A look back; what happened in the telecoms world in 2017?

null

Well, it saw the launch of the first £1,000 phone with iPhone X.   That was a landmark event and a long way from the return of the much-loved Nokia 3310 - priced at around £50.  Compared to the iPhone it is almost a disposable.  We also saw the Home Office wanting a ban on mini mobiles the size of a finger as they are being smuggled into jails.  They are retailing for £25 - £35 so certainly cheap to replace if confiscated. 

Unfortunately, 2017 was not the year that we saw great improvements in our infrastructure.  Only in the past few days we have seen a report from Ofcom - which found that about 230,000 small businesses (7%) cannot receive decent broadband.   Also, around 500,000 small businesses (16%) do not have access, compared to 9% of premises as a whole.  This shows that businesses are being discriminated in favour of residential areas.   The fact that the Government sets a target of 10 mbps as being acceptable and superfast is 24 mbps makes the results appear far better than they really are.  The EU sets a minimum of 30 mbps as being sufficient for the digital age.    

There was a small glimmer in the past few weeks with the announcement from Vodafone that it will start to roll out its own fibre network in conjunction with City Fibre.  But we will have to wait until 2020 to see if it has an impact.  Let’s hope it is delivered equally to solve the issues of rural areas and those of businesses in city centres and on business parks.  

BT announced trials of Fibre to The Premise (FTTP) technology.  But why trials are necessary when Latvia already has 45% coverage of its country with the technology and South Korea 85%?  If BT achieves its planned targets for 2025 in terms of coverage we will reach the average coverage the other EU countries achieved in 2016. 

Ofcom continued its tradition of bottling decisions that would benefit consumers and businesses.  It appears inclined to let Openreach remain joined at the hip to BT rather than forcing full separation. It then compounds the issue by appearing to favour BT in sorting out the mess of fibre broadband shortages, rather than opening up the market.  A decision on that is due imminently and will be a key test as how serious they are about helping the UK improve.   

Ofcom also reduced the levels of proposed compensation for missed appointments and delays in fixing faults.  It didn’t even amount to a slap on the wrists.  The compensation needs to be at a level that acts as a real incentive to improve services.  Once again its shows it is dancing to the industry’s tune.  Only the Advertising Standards Authority showed any bite in changing the rules around the way broadband speeds are advertised.  But even then the new rules don’t go far enough and won’t come into force until April 2018.    

Roaming charges in Europe came to an end this year, which is positive news.  The recent Lord Adonis reports on the shocking state of mobile announced on 18th December shows we still lag badly.  In 2014 the Government held off enforcing free roaming in the UK as the networks were given 3 years to improve coverage – they obviously failed.  So surely it is now time to let everyone roam for free in the UK. 

Mobile data traffic continues to grow as the number of texts declines.  Texting celebrated its 25th anniversary in December but volumes of texts are down 40% in the past 5 years.   Almost a third of people do not use their mobiles for voice.  The number of WhatsApp users grew significantly beyond a billion.  Along with Facetime, Viber and other business grade VoIP applications they are taking traffic away from the traditional carriers which is hurting their revenues.

Similarly, businesses are giving up traditional lines for SIP and VoIP at a fast rate.  Both technologies showed good double digit growth in 2017.  Traditional premise-based vendors, such as Avaya and Mitel, are promoting their cloud-based solutions equally, if not more than, the premise option.  Avaya has just emerged from Chapter 11 and a more solid financial basis will aim to hit the market hard in 2018.   But claims that the landline is dead are certainly premature. It was interesting to note that Cisco bought Broadsoft to give it a hosted solution in the SME space.  There are still well over 2.5 million ISDNs in the country despite some less than scrupulous suppliers using the end story to scare companies to change out more early than necessary.  They will still be working until 2025 and businesses should only change out now if there is a significant cost or business gain.    

Microsoft gave up its attempts to become a major player in the mobile space, which in some ways is a shame as I think there is a need for a third option apart from Apple and Android.  Many new handsets were launched with varying degrees of success.  Google’s Pixel phone had reported issues of screen burning in but hopefully can offer an alternative.  Prices of handsets seem to rise faster than the growth in new features. This is reflected by an increase in people opting for SIM only deals, which are being more heavily promoted by the networks than before.   The recent poor results from Carphone Warehouse showed clearly that people are hanging on to phones longer.  It will need something transformational to see the regular upgrades return to the favoured way of buying. 

In summary not much has changed in 2017 the UK remains in the slow lane when it comes to technology.  This must be addressed if we are to compete on a world stage after Brexit.  Waiting until we leave will be too late.  On the positive side, individual companies continue to show the ability to innovate.  Companies when buying telecoms still need to be vigilant as there are many scams and dodgy deals being operated in the market. 

Dave Millett, Director of Equinox 

Image Credit: Ekaphon Maneechot / Shutterstock