About this weblog

What you need to know: This weblog captures key data points about the global telecoms industry. I use it as an electronic notebook to support my work for Pringle Media.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Can Crowdsourced Wi-Fi be Made to Work?

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and BlackBerry

In a perfect world, BT WiFi, a crowdsourced Wi-Fi service, would be a great. Developed by Madrid-based start-up Fon, the concept that underpins BT WiFi is both innovative and elegant. You subscribe to BT’s broadband service and you get to use the Wi-Fi connectivity of millions of other BT customers across the U.K. In return, you make a ring-fenced slice of your own hotspot available to other BT customers.

I have heard senior figures in the U.S. tech industry enthuse about this concept, arguing that crowdsourced Wi-Fi could be a serious competitor to the LTE networks provided by the major carriers.

Unfortunately, they are misguided: BT WiFi isn’t a great service. It is undermined by its reliance on unlicensed spectrum and a cumbersome authentication process. In the places where you really want to use it, such as a central London cafe or train station, BT WiFi can leave you frustrated.

Fighting for bandwidth in a London cafe
First of all, the branding is confusing – your computer might see networks named BT WiFi, BT Openzone and BT Fon. Which one to choose? Even when you have singled out the right network, the BT signal is often crowded out by another Wi-Fi network.  On a Mac, you get a message along the lines of: “The Wi-Fi network BTWiFi could not be joined. Try moving closer to your wireless router. Alternatively, run Wireless Diagnostics to troubleshoot. “

If you are sitting in your car outside a house in suburbia, it is probably a different story. But how often are you going to be doing that?

Automatic authentication required
On those occasions when your device does force its way on to a BT WiFi hotspot, you have to go through a log-in process that can be clunky on a smartphone.  A BT WiFi app can streamline this step, but then you need to remember to open the app to make the connection.  Clearly, the challenging economics of public Wi-Fi have made it difficult to build a business case for the automatic authentication delivered by the subscriber identity module (SIM) on mobile networks.

But that’s not the only issue. If you leave Wi-Fi on your smartphone switched on, your handset will try and connect to BT WiFi hotspots all over London, draining your battery life and over-riding your mobile data connection. The upshot is that emails don’t come in and apps don’t update – they are either waiting for the device to actually connect to the BT WiFi hotspot or they are waiting for you to manually log in. In essence, smartphones can be pretty dumb about when to use Wi-Fi and when to use 3G or 4G.

Once you actually connect to a BT WiFi hotspot, the throughout can be sluggish – most of the capacity is understandably reserved for the hotspot owner, so you may be sharing the left-overs with other nomadic BT customers in the vicinity. It is usually fine for chat, email, calendar synchronisation and other un-demanding apps, but it may not be reliable enough to sustain voice over Wi-Fi calls or other real-time services.

Fixed mobile convergence
BT WiFi’s failings are not just an issue for BT. Many other telcos have been seduced by the concept of crowdsourced Wi-Fi. Fon lists its partners as Belgacom, Deutsche Telekom, Hrvatski Telekom, KPN, MTC, Netia, Oi, SFR, Softbank and ZON, as well as BT.

This illustrious list reflects the fact that telecoms operators around the world are trying to combine mobile and Wi-Fi networks into a coherent, converged offering.  As data traffic soars, mobile operators, such as Vodafone, are buying up fixed assets to shore up their network capacity and ease the pressure on their precious wireless spectrum. I really hope they manage to meld mobile and Wi-Fi into a seamless offering, but it is going to take some pretty good algorithms.

Although the advent of Wi-Fi in the 5GHz spectrum band should, at least, temporarily, help services like BT WiFi, demand for connectivity is so high that these hotspots are also likely to become congested in busy urban areas.

The fundamental problem is that Wi-Fi services aren't generally underpinned by a robust business case. There is no way round the fact that wireless spectrum, like Mediterranean beaches or British road networks, is going be heavily congested unless people pay to use it. 

It ain’t a perfect world.

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and BlackBerry

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vodafone Invests Despite Headwinds

Vodafone said its group service revenue fell 4.9% year-on-year on an organic basis in the quarter ending September 30, driven down by a 15.5% fall in southern Europe and a 4.9% decline in northern and central Europe. Vodafone blamed regulated cuts in mobile termination rates and a fall in enterprise service revenue brought about by "intense price competition across a number of our markets." Outside of Europe, Vodafone's organic service revenue climbed 5.7%.

Planning to invest more than 19 billion British pounds (30.6 billion US dollars) by March 2016, Vodafone reported that 56% of its 3G footprint in Europe now operates at peak speeds of 43.2 Mbps, up from 29% one year ago. It has launched 4G services in 14 markets and now offers "next generation unified communications capability" in 12 markets. source: Vodafone presentation

Friday, November 8, 2013

Line Approaching 300 million Users

Line Corp. of Tokyo said its free messaging and voice calling service now has 280 million users worldwide, and has the largest market share for messaging apps in Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan. It reported revenue of 9.9 billion Japanese yen (100 million US dollars) in the third quarter, primarily from "in-game purchases, sticker purchases and other areas such as official accounts and sponsored stickers." That suggests Line's monthly ARPU is approximately 12 US cents. source: Line statement

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Turnaround in the USA Lifts DT

T-Mobile US' performance (Metro PCS was consolidated from May 2013)

Deutsche Telekom said its revenues rose 2.4% on an organic basis in the third quarter to 15.5 billion euros, lifted by a "turnaround" in its U.S. unit, which experienced a "deluge of more than a million new customers" in the quarter. Also boosted by the acquisition of Metro PCS, T-Mobile US saw its service revenue rise 21% as it continued to pursue its "Un-carrier" strategy.

Deutsche Telekom says the "Un-carrier" strategy "includes not operating fixed-term contracts, offering attractive options for switching cell phone, good value roaming rates, and - introduced just at the end of October - completely new offers in relation to tablets and the launch of the Apple iPad."

T-Mobile US has revised its forecast upwards for the second half of 2013. The company now expects to gain 1.6 million to 1.8 million "branded contract customers", instead of the previous estimate of 1.0 million to 1.2 million.  Deutsche Telekom also said T-Mobile US's LTE network covered 202 million people at the end of September and "the merger with MetroPCS is bringing greater synergies than originally announced."

In Germany, however, the group's revenues fell 1.2% year-on-year, dragged down by a decline in core fixed revenues and wholesale services. source: Deutsche Telekom presentation

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Microsoft Gains Smartphone Share

Android and iOS maintained their share of the global smartphone market in the third quarter of 2013, while Microsoft increased its share to 4%, according to Canalys. The research firm said Microsoft increased its shipments by 185% year-on-year to 9.2 million units, which helped to place it as the second biggest operating system in 19 countries, most notably Finland, with a 39% share; Vietnam, with 16%; Italy, with 15%; Thailand, with 11%; Turkey, with 11%; and Russia, with 8%. source: Canalys statement

Friday, November 1, 2013

Smartphones Provide Glimmer of Hope for Sony

Sony said its operating revenue fell 9% in constant currencies in the quarter ending September 30 to 1.776 trillion Japanese yen (18.1 billion US dollars), as sales declined in most of its units. However, Sony said: "In mobile, sales continued to expand as smartphones such as the “Xperia Z”, which has been well received since its launch in February, ranked in the top three in approximately 20 countries by revenue." source: Sony presentation