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Mobile not moving on PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Thursday, 19 May 2011 07:43

Head of CommunicationsWhat’s up with mobile?  Probably the 20th century’s most disruptive technology – the great facilitator of innovation – but Mobile seems to be losing its mojo.

Inspired by the spirit of sanctions-busting techno-revolutionaries, born to break down barriers, the now mammoth beasts of the mobile jungle are beginning to look just like the old recumbent Telco’s they once heroically challenged.

Sure we can still see innovation but it’s happening at the edge, not at the core of the networks.   As they cling to outmoded models that deny the benefits of techno-progress they often seem to be investing more in regulatory lobbying than network transformation.

So it’s welcome news that in the USA and France the regulators, against fierce industry opposition, have mandated ‘national roaming’. It is clearly crazy that, just because your preferred operator’s network doesn’t work well (or not at all) in some location, your mobile phone cannot switch to another network with a better signal.

It works when we roam abroad – but curiously not at home in the UK where the regulator clings to an outdated policy of ‘infrastructure competition at the lowest practical level.’

In an age where fixed line communications networks recognize that Access and Services are two entirely different things – where one is a utility infrastructure and the other a diverse range of competing applications – it doesn’t make sense to duplicate infrastructure investment.  Do we do this with water pipes, electricity and roads?  Do we have enough unused spectrum to waste?  Can customers afford to pay for excessive auction prices?

But mobile operators are facing some interesting challenges – the shift from telephony towards data and the fact that mobile usage is increasingly less mobile. More than 75% of all mobile calls are now made from home or office – and that’s predicted to rise to 85% within 2 years. Meanwhile the users who are truly mobile – on the road or in trains for example – will have shrunk to a mere 3% of traffic.

These shifts – towards mobile data and screen use and the need for better indoor signal penetration – coupled with massive clustering of demand (e.g. in business areas or entertainment venues) - will mean that the performance pressures can only be resolved by deploying vastly more (and far more localised) base stations.

But all those base stations need high capacity backhaul – so the mobile operators are in turn dependent on extensive deployment of local fibre access networks and, sadly, we all know how well we are doing on that front.

The UK has Europe’s 3rd largest mobile customer base – 62million or 135% penetration!  Disappointingly for those users the UK’s overall mobile network performance ranks 24th out of 28 European states – trailing behind Romania, Bulgaria and Portugal.  There’s a pattern here in both fixed and mobile communications. The UK is characterized by high take-up of low-performance connectivity.

Meanwhile Ofcom sees no need to tilt the regulatory landscape in favour of enterprises and consumers whose interest it is by law supposed to support. National roaming and a policy target of 100% mobile coverage seem to be way off their agenda as they gear up for another round of bumper auctions for new spectrum licencing.

With new ‘spectrum-efficient’ technologies waiting in the wings and in the spirit of St George, it is time perhaps to encourage some new entrants to the UK mobile market; there are dragons to be slain.


This editorial was written for the UK’s Communications Management Association – a part of the BCS – the chartered body for ICT professionals.

Data references are drawn from recent research by ARCchart and reported here by Rethink Wireless.

The themes of this editorial will be further explored during the UK programme of NextGen Roadshows > 

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 May 2011 12:41

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