Posts Tagged ‘UK’

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Brussels on attack over pay-TV rights

December 3, 2013

Territorial restrictions placed on TV anywhere apps adds another dimension to the UK pub test case with regards to the single EU market for digital services

The week-end edition of the Financial Times (23 Nov 2013), lead with “Brussels on attack over pay-TV rights”, reporting on the anti-trust probe by European commission over pay –TV rights. This was prompted by the case of the British publican fined for showing football to UK customers using a satellite card from Greece.

The UK pub test case is only the tip of the iceberg in the challenge rights holders and the digital media industry face.  TV anywhere apps such as “Virgin TV Anywhere” or “Sky Go” give consumers the ability to watch the subscribed channels away from home over the internet. However, a British pay-TV subscriber on holiday in Spain wanting to watch a Premier League football match on his iPad would find the viewing blocked because access is only allowed from within the UK.  In the physical world this is akin to a British holidaymaker being blocked from reading a book on the beach in Spain, with the excuse that the book was bought London.

I am sure that pay-TV operators would like to grant their customers access from anywhere within the EU because this would add value to their service. The problem lies with the country based approach to TV rights. The 2011 judgement with regards to the Premier League may not have considered the issue because at that time TV-anywhere apps did not yet exist. The EU is keen to promote the “connected continent” and should take vigorous steps to ensure that consumers are free consume digital media anywhere within the EU, regardless from which EU country the service is played out.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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New LTE Bands in European Version of iPhone 5S?

May 24, 2013

When back in September 2012, Apple launched the iPhone5, I commented on the fact that the Region 1 version (Europe and Africa) only included the 1800MHz band for LTE whereas Samsung and HTC already had triple band LTE models in the market with the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

This week came the announcement that Vodafone UK delayed its LTE launch to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 5S. This seems to indicate that that the new version of the iPhone will include three main Region 1 LTE bands.

It was reported that Vodafone’s Group CEO Vittorio Colao commented on the delayed launch: “End of the summer means when there’s going to be a good commercial moment for launching 4G … EE had a little bit of an advantage because of the iPhone at 1800MHz. To be honest that will go away as soon as we launch our 4G.”

The fact that Vodafone UK organised its launch date around a handset speaks volumes of the marketing power of Apple.  Many consumers make handset choices first and network choices second.  Mobile network operators would gain a lot from promoting Android and Windows phones to counteract the marketing power of Apple. 

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting

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Towards a single EU telecoms market

March 14, 2013

In a speech delivered at Mobile World Congress 2013, Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, called for the creation of a single telecoms market in the EU. Kroes iterated that it would be of great benefit to the European telecoms industry as well as consumers. There are numerous aspects to this, but mobile telecoms and notably spectrum allocation is most notably one of the focal points.

In recent times, common EU policy has led to the harmonisation of mobile spectrum and technology in the form of GSM at 900MHz and 1800MHz. One could argue that it is this which kicked off the global boom in mobile communications as a result of delivering low equipment prices (terminals and network) as well as international roaming. The benefits to both the European industry and users are undeniable. Mobile communications is now a global business and with the inclusion of multiple LTE bands on chipsets, harmonisation is perhaps a little less important from the technology perspective, but it still matters from a business perspective.

Spectrum allocation mechanisms and prices paid by operators are driven by national policy objectives. Some governments (e.g. Finland) rightly think that spectrum should be made available to operators as cheaply as possible since ultimately this generates the greatest benefit to society. Others (e.g. Ireland and Greece) focus on immediate cash generation. Views on competition may also differ. The 800MHz auction rules in France are a good illustration of a government ensuring the survival of the 4th entrant, whereas in the highly competitive UK market, competition does has not been a big issue in the recent spectrum auction.

These policy differences result in very different costs for mobile operators and yet there is an assumption that prices, notably wholesale prices should be standardised across the EU. Clearly there is a contradiction.

Another key point in pushing for an EU wide approach to telecoms regulation is that cross-border mergers should be made easier in the EU. The fragmentation of telecoms services provision within the EU is a barrier to the single market. An innocent bystander might ask a whole series of questions which demonstrate that the current EU mobile and fixed regulatory environment is unsatisfactory, for example:

—Why is it that a call on a mobile network within a country tends to be included in the bundle whereas a call to a neighbouring country is usually priced at a premium?

—Austria has a smaller population than Bavaria, so why does T-Mobile run Austria as a separate business from its German operation?

—Why are mobile numbers portable within a country but not within the EU?

The current structure of the EU telecoms industry and markets are an artefact of national telecoms regulation. Faced with competition from global OTT players who are not bound by national regulatory regimes, it is the European telecoms companies who suffer. Both industry and end-users would greatly benefit from a truly EU wide approach to telecoms policy and regulation.

Written by Stefan Zehle, CEO, Coleago Consulting

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The risks with Google Wallet

September 27, 2011

Interest in the industry regarding NFC and mobile payments is continuing to grow following the joint venture by Orange, Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile, with the Google Wallet emerging as the latest major breakthrough. It will aide NFC to continue to take off (albeit slowly at first) and it is our expectation that we will see NFC technology be built into a growing number of new mobiles, including the iPhone 5. But uptake will still be slow over the next 18 months to two years. However, NFC chip makers are forecasting that 40 to 50 million NFC-enabled phones will be in circulation by the end of 2011, so early adopters are likely to be investing in a new handset pretty soon.

Making money out of mobile payments was one of the drivers that drove the share prices of telecoms companies to stratospheric levels during the Dot Com boom. Ten years on and the Google Wallet is the only real  progress that has been made in relation to m-payments outside of some mobile banking applications for developing markets and the UK operator joint venture earlier this year, of which we’re still waiting to see the results. One of the reasons for the lack of progress is that m-payment is a classic example of network economics. The more customers and the more sellers who adopt an m-payment platform, the more valuable that platform becomes. The GSM mobile standard was a perfect example of network effects in action and the lack of global or even national coordination for an m-payment standard is a contributing factor to the lack of success to date.

Google seeking to establish a dominant standard is a risky business. If it gets it right, like Microsoft, it can look forward to significant returns. If it gets it wrong, like Betamax video and more recently HD DVD, it can expect some difficult questions from shareholders. A number of players in the last 10 years have sought to establish a payment standard but none have been successful and their attempts have been somewhat half hearted.

Written by Graham Friend, Managing Director, Coleago Consulting

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Should Mobile Networks Evolve into an Access Utility?

July 11, 2011

The licensing of multiple mobile networks within the same market really took hold with the advent of GSM. Often licences were awarded based on beauty contests and later through auctions.  Coverage was of the main evaluation criteria and also a source of competitive advantage for mobile operators.  In the early days of GSM coverage maps featured prominently in advertising and for customers geographic coverage was the main factor in choosing one mobile operator over another. Licence obligations and competitive pressures ensured that operators build coverage rapidly, even in areas with low revenue potential. This development was of course very much to the benefit of the rapid growth of the mobile communications market. In other words, licensing and building several mobile networks in parallel proved to be a tremendous success.

In 2011 few operators in developed markets talk about geographic coverage, i.e. geographic coverage is no longer a differentiator between networks and hence does not confer competitive advantage. Competition tends to be around bundled offers, handsets, price plans, rewards, content, and occasionally mobile broadband quality gets a mention. The implication is that at this stage of the mobile industry life cycle, network ownership appears to matter less and less. Indeed many operators share sites and in some cases even share the Radio Access Network (RAN).

However, the exponential growth in mobile broadband traffic means that capacity started to matter. New spectrum is being auctioned and in some cases prices paid, particularly for digital dividend 700MHz or 800MHz spectrum, are quite high – €0.70 per MHz per pop in Germany for example. Prices paid for 2.6 GHz are much lower, in the region of €0.02/MHz/pop, but still represent a substantial cost to mobile operators. Governments are keen to extract significant amounts of cash from mobile operators and design spectrum auctions to achieve this. From an operator’s perspective the question arises, how can we avoid bidding up prices for the new spectrum?

Given that most regulators have already accepted RAN sharing, perhaps the best course of action for competing operators in a particular market is to form a Network Company which will bid for spectrum jointly on behalf of operators, deploy an LTE network in the new spectrum and then lease capacity to each mobile operator. Indeed, following the conclusion of the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz auction in May 2010 in which ePlus failed to obtain 800 MHz spectrum, the winning operators immediately announced that there would be a deal to give ePlus access to the sub 1 GHz spectrum. This begs the question whether such a deal could have been struck prior to the auction?

In the run-up to a spectrum auction collusion rules are often not clear. For example, in the forthcoming Swiss auction there are rules against collusion but also any company is allowed to bid. Could two operators form a bidding vehicle? If yes, network consolidation would take a step forward. Site sharing is already standard operating procedure and RAN sharing is becoming more widespread. Sharing spectrum would take this evolution a step further. Sharing brings of course the greatest capex and future opex benefits in a new build situation. The forthcoming digital dividend and 2.6GHz auctions and roll-out of LTE therefore present an ideal opportunity for mobile operators to increase return on capital employed by co-operating at network level while preserving competition at retail level.

There are likely to be regulatory concerns in respect of competition. These concerns can be alleviated if there is already enhanced competition at retail level through MVNOs and if operators are mindful of other competition related aspects, committing to net neutrality for example.

Moving towards a net-utility and fostering competition at retail level may seem counter intuitive. However combining careful analysis of the industry evolution as it moves into the mature phase of the industry life cycle with an analysis of capital expenditure and the return of capital employed along different parts of the mobile operator value chain may produce new insights. After all, all investors should be interested in is return on capital employed.

By Stefan Zehle, CEO Coleago Consulting

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The Network Sharing Conundrum

November 19, 2010

By Sharad Sharma, Senior Consultant, Coleago Consulting Ltd

Network sharing is gaining momentum

Mobile operators worldwide are struggling to increase the ARPU where voice, the main source of revenue source is commoditised and the data is yet to carve its way to be a high revenue generator. However, in order to maintain the technological leadership in the market, high investments are still needed in the networks whether it is a developed economy or a developing economy. The operators are facing a big challenge to justify the investments in the network. As a result operators look to identify cost cutting opportunities. Some of the costs saving initiatives are easy to tackle but the others like network sharing and network outsourcing involve business transformation of high degree.

Network sharing as a cost saving initiative has been gaining momentum in the different countries but also to improve performance. Tower sharing and national roaming has been around for quite a while now with operators across the globe are sharing towers for speedy network deployment. Originally Network Sharing was looked at in the light of revenue generation for incumbents and a more favourable to greenfield operators, helping the latter to increase roll out coverage faster. However, today network sharing is viewed from the angle of cost reduction.

Forming separate entities to pool tower assets or an entity to manage a consolidated network in the case of RAN sharing are of interests to many operators. However, there may be trouble ahead if such agreements are not thought through correctly: A cookie will always taste different when two different people make it even if it is the same recipe. These initiatives are now a trend and the decision to implement is taken without a detailed assessment of the opportunity. It is very important to assess the market dynamics and company’s own capability before actually going ahead with the network sharing. Many questions need to be answered before making a decision as to the network sharing model, the partner, the scope and the structure of the agreement. Two of the major questions that arise are the risk of losing the network related competitive advantage and the risk of degraded quality.

Network as a competitive advantage

The increasing number of smart phones is making the customers now much more aware of network quality / capacity / congestion as variations in service quality for data services are much more apparent and much more frustrating. Operators have pursued different strategies in terms of network investment for data capacity and as a result there are greater variations in network performance and customers are more aware of the differences. As a result network once again has become a source of competitive advantage. This may well lead operators to turn away from network sharing deals as they would not want to neutralise their advantageous position.

But are these strategies giving an operator a sustainable competitive advantage or is it just a short lived like any other voice quality improvement that the customers forget after all operators achieved equality. On the other hand, is it possible to gain this competitive advantage by a cost saving initiative like network sharing? The answer depends on the case.

For example, in the UK, most operators in UK claim 99 per cent geographical coverage. Now boasting of superior network quality with a combined network can be seen in the advertising campaigns. The operators like ‘3’ and T-mobile after implementing RAN sharing are claiming a better network coverage and quality while T-Mobile now ringing bells of combined Orange and T-Mobile network. Vodafone and O2 in turn moved into a tower sharing model. However, in developing countries where the networks are less mature, the implications are different because geographic coverage roll-out continues to be an issue.

Network capacity and congestion

An issue with network sharing arises in the context of capacity upgrades. Particularly in respect to mobile broadband the challenge is forecasting the capacity requirements not the network sharing or technology. If the forecasting is smartly managed for both the radio access and transmission backhaul, capacity issues could be overcome easily. However it does raise issues with regards to sharing sensitive commercial information between competitors.

Should we share now or wait?

When competition is based largely on price, the competitive advantage resides with the lowest cost operator. The lowest cost operator is probably an operator with a network sharing deal in place. An operator who currently enjoys a leading market share position and therefore decides to delay sharing may well find that when their advantage is neutralised, there are no network sharing deals to be done as all competing operators have entered into agreements. In the long run this market leader may well suffer because he no longer has the lowest cost operation and therefore would be unable to compete on price. Resolving the conundrum requires careful consideration and a valuation of the relative benefits of network superiority versus cost sharing. As with any strategic decision, timing is everything.

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UK to open extra mobile spectrum

October 25, 2010

The UK used to be at the forefront of mobile communications deployment. The announcement by Chancellor George Osborne that 2.6 GHz spectrum and digital dividend spectrum will be auctioned in 2011 or 2012, now puts the UK well behind Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and other European countries in terms of mobile technology deployment. UK mobile users will have to wait for LTE for another 2 years whereas commercial services are already in operation elsewhere.

However, from the operators’ perspective this is not bad news. Capital expenditure for the acquisition of spectrum at auction and the subsequent deployment is also delayed. It is likely that mobile broadband demand will remain strong and existing capacity would not be sufficient. Operators may be able to increase mobile broadband prices which would help to improve not only UK mobile industry EBITDA margins – which are among the lowest in Europe – but also increase free cash flow. This should delight shareholders.

As regards auction design, the fact that the announcement was made by the Chancellor who is primarily concerned with raising revenue for the government, must be worrying for operators. It is likely that the auction will be designed to maximise revenue.

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