How much did the telecoms sector change in 2017?

Dave Millett

Dave Millett has over 35 years’ experience in the telecoms industry and has worked in European Director roles for several global companies. 

He now runs Equinox, a leading independent brokerage and consultancy firm.

He shares his views on the last year in the telecoms sector.

Over the last 12 months, did the world of telecoms change much in the UK?

Well, it did see 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 item. We have disposable cameras, are phones next?

Unfortunately, the year did not see any improvement in the Government’s approach to addressing the shortfalls in the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.

Lord Adonis recently called it deplorable and called on Ofcom to take action.

There was a small glimmer of hope with the announcement from Vodafone that it will start to roll out its own fibre network in conjunction with City Fibre.

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 that lack fibre broadband.

BT announced some trials of Fibre To The Premise (FTTP) technology.  Yet one has to ask why trials are necessary when Latvia already has 45% coverage of its country with the technology and South Korea 85%?  We have yet to get above 2%.

Could it be BT wants to sweat its copper assets even longer?

Yet again, 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. The regulator then compounds the issue by appearing to favour BT in sorting out the mess of fibre broadband shortages, rather than opening up the market.

The levels of proposed compensation for missed appointments and delays in fixing faults were also reduced by Ofcom.  They now don’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.

Roaming charges in Europe came to an end this year, which is positive news.  Yet it remains a disgrace that we cannot roam for free in the UK.  This would help reduce the not-spots we all face when travelling the country.  Another example of the Government and Ofcom not standing up to the networks.

Mobile data traffic continued to grow, and the number of texts declined.  The percentage of people not using their mobiles for voice conversation over the mobile networks rose dramatically, with the growth of communication apps such as Facetime and Whatsapps drawing users away from the traditional networks.

Similarly, businesses continued to give up traditional lines in favour of SIP and VoIP.  Almost 1 in 6 business phones is connected to VoIP now.  Traditional premise-based vendors, such as Avaya and Mitel, began promoting their cloud-based solutions equally, if not more than, the premise option.

But claims that the landline is dead are certainly premature.   Some suppliers are using the end story to scare companies to change out earlier than necessary – there is no need to hurry.

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.  Much was made of Apple’s facial recognition yet imagine if you are mugged for your phone – much easier for thief to unlock it by holding it up to you. Prices 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.

So, overall, did much change? No, not really, The UK remains in the slow lane when it comes to technology.

Not much has changed in the last 12 months.  Continued uncertainty over Brexit remains the biggest greater concern – overshadowing some of the telecoms issues. However, we need to address the issue of poor telecoms infrastructure in the UK 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 despite our infrastructure continuing to slip behind.

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