UK’s 4G – Common-sense or Cover-up?

Ofcom LogoThe launch of 4G services in the UK by Everything Everywhere today has been heralded by the majority of the tech blogs and news sites as a long-overdue success. But is this a victory for common-sense or has Ofcom simply managed to cover-up its own incompetence? (For those outside the UK, Ofcom is the regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.)

Here’s part of article from GNC that I wrote in October of last year.
Ofcom, the UK’s regulator for the telecommunications industry, issued an update on its plans for the auctioning off of the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands. These are the frequencies that will be used for the delivery of 4G services.

There has already been one consultation on the auction of the frequencies but based on the responses received, Ofcom has decided to carry out an additional second consultation at the end of 2011 which will run for around 8 weeks. The outcome of the consultation and auction proposals will be published in the summer of 2012, with a delayed frequency auction expected in Q4 2012. More likely Q1 2013, based on their track record.”

So how is it possible that Everything Everywhere, or EE, as it is going to be called, can a launch a 4G service when the frequency auction hasn’t even begun?

The answer is that Orange and T-Mobile, the partners in EE, put a proposal to Ofcom that they should be allowed to use one of their existing frequencies (1800 MHz) to launch 4G services in the UK without waiting for the auction. Ofcom thought this was a brilliant idea and gave the go-ahead. As you can imagine, some of the other players in the UK’s telecoms market (Three, Vodafone, O2) were less than thrilled at Ofcom handing EE a 4G monopoly for at least six months. Imagine how tempting it would be to switch networks if a 4G iPhone 5 was available from EE and only EE.

Depending on your point of view, the launch of 4G in the UK is either a victory for a common-sense approach to available spectrum or else it’s a monumental cover-up over the way Ofcom has failed to manage the transition to 4G.

I’m in the latter camp and I won’t be buying a 4G device or service from EE.

 

No Room For Domestic VoIP in the UK?

On Saturday, Tesco emailed the users of its internet phone service to tell them that the service was being closed down at the end of April.  Although it’s certainly not the only VoIP outfit in the UK, it’s one of the few who have sold directly into the domestic market and are a household name.

Tesco is a major supermarket in the UK which has branched out into telecoms, primarily as an mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), but has also offered a VoIP service.  This was a rebranded Freshtel service and it appears to be the difficulties with Freshtel that have led to the closure.

Tesco made the system as painless as possible.  You could buy dedicated handsets, converters for standard phones and the usual USB handset or headset.  It was a good system with no technical knowledge required and a web interface to configure what there was.

From reading the various forums, it’s clear that many of the users were running small business through the system as an easy way to get second phone lines without incurring huge cost and I can see this is a real market.  A number of VoIP services have already posted to say that they are happy to take on ex-Tesco users (allegedly at even better rates!).

However, I’m uncertain as to the market for domestic VoIP services.  At the moment, I have a landline and I have a mobile.  On the landline, I pretty much get free off-peak calls and on my mobile I have a monthly contract which entitles me to certain number of “free” calls.  The only time the Tesco service gives benefit is on international calls, which I don’t need to make that often.  So I can see why it might be difficult to make money from the service within a purely domestic market.

Of course, Skype has been successful but I think it’s success has been through free Skype-to-Skype connections and that’s not quite what is needed here.

I suppose where it might be beneficial to both parties is when the customer gives up their landline and relies on VoIP for all their voice traffic but that’s still quite a hard sell, especially when landlines work so well.  Unless you have cable, you need your landline for your ADSL broadband anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of companies successfully offering SIP and other VoIP services to individual consumers for business use or as a cheap second line.  It would be too simplistic to say that if Tesco can’t make it work, no-one can, yet I just can’t see domestic VoIP services replacing landlines in the UK anytime soon.  Anyone else any thoughts?

Madison River Communications Fined For Blocking VoIP Access

Telecommunications provider, Madison River Communications, was chastised by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week and required to unblock network ports that were closed to prevent connections from customers using Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone connections.

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