Interview: Vince Russell on launching Sky Mobile

Sky’s director of converged products discusses Sky Mobile’s development, USPs and why they’re not just another quad-play service.

Sky’s arrival into the mobile market has been long awaited and, having previously denied plans to enter the mobile space, the company signed a deal with Telefonica UK in January 2015. This led to industry rumours of a launch in spring of this year – rumours only dashed when the period passed with little development. As Sky readied its mobile offering, rival broadband and TV provider Plusnet launched its own, while another rival, Virgin Media, further developed its mobile services with the launch of 4G.

Describing the timing of Sky Mobile’s launch, Vince Russell told Mobile: ‘The reason we’re entering the mobile market now is not about what anybody else is doing, it’s about the market conditions being right for Sky to enter now. Data is the thing that people value now and we are someone people trust to bring them data both as a broadband and as a content provider.  People are increasingly buying SIM only and that’s playing to our strengths as well.’

Pointing towards its 50,000 pre-subscribers as evidence that its later arrival hasn’t affected the brand’s ability to compete in the mobile space, Russell said, ‘People already see Sky as a mobile brand – when you think about Sky Go, Sky Sports and Sky Wi-Fi, people are already interacting with Sky as a mobile company.’

Data flexibility

Sky’s strength in content and data services continues into its new mobile arm, choosing flexibility in data usage and benefits for Sky TV customers as hooks to win over both existing sky customers and those with no previous history with the brand. While some rival MVNOs such as ID, GiffGaff and Virgin Media offer short-term data rollover functionality, Sky Mobile is the first to roll over data for up to three years.

Explaining why this service was offered, Russell says: ‘People are really worried about having enough data or going past their limit where they get hit by these penal charges. So people are buying these big data plans and it turns out they don’t really need them; we’ve discovered that 50% of the data people are buying goes unused. That’s about two billion pounds of wasted money per year in the UK.’

This data flexibility also included the ability for customers to upgrade or downgrade their contract at any point, despite all  Sky contracts being a fixed 12 months.

A standalone service

Other companies providing all four home connectivity services (fixed line, mobile, broadband and TV) have previously leveraged the power of providing all four to offer a ‘bigger the bundle, better the deal’ approach. However, the converged products director believes Sky’s new Mobile proposition is different: ‘Sky does sell all four services – which you’d traditionally call a quad-play service – but I think it is important to note that it’s created to be a great value service in its own right.

‘We’ve approached this as how do we make a great mobile service; we’ve got features like the unlimited calls and texts and Sync that make it better for Sky TV customers, but really it’s the value of the plans we’re offering that will allow us to sell to more people’

Is O2 up to the job?

Responding immediately to the Sky Mobile launch, EE’s press office sent out information detailing O2’s poor performance in streaming reliability and network speed, telling recipients: ‘Sky Mobile customers clearly won’t be getting the best experience, and O2 customers will likely see their service slow down even more as Sky customers use O2’s network.’

When questioned on why O2 were chosen as Sky’s network partner, Vince Russell told Mobile: ‘When we were looking for a partner for the service we went to all the operators and ran a reverse auction: there was a bunch of considerations such as the quality of the network, the price, the service and their willingness to give us what we need to innovate with our roll, mix and sync features. That’s why we picked Telefonica, it has a great network, it got great customer satisfaction and it’s the only one committed to rolling out 98% 4G coverage by next year, so the commitment is there.’

He later added: ‘The point to note over time is the way we’ve built our very deep MVNO – we could move network at any time in the future with no disruption to our customers. We own the full customer experience, all the way through to the SIM.’

Up next

Though starting as a SIM-only proposition, Sky Mobile plans to offer devices from spring 2017 onwards, announcing its two planned suppliers – Apple and Samsung. Asked about additional manufacturers, Russell answered: ‘The handset market is quite dynamic, we have the flexibility to get the handsets we need if something becomes a must-have device, but I think we’re very happy that Apple and Samsung meet the needs of the majority of our customers initially.’

When asked whether additional services such as insurance and accessories would be part of a future expanded offering, he continued: ‘I think what we’re doing today is the first step, we’ve got a long list of things we want to bring to customers, we just need to make sure at every step of the way customers get the great services they expect. In time, we’ll be bringing additional services to our mobile customers but we won’t have insurance at launch.’

Though unable to provide targets for Sky’s Mobile in 2016, Russell compared the launch to the birth of the company’s broadband offering: ‘We’re not going to talk about any targets specifically – needless to say we always set ourselves very challenging targets, I was involved when we launched broadband 10 years ago, now we’re very closely second-largest ISP in the UK with the highest scores for customer satisfaction., so we don’t enter into this lightly either.’

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