India not for the faint-hearted

India’s mobile sector got a share-price bounce recently. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India, the country’s two biggest operators, reported encouraging top-line numbers for the quarter ended June. With voice and data revenue climbing, is it possible that the Indian mobile market – so long plagued by razor-thin margins and a volatile investment climate – has turned a corner?

The short answer is no. While increases in service revenue are welcome, helped by a growing 3G subscriber base, there are still too many market uncertainties to say with any conviction that India’s operators – many of which are carrying heavy debt – are out of the woods. Continue reading

Nokia kits up

First published on Industry Briefing, Economist Intelligence Unit, 25 July

When Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) published its first annual report in March, it seemed the parent companies of the Finnish-German joint venture were stepping up their efforts for either a private equity sale or a listing. Siemens had made little secret of its desire to exit the loss-making manufacturer of mobile broadband equipment. That Nokia ended up buying out Siemens shows both firms ran out of patience. There’s also an air of desperation about the deal. Continue reading

Four’s a crowd?

Europe’s national regulators tend to like having at least four mobile network operators (MNOs). The more infrastructure competition there is, they reason, the more consumers are likely to benefit from lower prices and service innovation.

Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, bent over backwards to make sure 4G spectrum auction rules would result in at least four MNOs each having enough wireless frequencies to offer what it believes would be a “viable” high-speed data service nationwide. Other European Union (EU) national regulators have been equally assiduous in setting aside 4G spectrum for a fourth player. There are signs, however, that regulatory attitudes – both at a national and European level – are softening. Continue reading

Kroes stirs up net neutrality debate – part II

Neelie Kroes, EU digital commissioner, may well be an operator nemesis when it comes to slashing EU roaming rates. On the subject of net neutrality, however, she appears to be taking a pragmatic approach that maybe – just maybe – has appeal to both operators and consumers alike.

After saying at the end of May she was keen on “guaranteeing” net neutrality – which no doubt sent shivers up the spines of many in the mobile industry – Kroes added more detail in a later speech (4 June) on where she thinks legislation could usefully apply to preserving the ‘open internet’. Continue reading

Kroes stirs up net neutrality debate – part I

In her most recent call for a single European telecoms market, Neelie Kroes, Europe’s digital commissioner, enthused about getting rid of premium roaming rates. Nothing new there, perhaps, but she also talked about “guaranteeing net neutrality”.

It seems a big shift from her previous stance on the “open internet”, where the emphasis was on making operators’ traffic management policies more transparent. The prospect of EU-wide net neutrality legislation is sure to agitate operators fearful of so-called OTT competition. It will also raise the hackles of EU sovereign states that don’t take kindly to directives from Brussels. This is going to be hard for Kroes to pull off. Continue reading

BT’s sporting chance

First published on Industry Briefing, Economist Intelligence Unit, 21 May

In recent years it seemed the only way BT could generate investor excitement was to show what a fine job it was doing at cutting costs. Otherwise, the picture looked bleak. Declining market shares in the UK fixed-line voice and broadband markets, an ailing Global Services division and a mountainous pension fund deficit all cast long and persistent shadows.

Things are changing. After spending lavishly on TV rights for English Premier League football and other sporting events, the UK incumbent is limbering up to launch three BT Sport channels this August. And in an attempt to wrong-foot satellite broadcaster BSkyB – its main opponent in the pay-TV and broadband markets – BT Sports TV will initially come free with BT broadband. Another BT body swerve is to undercut BSkyB subscriptions for pubs and clubs, and reduce the price of its high-speed fibre broadband service. Continue reading

Dish boss plays weak patriotic card for Sprint

Charlie Ergen was apparently “disappointed” by Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s boss, when he made jibes about the credibility of Dish Network’s takeover bid for Sprint. In an interview with USA Today, referring to Son’s remarks at SoftBank’s full-year earnings call on 26 April, the Dish chairman said “it was more [about] personal attack and personality than it was about business”.

Yet there appears little justification for Ergen to get hot under the collar about personal attacks, not least because Son had plenty of “business numbers” in his arguments about why he believes SoftBank’s bid for Sprint is better value than Dish’s. Continue reading

Spectrum: the great industry divider

First published on Mobile World Live, 23 April 2013

Spectrum allocation is one of the most divisive issues in the mobile industry. Regulators – armed with proposals on how wireless frequencies should be auctioned, re-assigned or re-farmed – invariably get flak from some quarter.

Hardly surprising. Rules about how a finite resource should be divvied up are unlikely to please everyone. In some ways, regulators – dare I say it – are easy targets. Their job is made tougher when there’s pressure from national government to squeeze out as much cash as possible from selling spectrum. Continue reading

GSMA VoLTE, not RCS, will drive IMS

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) has often struggled to prove its worth to network operators. Despite suppliers’ efforts to extol the technology over the last ten years or so, IMS remains niche.

Sure, an IMS architecture offers the prospect of launching new services more quickly and cost-effectively than is possible with softswitches and TDM kit, but the technology’s business case merits – historically at least – have been far from convincing. Many network operators have generally taken the view it would be too risky to invest in a new architecture to enable additional services that may or may not be commercially successful.

And where IMS has been deployed, it’s the fixed-line players that have done most of the running. Standalone mobile operators, on the whole, have steered clear.

This looks set to change. To plug a gaping gap in the original LTE specification – the lack of a CS (circuit-switched) domain – GSMA recommends an IMS-based approach to VoLTE. Continue reading

Quad-play appetites growing in Europe

First published on Mobile World Live, 1 April 2013

Think Europe and quad-play, then Spain and France might immediately spring to mind. In both countries, the bundling together of mobile and fixed-line services is going down a storm with customers.

Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands may also figure in your thinking. In all five countries, says Bernstein Research, quad-play is a “mainstream offer”.

Look elsewhere in Europe, though, and quad-play is thin on the ground. Analysys Mason estimates fewer than 5 per cent of households in Germany, Italy and the UK have a bundled package of fixed and mobile services. Continue reading