-loyal market.

EE was announced as the launch partner of the device at the Qualcomm summit event, taking place in Hawaii, though 5G will only cover 15% of the population when the phone is launched. The six cities which will be included in the first phase of EE’s 5G rollout are London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester, though ten more will be added to the list over the remainder of 2019.

Trials are currently taking place in Canary Wharf and across East London, while the MNO also conducted a live 5G broadcast between Wembley Stadium and the Excel Exhibition Centre last month. The initial focus of the 5G rollout will be on the busiest parts of the named cities, Hyde Park in London and the Manchester Arena for example, though it seems EE is wary about misleading the consumer about 5G being up-front with the limited nature of the coverage.

Specific dates of the 5G launch are currently as accurate as a wine-snob’s description of last night’s merlot, though the 5G hype is starting to build once again after briefly losing its treasured place in the hearts and minds of marketers to AI.

Qualcomm pumps Snapdragon 855 in Hawaii

The chipset company Qualcomm just unveiled the newest Snapdragon SoC product to power 5G mobile devices.

On the first day of its annual “Snapdragon Tech Summit” in Hawaii, Qualcomm introduced its first commercial 5G chipset, branded as Snapdragon 855. The system is compatible with Qualcomm’s X50 modem with antennae supporting 5G on both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands. On a 7-nm silicon will also be its 4th-generation multi-core on-device AI engine (said to deliver 3X faster AI performance than its predecessor the Snapdragon 845), Computer Vision Image Signal Processor (CV-ISP) for new photo and video features (“true 4K HDR video capture, cinema-grade photography capabilities”), and 3D Sonic Sensor. The sonic sensor can be used for under-display fingerprint reading using ultrasonic waves (instead of the current optical under-display sensors using light), which, Qualcomm claims, is safer and more accurate.

Qualcomm expects the first smartphones using the new chipset to hit the market in the first half of next year. “The Snapdragon 855 will define the premium tier in 2019,” said Alex Katouzian, SVP and GM of Mobile for Qualcomm, who unveiled the new chipset. Earlier Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s President, said he expected to see a lot of phone announcements at CES in January and a lot of actual phone launches at MWC in February.

“Today marks a massive and exciting step forward underscoring how Qualcomm Technologies and ecosystem leaders are driving 5G commercialization, a journey that went from R&D, accelerated standardization and trials, the launch of innovative products and technologies, to the imminent launch of 5G networks and smartphones across the globe starting in early 2019,” said Amon at yesterday’s event. “Together we are demonstrating our role in transforming the mobile industry and enriching consumer experiences with 5G mobile devices on live 5G networks at this year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit.”

Executives from mobile operators including AT&T, EE, Telstra, and Verizon were present at the event, so were representatives from Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, NETGEAR, and Inseego. The 5G smartphone from Samsung to be launched by both Verizon and AT&T is likely to be the first of its kind to be built on Snapdragon 855.

“At Samsung, we have a vision of a connected world powered by 5G that will benefit consumers, communities, industries and governments,” said Justin Denison, SVP for mobile product strategy and marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “5G will fuel collaboration, connectivity and productivity worldwide, and we’re excited to be at the forefront working alongside partners like Qualcomm Technologies to make the transformation to 5G a reality.”

The event will last three days till Thursday, and Qualcomm promised more announcements and more details will be released.