Loyalty penalties for broadband, mobile and TV finally tackled

Ofcom has introduced rules which will aim to tackle ‘penalties’ imposed on renewing customers by broadband, mobile and content providers.

As part of the new rules, providers will have to inform customers 10 to 40 days prior to the end of the customers contract, the period where financial penalties would be applied for changing providers. In the notification, customers will be told the end date of the contract, differences in contract pricing moving forward, termination conditions and availability of cheaper deals.

Although customers will still have to be proactive in contacting rival competitors for better deals on the market, the hope is a more transparent approach with spur consumers into finding the best possible option. Telcos will have a year to ensure the right business processes and technologies are in place to action the rules.

“We’re making sure customers are treated fairly, by making companies give them the information they need, when they need it,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director.

“This will put power in the hands of millions of people who’re paying more than necessary when they’re no longer tied to a contract.”

The initial idea was put forward back in December, with the belief as many as 20 million UK consumers have passed their initial contract period and could be paying more than necessary. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport escalated the issue in February with a public consultation aimed at moving the industry towards a position where loyalty was rewarded, ending aggressive cultures towards customer acquisition.

In September last year, the UK Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggesting service providers over-charging renewing customers to bring in an extra £4.1 billion a year. Research commissioned by Broadband Genie has found many over 55s could be paying too much for their broadband service but lack the knowledge or confidence to choose a new package.

“Pre-emptive alerts and information about broadband and TV contract periods are good news for consumers since many have in effect been paying a premium for their loyalty once out of contract,” said Adrian Baschnonga, EY’s Telecoms Lead Analyst. “Today’s rules pave the way for a more proactive dialogue between service providers and their customers, which can unlock higher levels of satisfaction in the long term.”

While it will certainly take some work to bed in, such rules have the potential to move attitudes in the industry to prioritise customer retention over acquisition to meet profitability objectives. Much research points to this being a more rewarding approach to business, though few in the telco space practice this theory.

“uSwitch’s research found that the aggregate cost of out-of-contract charges to telecoms consumers is £41 a second,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “This is why time is of the essence – everyday spent waiting for these notifications to be rolled out, another £3.5 million is overspent on these services – meaning that more than £350 million has already been wasted since the consultation closed in February.

“While it has been a long time coming, this is an important step by the regulator to address what has long been a clearly unacceptable gap in the rules, penalising consumers to the tune of millions.”

This is a step in the right direction, but it will take more to ensure telcos shift their culture. The idea of customer acquisition over retention is deeply engrained in every aspect of the business and will define how the business operates. That said, progress is progress.

UK mobile lobby group bemoans inactivity from local councils

Perhaps the preached proactivity of central government will mean little towards the UK’s connected dream if local authorities and councils are creating a mobile bottleneck.

While it is hardly a surprise to see the lobby group representing the major UKs MNOs complaining the world is not being fair to the multi-billion-pound corporations, it would hardly come as a surprise local councils are not up-to-speed. Firstly, you have to consider the age-old stereotype of slow-moving tides in the public sector, and secondly, there is also a lot on the table for these councillors to be considering.

“Mobile connectivity has transformed our daily lives, and 5G is expected to take us even further, but we must ensure that at all levels of government we are equally prepared,” said Gareth Elliot, Head of Policy and Communications for Mobile UK.

“Councils have a vital role, yet while many are working towards a connected future, our research has found that there is still a lag in fully prioritising mobile connectivity. With launch plans announced for 5G now is the time to take the opportunity to work with industry to break down barriers and champion mobile connectivity, to ensure the next generation of mobile infrastructure can be deployed quickly and effectively.”

According to the telco’s lobbyist in its Councils and Connectivity report, a very minor percentage of local authorities are doing all they can to secure the foundations for the £164 billion opportunity presented to the UK economy through 5G by 2030. Again, you have to take the following numbers with a pinch of salt considering where they are coming from.

Mobile UK suggests only 28% of the plans set forward by the local authorities refer to mobile connectivity, though the majority do see the importance of fixed broadband. Only 13% of the councils have audited their assets for the suitability to host digital infrastructure, though we are not too sure the civil servants should shoulder all the blame here. The telcos have a responsibility to identify and secure assets for their own infrastructure, hence changes to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to grant more powers.

Perhaps the more damning statistics are 74% of councils have yet to apply for funding to improve digital connectivity, while only 44% have a have a cabinet member with

specific responsibility for digital issues. In terms of the funding, it is there and available from central government, while DCMS has also supported calls from Mobile UK for local authorities to delegate digital responsibilities to a single committee or digital champion. These are necessarily and clear steps forward, and a lack of progress is either stubborn, negligible or ignorant; none of which are favourable adjectives.

From Mobile UKs perspective, the answer is relatively simple; having a pro-active conversation with the telcos and identifying the barriers to entry. Some of these might be opening up more authority owned assets to mobile infrastructure or aiding the installation of fibre ducting for backhaul from street furniture. For those less-progressive councils, simply identifying mobile and writing specific objectives in plans is a step in the right direction. The Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership might not be the most advanced, but Mobile UK points out that in the latest Strategic Economic Plan there is plenty of attention given to both mobile and fixed connectivity.

Although Mobile UK will be attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill, it is its job to make life easier, quicker and cheaper for the telcos after all, we strongly suspect there is more than an element of truth to this report. And in the instance of this truth, there will be negative outcomes.

For all the work which the telcos and central government is doing to facilitate improvements in 4G connectivity and the deployment of a 5G network, it means very little if there are bottlenecks in the process. There will of course be proactive councils and local authorities, who should be applauded, though the staggering nature of others will only direct the rewards of the 5G economy elsewhere, potentially creating a digital divide.

While report should almost certainly be read in context, as there will be a risk of exaggeration, inactivity from the local authorities will almost certainly present consequences. Much of the attention from a legislation and policy perspective has been directed towards DCMS and other government departments in recent years, though the ability for local authorities to action these initiatives is just as critical a factor to success.

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.

We’re all excited about VR but don’t forget about normal gaming

The gaming segment of the entertainment industry is one which is often overlooked, but it is quickly turning into an incredibly profitable one which could be a pain for the telcos.

The Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has compiled the figures for the various segments across the last 12 months in the UK, and to say than digital is taking over would be the understatement of the year (albeit we’re only three days in).

Driven by the adoption of services such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as streaming games through mobile and PC devices, digital accounted for roughly 76% of entertainment sales value in 2018. Looking at the broader segments, digital generated 80.1% of games revenues, 72.3% of video and 71.3% of music.

“On a market level these figures are a stunning testament to the investment and innovation of digital services who have transformed the fortunes of an entertainment industry many had thought was doomed by the internet and piracy,” said ERA CEO Kim Bayley.

Starting with music, streaming subscription revenues accounted for £829.1 million, an increase of 37%, compared to the £383.2 million generated in physical sales and £122.6 million in downloads. For video, streaming revenues increased by 26% to £1.6 billion, while both the physical rental and purchase market unsurprisingly declined.

Looking at the gaming side of things, digital sales grew an impressive 12.5% to £3.8 billion, while the physical gaming market declining 11.4% to £1.8 billion. Gaming now accounts for just over 51% of the three segments in the entertainment world, doubling in revenues since 2007.

“The games industry has been incredibly effective in taking advantage of the potential of digital technology to offer new and compelling forms of entertainment,” said Bayley. “Despite being the youngest of our three sectors, it is now by far the biggest.”

While this is a niche in the world of telecommunications, it is certainly one which is worth keeping an eye on. On the traditional gaming side, the content is becoming much larger and more immersive, with more of a focus on real-time online gaming against other players around the world. This in itself has the potential to cause stress to the network, but also grounds for irritated customers; buffering will not be accepted here.

The other growing sub-segment here is mobile gaming. The launch of Niantic’s Pokémon Go demonstrated the potential of mobile gaming when done correctly, and with data becoming cheaper every single day, more consumers will be encouraged to play these games on the go. Just to emphasise this point, research from Tappable last September claims 42% of gamers now consider smartphones to be their first choice for gaming, mostly down to the convenience of the devices.

Gaming is often an aspect of the connectivity ecosystem which is overlooked, but it is increasingly becoming more prominent in the lives of consumers. It is certainly an area which should be taken into consideration moving forward.

UK telecoms complaints at an all time low

The latest complaints data shared by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom reveals the level of moaning are at their lowest since it started collating them.

Ofcom has been logging consumer complaints about landline, broadband, mobile and pay TV services since 2010. The fact that they are at their lowest level ever would appear to indicate UK CSPs are doing a great job. Of course people could have just given up, or have become steadily more apathetic, or have found more effective ways to punish errant telcos than moaning to Ofcom, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

“Although we’re encouraged that complaints are at their lowest levels since we started shining a light on this, some telecoms and TV companies are still falling short,” said Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s Director of Consumer Policy. “We expect those providers to up their game and deliver better service to all their customers.”

In the tables below you can see first the historical totals for the four categories of complaints and then the most recent ones for broadband, mobile and pay TV. We haven’t bothered with the landline ones because we figure nobody cares anymore. Now that Vodafone has got its act together there are no outstanding poor performers in mobile and similarly BT seems to have sorted out its pay TV operations.

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints historical

Broadband

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints broadband

Mobile

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints mobile

Pay TV

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints pay TV

BBWF 2018: Consumers don’t care about tech, just connectivity – BT

Today’s consumer is demanding but disinterested. They don’t care about mobile or broadband or wifi, just top-line connectivity. To meet these demands, BT has pointed to network convergence.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum, Howard Watson, BT’s CTIO, outlined the bigger picture. It’s all about convergence where the dividing lines between wireless and fixed or hardware and software are blurred, with connectivity is viewed as a single concept, bringing together network design, technology convergence and customer insight to create a single software-orientated network for device neutral connectivity.

“For the consumer, it’s not about their wifi, or their mobile connection, or their fixed broadband, or even their landline,” said Watson. “It’s about connectivity as a whole. And I’m pleased to say we’re already making strong progress here.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a telco conference without mentioning 5G, and this is a critical component of the BT story. Trials have already begun in East London, though over the next couple of days 10 additional nodes will be added to expand the test. Plans are already underway to launch a converged hardware portfolio, introduce IP voice for customers and create a seamless wifi experience. All of this will be built on a single core network.

But what does this mean for the consumer? Simplicity in the simplest of terms.

The overall objective is to create a seamless connectivity experience which underpins the consumer disinterest in anything but being connected. Soon enough, devices will be able to automatically detect and select the best connectivity option, whether it is wifi or cellular for example, essentially meaning consumers will not have to check anything on their devices. Gone will be the days where you have to worry about your device clinging onto weak wifi signal or being disrupted by a network reaching out to your device, according to Watson. Signing in will become a distant memory as the consumer seamlessly shift from wifi to mobile.

This is of course a grand idea, and there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. Public wifi is pretty woeful as a general rule, and mobile connectivity is patchy in some of the busiest and remotest regions in the UK, but in fairness to BT, it does look like a sensible and well thought out plan.

With telcos becoming increasingly utilitised, these organizations need to start adding value to the lives of the consumer. Connectivity is not enough anymore, as it has become a basic expectation not a luxury in today’s digitally-defined society; providing the seamless experience might just be one way BT can prove its value. Fortunately, with its broadband footprint, EE’s mobile network and 5000 public wifi spots throughout the UK, BT is in a strong position to make the converged network dream a reality.

Jio leapfrogs Idea and Vodafone for second place in India

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has unveiled the monthly growth statistics for July and India is still the market which keeps giving.

Looking at the wireless segments to start with, Jio is once again dominating. Overall, the market grew by 10.5 million subscriptions taking the total to 1.15 billion. This number is already pretty staggering, though when you consider the total population of the country is over 1.3 billion there is still room for growth. In most developed markets the mobile penetration (the total number SIM cards) exceeds 100% of the population, while there are numerous cases of this percentage going north of 110%. Looking at these statistics in the simplest of terms, there is still potential for another couple of hundred million subscriptions in the country.

Of course, Jio is capitalizing most from the insatiable appetite of the Indian digital society. When looking at the total number of subscriptions secured by the telcos, Reliance Jio captured roughly 91% of the new customers, boosting its subscription base by 11.7 million. Amazingly, the 609,000 subs captured by Vodafone or the 313,000 attributed to Bharti Airtel are nothing more than footnotes; how many markets are there were you could say that!

The end result is continued momentum for Jio. As you can see below, Jio has leapfrogged both Vodafone and Idea in the market share rankings. That said, with the much-anticipated merger on the horizon it won’t be long before the combined entity hits top spot.

Telco Net Adds Market Share
Reliance Jio 11,796,630 19.62%
Vodafone 609,974 19.3%
Bharti Airtel 313,283 29.81%
BSNL 225,962 9.8%
Idea 5,489 19.07%
MTNL -9,914 0.3%
Reliance Communications -31,814 0.004%
Tata -2,357,690 2.1%

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these statistics is in the broadband market however. The staggering growth of the mobile segment will continue for at least the short- to mid-term future, though with a total of 22.2 million broadband subscribers there is an incredible opportunity for the right offering.

Just to put these numbers in perspective, the broadband would have to grow 50-fold to even come close to the same scale as mobile. Admittedly, it significantly more expensive to invest in infrastructure for a future-proofed broadband network in comparison to mobile, but this is an area which seems primed for the right disruption.

Of course, with disruption comes uncomfortable truths. Jio might be on an upward trend, collecting subscriptions and hiring generously, though the consequence of this disruption has been market consolidation. In the most general terms possible, consolidation is never a positive for the job market, while the Financial Express is reporting job losses of 50,000-75,000 in the Indian telco market across 2018.

Orange continues to bang convergence drum

Virgin Media might be struggling to live the convergence dream in the UK, though Orange doesn’t seem to be having any problems as it reports another positive set of results.

Total revenues for the first half came in at €20.2 billion, a year-on-year increase of 0.9%, while operating income grew much more favourable, an increase of 2.8% to €2.35 billion. While this might be the highest profit margin in the industry, Orange has continued to demonstrate it is building for the future investing another €3.36 billion in CAPEX, 16.6% of total revenues delivered over the six month period.

“The 1st half results showed accelerated growth across all the Group’s financial metrics,” said CEO Stéphane Richard. “Revenues grew in all our regions while the strong acceleration in the Group’s adjusted EBITDA, which rose 3.3% during the half, reinforced our strategy of differentiation on the basis of service quality and demonstrated our constant focus on operational efficiency.

“Our investment strategy in fibre and 4G is reflected in the sharp increase in our very high-speed broadband customer base. Orange now has 50 million 4G customers with 13 million in Africa, twice as many as a year ago. In fixed very high-speed broadband, the customer base continued to show particularly strong growth enabling us to reach 5.5 million customers, almost exclusively in fibre.”

Looking at the convergence strategy, the team reported an increase of 9% in convergent offers year-on-year, a total of 10.7 million customers, while the number of SIMs attached to these offers increased to 18 million. Orange often boasts about being the leading convergent player in Europe, and with numbers like these it is hard to argue otherwise.

Spain has continued to be a strong market for the business through this period, and following the conclusion of the spectrum auctions, it is looking to be in a solid position for the 5G race. During the auction, Orange Spain acquired 12 blocks of frequencies, paying €132 million, representing 60 MHz in the priority spectrum band to offer 5G services. Orange is now the only operator in Spain in reach a total of 100 MHz in this spectrum band, which it claims is essential for the development of the new ultra-fast mobile broadband technology.

Would you chop off a finger for your smartphone? 10% of millennials would

Seeing a millennial glued to the small screen is hardly unusual, but new research from Tappable suggests some would go to some pretty extreme lengths to keep hold of the device. Would you chop off your finger for cat videos?

The lives of younger generations are becoming increasingly defined by the small, powerful device, perhaps because the connected world is a natural part of life since they were born, or because more aspects of society are becoming digitised. Irrelevant to the reason, the outcome is the same; the smartphone is dictating our lives.

“We talk a lot about how millennials are tech dependent,” said Director of Research at The Center for Generational Kinetics, Elli Denison. “Losing a finger or one of the senses is an extreme way to frame it, but the bottom line is younger generations are completely immersed in technology, particularly mobile devices, and feel extreme dependency. There is no sign of this slowing down as younger generations are immersed in technology from birth.”

According to the research, 23% of the respondents would be happy to sacrifice one of their senses, as you can see below some do not think very highly of their sense of smell. While this might be viewed as drastic, some would go even further…

38% of millennials would give up drinking, 16% would stop travelling and 15% would give up sex. 10% of the respondents would actually consider chopping of a finger to keep their device.

What would you give up to make sure you get your daily dose of Telecoms.com?

Mobile direct traffic to media surpasses Facebook referrals for the first time

Online media traffic analyst Chartbeat has published new data that claims direct traffic from mobile devices has overtaken Facebook clicks.

This is apparently the first time this has happened and potentially marks a significant inflection point in the way journalistic content acquires its all-important traffic. Chartbeat specifically wanted to track what effect the changes to the Facebook algorithm, which claimed to give higher priority to ‘personal content’ had on media traffic originating from the social media giant.

This is especially pertinent for mobile as, apparently, people are more likely to arrive at a story via social media if they’re using a mobile device than if they’re using a desktop PC, where Google searches dominate. Firstly the Facebook changes didn’t affect total traffic to Chartbeat sites and secondly it seemed to entrench the existing trend away from Facebook referrals from mobile.

Chartbeat 1

“Mobile direct traffic surpassing Facebook traffic to publisher sites is an important milestone,” says the Chartbeat blog post. “It means consumers may be more loyal to news sites than expected, and publishers may be in a better position vis-a-vis Facebook as well.

“Could it also mean that mobile device behavior, rather than Facebook addiction, is the real driver of the macro consumption changes we’ve been experiencing? In the shadow of Facebook, mobile traffic is normally eclipsed – but with this new data, it’s clear that mobile reader behavior and mobile alternatives to Facebook like publisher apps and news sites deserve more attention.”

This seems like good news for media, which is locked in an abusive relationship with Facebook and Google, relying as it does on traffic from the very companies that have taken away its advertising revenue. It’s hard to imaging all the Cambridge Analytica stuff helped Facebook’s cause in this context either and us hacks can only hope Google hasn’t picked up too much of the slack.