O2 confirms 2019 5G launch

Telefonica’s UK business O2 has confirmed it will launch 5G in 2019, though there will be much more of a business twist to the new connected euphoria.

Mixed in with the management team reporting financial results for the last twelve months, the team announced the network upgrade, which will be fuelled by a £1 billion CAPEX investment over 2019. What is worth noting is the O2 management is pitching 5G with more of a business facade than competitors are offering.

Although specific dates have not been revealed, the network will first launch in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, while the rollout will continue throughout the rest of the UK through 2020, as compatible smartphones become more readily available.

“Mobile is one of the most powerful opportunities for growth in the economy and 5G is just the next step,” said COO Derek McManus. “We’re building a 5G economy is coalition with British business.”

What is not entirely clear is how much of this £1 billion investment will be directed towards 5G and what will be left over for the 4G network. O2 has been investing healthily in its network over the last couple of months, CAPEX investments in 2018 accounted for 12.9% of total revenues, and CEO Mark Evans expects this to continue.

According to Evans, 5G will not be forced on consumers once launched, but there will naturally be early adopters queuing up. Selling 5G to the consumer is going to be a tricky task for many telcos, 4G is arguably fast enough for all available applications and services, and to ensure O2 is generating ROI, the enterprise world is going to be a focus for the team.

This is not necessarily out of character for the telco either. Over the last couple of months, O2 has been targeting enterprise for growth, perhaps realising fortunes are not going to be realised in the consumer segment. As the market leader, O2 now has 32.6 million connections on its network (including MVNOs) and the expense of artificially attempting to force future growth might exceed the benefit. Growing in the enterprise market, while maintaining a leadership position in the consumer world, is certainly a sensible strategy.

“The company is taking a cautious wait and see approach to 5G,” said independent analyst Paolo Pescatore. “However, it can’t afford to be left behind. It is apparent that initial consumer appetite for 5G will be limited. A greater focus on enterprises is a sensible approach.”

Over the last couple of months, O2 has been running its FTSE 100 5G testbed to identify the usecases which mean the most to British business. Although McManus was not forthcoming on specific partners and customers, he did suggest there was strong progress being made in the agriculture, retail, transport and industrial segments. O2 will certainly not turn away any consumers who want to upgrade to 5G, but there does seem to be much more of a business twist to the super-charged network plans than we’re seeing at other UK telcos.

That said, while there is certainly a stronger focus on business, fixed wireless access seemingly has not been ruled out as a 5G usecase, potentially opening the door for a convergence offering. Evans pointed out that there would certainly be customers who would use the 5G connectivity for FWA but stopped short of completely ruling out this type of service from O2.

According to both Evans and McManus, FWA can make sense in some circumstances, take rural locations as an example, but long-term there are better options. With the country being fibred up, FWA as 5G validation is weak.

Moving over to the financial results, there are certainly some healthy numbers here. Total revenues for the last twelve months went just past £6 billion, a 5.4% year-on-year increase, while operating income was £1.6 billion, a 11.8% boost in comparison to 2017. O2’s subscription base grew to 25 million, with the total of 32.6 million including MVNOs such as Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile, as well as its own sub-brand Giffgaff.

CFO Patricia Cobian pointed towards increased data consumption and the introduction of three new offers as fuel for the positive results. In Q1, O2 updated its roaming plans to include the US and Australia (amongst other countries), while in Q2 the team launched a family plan and in Q3 Custom Plan debuted, allowing customers to decide how they pay for subsidized devices. With net additions standing at 282,000 across 2018 and churn below 1%, the offers certainly seem to be having a positive impact.

The Priority initiative has once again proved successful for the business. Some might feel this is a card which is underplayed by the O2 team, but customers certainly enjoy it. Over 8 million Priority offers accepted across the year, 42 million entries made to prize draws and £26.7 million saved in offers and freebies.

In terms of value adds, O2 is doing a great job in rewarding customers but limiting its own exposure. For example, the Telefonica parent group has relationships in place all around the world to fuel the roaming offer, the custom plans make few changes to revenues and the Priority initiative is more about connecting two parties, rather than a big financial outlay. BT has tried to add value by spending billions on TV content, but O2 is using current assets in an intelligent way to create value for customers and partners.

O2 isn’t changing the world with these results, but the UK is a relatively sedate telco market. That said, the telco is in a very healthy position moving forward. With a sensible touch crafting a business visage to 5G, a loyal customer base and big investment plans, O2 will not be easily giving up its leadership position.

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).

Vodafone and O2 UK buddy up over 5G infrastructure sharing

Vodafone UK and Telefonica UK (O2) will be entering into a new infrastructure-sharing relationship ahead of the much-anticipated 5G rollout.

The duo already has an existing relationship for shared infrastructure activities, managed through the Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Limited (CTIL) joint venture, with this extension to include 5G at joint radio network sites. In theory, such a tie-up will allow the pair to accelerate 5G rollout plans over the coming months.

“We believe that these plans will generate significant benefits for our business and our customers as we move into the digital era of connected devices, appliances and systems on a mass scale,” said Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK. “Customers will benefit from the best 5G experience available and we will deliver even faster speeds by using our spectrum holding more effectively.”

“I’m excited by the potential of these plans to meet the future needs of our customers while delivering value for our business,” said O2 CEO Mark Evans. “In addition, these plans would allow us to utilise the spectrum we acquired in the last auction very effectively.”

Looking at the 5G ambitions, both companies are being relatively coy with the specifics. Vodafone has confirmed it will launch commercial 5G services during 2019, exactly when is unknown though, while O2 has already stated it will not enter the fray until 2020. For Vodafone, some industry analysts have commented it is pitting itself in a race with EE, suggesting the launch would be at some point during early summer.

Perhaps this is an indicator of the importance of 5G scale. Being the first to market may not mean anything in the long-run, it’s a gimmick to include in advertising more than anything else, but nationwide deployment will be critical. O2 has a marketing leading position to protect, while Vodafone wants to recapture the fortunes of yesteryear. Clearly offering the 5G network with the widest coverage will be critical to winning subscribers once 5G vaults towards mass market adoption, and this partnership seems to have an eye on that.

As part of the agreement, more responsibilities will be devolved to the CTIL, allowing the JV to improve the efficiency of its operations and pursue opportunities to add further third-party tenants to the assets. The companies also intend to upgrade their transmission networks with higher capacity optical fibre cables, readying the infrastructure for low-latency use cases such as VR, while there is also an eye on future transmission operating model which could drive synergies for investment and operations.

Although trying to get telcos to play nicely with each other is a tricky task, the idea of shared infrastructure has been on Ofcom’s agenda for some time. It might create a bit of a red-tape maze in the first instances, though there are clear benefits to the concept.

“UK 5G roll-out is on the way and operators need to be more accepting of sharing infrastructure to ensure that coverage demands from consumers and businesses can be met as quickly as possible,” said Ingo Flomer, VP Technology at Cobham Wireless.

“Deploying new 5G networks typically require operators to install and maintain new antennas, hardware and cables, which requires significant planning, management and expense. By using one common architecture, operators can minimise cost and disruption.”

Fears the highly dense urban areas will be favoured over rural regions will certainly not be dismissed following this announcement as the cities are still much more attractive commercially, but with such partnerships the delay might not be as painful. A digital divide was created by the slow rollout of 4G, but shared-infrastructure relationships should ease this chasm, at least theoretically.

Ericsson facing £100 million damages bill for network outage – report

With smartphones around the world being reduced to doorstops thanks to Ericsson’s software issues, the vendor is potentially facing a damages bill in excess of £100 million.

The full extent of the impact is a bit hazy for the moment, though it is rumoured to be much more than is officially known. What we do know is the O2 network was down for almost all of Thursday, Softbank’s customers were plunged back to the paper days and there are ‘several’ other customers who were impacted by the issue.

Ericsson has confirmed there were others, though it is remaining tight-lipped on who these operators actually are. That said, as you can see from the crowdsourced data below from wireless coverage mapping company Opensignal, it would probably be a fair assumption to add Vietnam’s Mobifone to the list.

Opensignal Graph

Looking at the bill, The Telegraph has reported Ericsson will be facing a global bill of £100 million to compensate customers for the oversight. Ericsson is yet to respond to a request for comment, though having admitted being the root cause of the data dessert there will certainly be conversations concerning compensation.

IWe understand O2 CEO Mark Evans is currently in discussion with the Ericsson management team regarding the whole issue, and the topic of damages will be included on the agenda. Ericsson UK and Ireland CEO Marielle Lindgren is certainly involved in these meetings, though we have not been able to confirm whether these specific discussions have been escalated all the way up to Group CEO Börje Ekholm.

In fairness to O2, it has not palmed off responsibility completely. Last week, it confirmed it would be reimbursing customers as a result of the outage. Pay Monthly, SMB business and mobile broadband customers will be credited with two additional days of monthly airtime subscription charges by the end of January. Pay-As-You-Go customers will be given a 10% credit on a top-up in the New Year, while PAYG Go mobile broadband customers will receive a 10% discount on a Bolt On purchase.

While some might suggest O2 is not completely blameless and should have had processes and systems in place to compensate for such instances, as the root cause of the disruption does lie elsewhere it does have some bargaining power in the talks. The rumoured £100 million bill would not all be credited towards O2, though as it seemed to be impacted the worst, it may well be seeking a large cheque to compensate for lost revenues associated with reimbursing customers.

Ericsson has narrowed the root cause of the issue down to two specific software versions of the SGSN–MME (Serving GPRS Support Node – Mobility Management Entity). These nodes in the core of O2’s network caused the calamity, as the license for the software expired.

For Ericsson, there might well be no choice. Some are suggesting up to 20 operators were impacted by the expired software license and considering the importance of relationships ahead of the up-coming 5G bonanza, the vendor will need to do everything in its power to ensure favourable terms. It seems buying its way out of this mess might be the only sensible route to take.

Nokia has a great week by simply not screwing anything up

Christmas has come early for Finnish kit vendor Nokia, with its competitors bestowing it with presents of breath-taking generosity.

Huawei was the first to smash through the secret Santa threshold, at least indirectly, when BT confirmed that Huawei would not be considered to contribute to its 5G core infrastructure and that it’s also being removed from legacy cores. This marked the first time a UK operator had directly addressed the matter of Huawei and 5G kit and would appear to be part of the move against Huawei by the US and its allies.

But that was just a stocking filler compared to what the US had under the tree. In a gesture of unprecedented aggression and hostility the US persuaded Canada to arrest Huawei’s CFO and daughter of its founder, Meng Wanzhou, and wants to extradite her to the US in order to face as yet unspecified charges.

This move is unrelated to all the stuff around 5G security and concerns suspected violations of US sanctions against certain countries. This is what drove ZTE so close to extinction earlier this year and would appear to be as much a front in the trade and political war between the US and China as it is any specific point of order. It also marks a significant escalation since no ZTE execs were subjected to this kind of legal rough treatment, and to add insult to injury it looks like some ZTE documents are being used in evidence against Huawei.

Huawei’s misfortunes alone must have had Nokia execs reaching for the breakfast bucks fizz, but when it emerged that Ericsson was responsible for major outages at some of its MNO core network partners they presumably ordered a whole new shipment of champers. The fact that Huawei is desperate to divert attention onto the Ericsson thing too must have resulted in port and brandy being added to the celebratory mix. Nokia’s resulting hangover may have been slightly exacerbated by the apparently effective damage limitation done by Ericsson, but on balance it can reflect on a pretty catastrophic week for the competition.

Nokia has sent out a few press releases this week but whatever incremental achievements they claim pale into insignificance compared to the misfortunes of Huawei and Ericsson. In the run up to Christmas Nokia would be well advised to focus all its resources on simply not screwing anything up and letting its competitive environment take care of itself.

O2 up and running but how much damage has been done to them and Ericsson?

With O2’s UK network back up and running, the 32 million Brits who depend on it have been returned to the digital era, but you have to wonder how big the fallout from this disaster will be.

With 3G data services restored late Thursday evening, and 4G getting the green-light early Friday morning, a stressful period comes to a close. Now the more difficult questions need to be asked to understand why this happened, why O2 is rumoured to have had to cancel its Christmas party last night and what the consequences of the chaos will actually be.

“We can now report that our 4G network has been restored,” said an O2 announcement. “Our technical teams will continue to monitor service performance closely over the next few days to ensure we remain stable. A review will be carried out with Ericsson to understand fully what happened. We’d like to thank our customers for their patience during the loss of service on Thursday 6 December and we’re sorry for any impact the issue may have caused.”

In fairness to O2, the simple thing to do here would have been to shift all of the bad press and finger pointing towards the root cause of the problem, Ericsson, but it has managed the saga as well as could be expected.

And while it might have taken a couple of hours for the Swedes to come clean, they finally did, as you can see below:

“The faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned and we apologize not only to our customers but also to their customers,” said Börje Ekholm, Ericsson CEO. “We work hard to ensure that our customers can limit the impact and restore their services as soon as possible.”

While Ericsson is continuing to do root cause analysis on the fault, the issue has been narrowed down to two specific software versions of the SGSN–MME (Serving GPRS Support Node – Mobility Management Entity). These nodes in the core of O2’s network caused the calamity, though it was not alone.

Softbank experienced the same issues over in Japan, while there are rumours several telcos in Asia also had network outages. Ericsson has confirmed it impacted other customers, but it is not its place to name said customers; O2 and Softbank made their own announcements, so it is up to the operators themselves. Mobifone in Vietnam could well be one of these customers, with its own network shutting down at 11.30am local time.

Before we move on, it’s worth drawing attention to the graph below from web performance and security company Cloudflare, just for context.

Cloudflare graph

As you can see the drop was incredibly pronounced, though the minor traffic which can be seen has been attributed to O2 customers who were roaming outside the UK. These customers do not seem to have been impacted by the data-doomsday.

One of the big questions which is now floating around concerns the fallout. With people and society on the whole relying so heavily on data networks, any fear of sub-par or non-existent performance will have a negative impact. Outages are something people should realistically expect to happen every now and then, but the severity and length of this one is certainly noteworthy.

“The disruption shows how much importance we place on a mobile device,” said telco and media analyst Paolo Pescatore. “Without connectivity, people are stranded, and businesses cannot compete. Furthermore, it underlines the need for continuous investment in the UK digital infrastructure, both fixed line and mobile networks to ensure growth and productivity.”

Just scrolling through Twitter, you can see how many people were impacted by the outage. This impact cannot just be restricted to personal activities, as there have also been several reports of sole-traders and critical services being unable to do their jobs. Whether we’re talking district nurses being unable to do house-calls because they are unable to rely on mapping apps or a plumber who can’t access his emails, the consequence is incredibly real and financial.

Earlier this year we had the chance to speak to various O2 executives, including CEO Mark Evans, over dinner, and the enterprise market was a segment targeted for growth at the firm. This is a lucrative market currently dominated by EE and Vodafone, though with this outage you have to wonder what the cost will be for O2. Joe Bloggs having to speak to someone on the bus is a minor inconvenience but shutting down a business which relies on mobile to work effectively is a completely different matter.

On one side of the coin, you have to feel a bit sorry for O2. This is a business which has been effectively shut down due to a fault from one of its network partners. Customers will not actually care what the problem is, they only deal with O2 therefore O2 should shoulder the blame. The negative impact on brand credibility and the company’s ability to offer basic services will certainly be questioned by some. Conversely, Ericsson’s share price has actually gone up a few percent since this news broke, perhaps reflecting the apparently swift resolution of the crisis.

However, you also have to wonder whether O2 is itself culpable. Should this be considered a due diligence or supply chain issue? As you can see from the tweet below, Heavy Reading’s Gabriel Brown doesn’t feel O2 is innocent through the saga:

And sticking with Twitter to finish, as you can imagine there were certainly a few people who had fun with the toil and torment of others. We’ve copied a couple of our favourite tweets from the last 24 hours below. Enjoy.

Ericsson rumoured to be behind O2 and Softbank outages

With O2 UK and Softbank customers being thrown back to the 90s after a network outage, reports have emerged suggest Ericsson was the root cause.

At roughly 5am this morning, O2 customers suffered the dreaded fate of a data-free diet, while Softbank also experienced similar problems. In Japan, the firm suggests 3G networks kicked in to partly compensate for the 4G issues, though the same could not be said for the UK. As a Giffgaff customer, your correspondent can confirm the data desert, at least in this part of East London at the time of writing (11.30am, UK)

“We’re aware that our customers are unable to use data this morning,” O2 has said in a statement. “One of our third-party suppliers has identified a global software issue in their system which has impacted us.

“We believe other mobile operators around the world are also affected. Our technical teams are working with their teams to ensure this is fixed as quickly as possible. We’d encourage our customers to use Wifi wherever they can, and we apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

Although there is no official confirmation of which supplier this might be, the FT has sources which point the finger towards Ericsson. According to two people directly involved, an issue relating to software in the systems provided by Ericsson has been identified.

In an email to Telecoms.com, Ericsson said it is working with customers to correct the issue, though it did not explicitly confirm or deny whether it was the root case of the problem.

And while it hasn’t been heavily reported, O2 and Softbank are not alone with this issue. Several telcos around the world, mainly situated in Asia, are rumoured to be experiencing similar problems. There might be a common factor between the issues…

It’s unlikely the guilty party will take ownership for the fault until the PR madness has died down, especially considering telcos will be more stringently examining the track records of suppliers ahead of the 5G bonanza, and in light of recent issues at Huawei and ZTE.

Just so you are aware, O2’s primary suppliers for network infrastructure are Ericsson and Nokia.

For O2, the ‘double-edged sword’ metaphor is hitting home hard right now. Other telcos have experienced outages in the last couple of months, EE and Vodafone certainly did in October, though it wasn’t as widely reported or condemned on social media. In leading the market share rankings in the UK, an O2 outage would certainly impact more customers than other similar examples.

O2 bags Midlands driverless gig

O2 has announced a partnership with Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG) to deliver connectivity for driverless vehicle test bed trials in the West Midlands.

With the UK government foolishly promising driverless cars will be on the roads by 2021, this is one of a number of trials located in the Midlands to make the wayward ambition a reality. As part of the agreement, O2 claims it will deliver Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network along a 50-mile route that runs through Birmingham and Coventry.

“Following our successful deployment of the UK’s first centralised radio network (C-RAN) in Aberdeen, in partnership with WIG, we will be using this same cutting-edge technology across what we expect to be Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network,” said Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2. “Mobile powers our modern world and 5G has even more potential to move Britain forward which is why we’re excited to be working together with WIG to continue to build this technology into the fabric of our cities and communities.”

“We are delighted to be working with O2 and WIG to test autonomous vehicles on roads here in the West Midlands,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands. “As the heart of the UK’s future mobility research and development, and the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed, the West Midlands is well-positioned to create thousands of new jobs in the industries of the future.”

With the UK desperate to prove it is at the forefront of the technology world, the UK government has promised driverless cars will be commercially available by 2021, a laughable ambition when you think of the work, both from a technological and administrative perspective, which will have to be done ahead of this point. The Midlands is certainly a beneficiary here, as the region has been attempted to create a regionalised technology hub around electric and driverless vehicles.

We’re sceptical driverless cars will be anywhere near a reality in the near future, though at least it is another usecase for 5G ROI.

Q3 validates O2 indifference towards convergence

Telefonica’s UK business O2 has continued a strong 2018 performance with a 7.9% increase in revenues in the third quarter, while it greedily captured an additional 120,000 subscribers.

The results perhaps justify the businesses decision not to enter into the convergence fight. Back in July, CEO Mark Evans confirmed the business would continue to focus on its mobile-only proposition, and wasn’t convinced entirely by the idea of bundled services. This statement is certainly contradictory to many telcos across the world, including its own cousin, Telefonica Germany, which plugged 5G FWA at Broadband World Forum. That said, the numbers speak for themselves.

Over the last three months, total revenues stood at £1.5 billion, up 7.9% year-on-year, while mobile service revenues grew by 3.4%, thanks to customers choosing larger bundles and MVNO growth. The O2 network now has 32.3 million customers, including MVNOs such as Lycamobile, making it the busiest network in the UK. Churn was also down to 1%, which O2 claims is the best in the UK.

“We continue to put the customer at the heart of our business, delivering leading propositions and unique customer experiences, as demonstrated by the launch of our revolutionary O2 Custom Plans, exclusively available in our direct channels,” said Evans. “O2 Custom Plan offers customers real choice, by giving them control, flexibility and transparency, and has once again driven the O2 point of difference in the market.

“Our on-going commitment to invest in our network includes enhancing 4G connectivity and preparing the ground for 5G. As champions of mobile we continue to build for the future, where mobile is one of the most powerful opportunities to strengthen the UK economy and enrich our society.”

This laser like focus on mobile is probably best for everyone involved. Despite O2 leading in the market share race, it has consistently been condemned for having the worst network in the UK. This has been confirmed quarter after quarter, by a variety of different sources. Some might come to the conclusion the consistency of poor performance simply suggests the management team does not care that much. However, efforts are being made to improve this record.

In the most recent spectrum auction, O2 claimed all the available 2.3 GHz spectrum to enhance its 4G offering. This spectrum has already been put to use, while most recently O2 suggested it was going to improve connectivity in 339 rural communities throughout the UK. The business is investing in its network, with the financial results indicating O2 spent £192 million on CAPEX over the quarter, which works out at roughly 12.5% of total revenues. This is not the highest around, but it is a healthy number.

O2 is the first of the UK MNOs to release its financial results for the third quarter, so there isn’t a fair comparison to make at the moment. However, 7.9% growth is going to be a very tough number to beat. Perhaps there is something in this ‘do what you know how to do’ mentality from O2.

O2 commits to plugging 339 farmer Johns into the digital economy

O2 has announced it will start pumping enhanced 4G into some of most notorious not-spots throughout the UK, with 339 communities set to receive the connectivity boost.

While the digital divide is clearly still present across the UK, it does seem O2 is attempting to make use of 4G spectrum acquired in the last auction to counter the imbalance. The last 12 months has certainly seen O2 up its game on the connectivity front, Ofcom confirmed O2 had delivered against its commitment to provide 98% indoor 4G coverage and 90% geographical coverage across the UK earlier this year, and this appears to be a continuation of the positive work. O2 has stated in intends to improve the 4G experience for an additional 339 communities of more than 100 people across the UK by the end of the year.

“We know mobile has the power to make a real, positive difference to people’s lives and businesses in rural communities across Britain,” said O2 UK COO Derek McManus. “That’s why we’re proud to be investing in 4G connectivity for more than 330 rural areas by the end of this year. Technology never stands still, which is why we are always looking for the right partners and investing in our future network. Whether trialling 5G to support a future-proof, mobile Britain, or ensuring the remotest parts of rural Britain can connect to 4G, for O2, this is about continuing to invest in all areas – not one at the cost of the other.”

“4G coverage is improving all the time, but there’s more to do, particularly in rural areas,” said Digital Minister Margot James. “We’ve already reformed planning laws to make it easier and cheaper to install and upgrade digital infrastructure, and it’s great to see O2 and the rest of industry responding to ensure more people in rural Britain can share the brilliant benefits of 4G connectivity.”

Thanks partly to an enhanced mobile experience, O2 has pointed to a report from Development Economics which suggests tourism, transport and manufacturing segments could receive a financial boost with improved connectivity. Perhaps this is one of the most notorious statistics associated with the digital divide, but Development Economics predicts connectivity parity could add as much as £141 million a year to the 14,000 rural businesses who are missing out on the full digital experience.

Although this is a positive step forward, let’s not forget O2 has a lot of catching up to do, it certainly isn’t uncommon to see the brand slumping at the bottom of the mobile performance rankings. Opensignal’s most recent report assessing the performance of the four UK MNOs had O2 sat in last place for all categories aside from latency (3G and 4G) and availability, where it was second behind EE. Back in August, Rootmetrics also had O2 at the bottom of the pile for almost every category.

The performance of the network is certainly a dent in the O2 pride, but it has still managed to claim top-spot in the market share leagues. Although MNOs should stride towards creating the best possible experience for customers, O2’s top and bottom standings demonstrate buying decisions are more than performance orientated. The big differentiator between O2 and rest of the UK MNOs is its loyalty programme, Priority, which does appear to be paying dividends, while Giffgaff is still proving a successful venture to attract a new SIM-only audience. Such is the success of Giffgaff over the last few years, Three has creating its own version in Smartie, while Vodafone has launched Voxi.

That said, building the customer experience in rural areas of the UK will only add to the success of the telco, creating a more interesting proposition for customers which might have ignored the brand in the past. O2 has been swimming against the tide when it comes to convergence trends, choosing to focus exclusively on mobile, a decision which is increasingly looking justified.