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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why all the fuss about cross-network roaming for UK mobile coverage?

Mark Bridge writes:

A suggestion that UK mobile phone networks might be forced to improve black-spot coverage by allowing interconnection with their rivals is back in the news. It made the headlines in June and has returned again this week, which is why I could be heard offering my opinion on BBC local radio yesterday morning.

The topic is being talked about again because the government has announced a consultation into tackling ‘not spots’ in mobile phone coverage.

According to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, who - as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - is responsible for the report, “This isn’t just about lifestyle, it’s vital for our modern economy.”

Mr Javid starts by acknowledging that “Government has already introduced the Mobile Infrastructure Project to tackle the issue of complete not-spots, where there is no mobile signal available at all.” Very true. The government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project was launched in 2011 to add coverage in areas where there wasn’t any commercial incentive to do so, spending £150 million to do this.

This new consultation is about partial not-spots, where at least one network offers coverage but others don’t.

Now, some might say this is unnecessary because we already have a national ‘roaming’ agreement for emergency mobile phone coverage in these areas. Since 2009, anyone making a call to the emergency services - whether on 999 or 112 - has been connected to another network if their chosen mobile network wasn’t available.

Anyway, the consultation document says it’s examining three potential measures to address the problem of partial not-spots. These are:

a. addressing coverage (infrastructure sharing);
b. Multi-Operator-Mobile Virtual Network Operator (where mobile services are retailed by an entity distinct from a mobile network operator e.g. TalkTalk Mobile, Virgin Mobile);
c. national roaming.

There’s also a fourth ‘do nothing’ option.

Infrastructure sharing sounds interesting. In fact, it’s so interesting that all the ‘big four’ networks are already doing it.

Three and T-Mobile set up a business called Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) back in 2007 to share sites. Orange and T-Mobile got together after the formation of EE, with EE later joining the MBNL party. And Vodafone and O2 set up a business called Cornerstone in 2012, sharing their masts and backhaul.

Okay, so that’s hardly a new idea. What about a SIM card that allows customers to connect to multiple UK networks? The kind of thing that foreign visitors benefit from when they visit the UK.

Nice thought. And already available. In fact, I could buy one today.

What about mandated national roaming? Well, obviously not available at the moment - but why bother? It seems to go against the ‘competition delivers what customers want’ dialogue we’ve heard previously from the government. There could well be some issue with competition law. It’s a disincentive to future investment. It may adversely affect battery life on phones. And it might even cause problems with anti-terrorism activity by muddling the metadata from calls.

At this point, I’ll point out that this enormously-significant consultation - from an industry that literally spends billions of pounds a year on improving its network coverage - will run for three weeks. Just 21 days. To contrast, Ofcom’s latest consultation on Communications services and SMEs is giving people two months to construct their responses.

Then there’s option four: do nothing.

Let’s take a look at that consultation document again. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport writes “I have held initial discussions with the four Mobile Network Operators and I note the work in place to improve coverage.” Excellent. So he’s talked to them and is aware they’re working on the problem. He goes on to say “I am keen to work with them to find a voluntary solution to the problem, however I would be prepared to mandate a solution in line with wider government interests, should insufficient progress be made.”

Oh, I see now. Given the choice between offering carrot and stick, it looks as though Mr Javid has chosen to implement the consultation document as his stick. A stick that could be applied in just three weeks’ time.

Still, at least it won’t be long before we find out what’s going to happen next.

We discussed the UK government plans for reducing so-called 'not spots' in our podcast on 12th November 2014. You can listen to the programme on our website audio player, via iTunes, by using our RSS feed, on the Stitcher.com mobile app or by downloading the mp3 file directly.

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Opinion Articles

Predictions for 2016: Network Function Virtualisation, 4G throttling and video calling

Mark Windle, head of marketing at OpenCloud, predicts that this year’s reduction in the number of traditional telecoms operators in some countries will provide an opportunity for other operators to innovate and capture market share in 2016.

He says next year will be a year of rapid change for telecoms… whether it’s MVNO disruption, competitive tariff pricing or simply defence from the ‘dark art’ of hacking.

Author: The Fonecast
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Kapture review: the audio-recording wristband

Kapture review: the audio-recording wristband

A 'recording watch' that links to your smartphone

Mark Bridge writes:

The most memorable moments in life often go unrecorded. You don't have your camera in your hands. Your finger is still hovering over the 'pause' button on your audio recorder. Or you were simply too busy experiencing whatever was happening. It's all about the one that got away.

That's where Kapture can help.

Author: The Fonecast
4 Comments
Article rating: 4.0
Making mobile websites work better

Making mobile websites work better

Device detection and responsive design explained

Mark Bridge writes:

James Rosewell shows me a colourful roll of paper that's the width of an iPhone but well over three metres long. When I look closer, I can see it's a printed copy of the Wall Street Journal's mobile website. That's a lot of scrolling to do... and a pretty unfriendly user experience for anyone reading the news online. Why does it work so badly?

Author: The Fonecast
1 Comments
Article rating: 3.8

Podcast transcript: O2 counts on 3, Microsoft counts to 10 and Apple counts its profits

Here’s an edited transcript of our new monthly podcast, broadcast on 30th January 2015.

[Iain Graham]: Hello, it's Friday 30th January 2015. Welcome to this month's edition of The Fonecast. That’s right, you heard correctly: we’ve temporarily moved to a monthly format. If you’d like to join 51Degrees in sponsoring the podcast and returning us to weekly programmes, please get in touch via our website. Now, on with the show.

Author: The Fonecast
0 Comments
Article rating: 5.0

The secret of Apple's success

Mark Bridge writes:

What’s the secret of Apple’s success? That’s the question I was asked earlier this week by LBC radio during a report on Apple’s impressive iPhone sales and its record quarterly results.

So here are six reasons I think Apple is doing so well at the moment.

Author: The Fonecast
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Recent Podcasts

A week of mobile industry news, including the latest security and privacy concerns

Podcast - 16th April 2014

We begin this week's podcast with a discussion about the Heartbleed bug, the effect it's having on the mobile industry and the wider issues for all internet users.

We're also talking about the future of BlackBerry, UK 4G coverage, new CEOs, Bluetooth connectivity, privacy concerns and the next generation of mobile processors.

Author: The Fonecast
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A new mobile move from Microsoft, a roaming revolution in Europe... and much more

Podcast - 9th April 2014

This week's podcast starts with news from Microsoft about an update to its Windows Phone platform and a cost-free OS offer to hardware manufacturers.

There's also a new flagship smartphone from Nokia, a roaming announcement from the European Parliament, a UK virtual mobile network from The Co-operative Group, a change at the top for Mozilla, retail expansion for Vodafone and an awkward end to BlackBerry's relationship with T-Mobile in the USA.

Author: The Fonecast
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Acquisitions, banking, complaints... and the rest of the week's mobile industry news

Podcast - 2nd April 2014

Acquisition announcements from Facebook and Intel are the first stories in this week's look at the latest UK mobile industry headlines.

They're followed by news about mobile payments, mobile banking, a phone with an invisible solar panel, customer complaints, low-cost 4G smartphones, productivity apps and an intriguing case of WhatsApp-itis.

Author: The Fonecast
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Smartphones, smart watches and SMS spam: all the week's mobile industry news headlines

Podcast - 26th March 2014

Iain Graham, James Rosewell and Mark Bridge are reunited for their regular weekly look at the latest UK mobile industry headlines.

Today they're talking about smart watches, an Apple iPhone announcement, the new HTC One M8, the closure of Ovivo Mobile, text spam, peer-to-peer messaging, government hacking and mergers.

Author: The Fonecast
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Designing mobile phones for seniors: we talk to Doro and Emporia Telecom

Podcast - 21st March 2014

Producing mobile phones for older customers requires much more than big buttons and a simple interface. At Mobile World Congress last month we spoke to two major players in this growing sector: Swedish company Doro and Austria's Emporia Telecom.

Our first conversation was with Harald Obereder, Chief Technology Officer at Emporia, who spoke to Mark Bridge about handset design and user interface design. This was followed by an interview with Chris Millington, Managing Director for Doro UK and Ireland, about research and development in the 'senior tech' market.

Author: The Fonecast
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