Faisal says…

What dealers want It’s a funny old industry we all work in. It was around this time last year that I was complaining at T-Mobile head Jim Hyde’s attempt to Americanise the UK mobile phone industry. The network had just announced a major pull-back from the Independent channel, as they sought to conserve funds after the overwhelming success of FlexT.

The logic was to put more connections through the direct channel and for indies to focus on upgrades. Of course, when connection figures plummeted, there was a collective “oh sh*t!” in Hertfordshire and the network suddenly found a whole load of money to put into new connections in the indie channel.

One year later, and the independent channel is bracing itself for a T-Mobile cutback. The German parent has ordered cost-savings in some of its prominent businesses, including here in the UK. As a result, Mr Hyde wants us to focus on upgrades, small business connections and data cards, while direct stores look after the consumer side of things for us. As Iain Graham (formerly of Vodafone) said to me the other day: “22 years in the industry, same thing every year!”

I’ve highlighted T-Mobile here, but all the networks are at it. Ask a room full of independent dealers what they think of 3: try showing that video before the 9pm watershed! Orange has announced that its unlimited ‘trial’ will be finishing at the end of July, despite its huge success. And as Dino Mouradis from DM Telecom put it, Vodafone’s sales team just need to hear the words “business deal” before they drop their trousers!

It’s tough for us independents wherever you look at it. At fone doctors we just launched our new trade unlocking and repair service, and so a number of indies have been on the phone with enquiries. There is one consistent theme coming from every conversation I have: the future is bleak for connections, both consumer and B2B, and the networks are not trustworthy partners. There is also a great deal of frustration at how the disties seem to be bending over backwards to kiss the big fat operators’ behind instead of standing up to the networks and pushing for a stronger channel.

Yet we seem to be a adaptable bunch, and dealers are keeping options open. At fone doctors, we’ve seen our connection numbers come down constantly over the past year or so. A large part has been due to the structural changes we’ve been having, but a lot has also been due to the change in priorities. If I’m honest, connections are now behind unlocking, repairs and trade memory cards as an income generator for us. If we stopped connecting tomorrow, it wouldn’t be great — but it wouldn’t be disastrous. Other dealers I know are looking at pushing fixed and broadband. One smart chap is promoting mortgages. Many are now looking at repairs and unlocking.

To put it simply, the majority of us are great at selling, and good at customer service. Our customers like to buy from us and they tend to be fairly loyal. It’s why we’ve been so good at the mobile phone business for so many years, and that’s why we’ll still be around. It’s one of the reasons why the UK industry is probably the most influential in Europe, if not the world.

Yet for some reasons, the networks want to take the short-sighted approach and turn the industry into something resembling the US – where the only stores are run by operators, where consumer choice is limited and where many people still don’t have a cell-phone.

Competition is healthy; it’s why the mobile phone market in this country has been the success story that it is. But it also needs to be fair competition, without the unevenness that the networks are creating. Yet they’ll all keep coming back to the channel when things get bleak; they’ll come running with cap in hand asking for us to bail them out. It just a question of how many of will keep on trusting them.

Mark Pollak runs Turn On Your Mobile in South West London. It’s a good business, specialising in handset repairs, spares and used phones. turning more than £1m. He used to offer contract connections, but now refuses to. As Mark put it, “I wouldn’t touch some of the networks with a 10ft bargepole. If the networks want loyalty, they’re doing their best not to get it. What they are building is brand disloyalty.”

Knowing Mark, his business and his customer base, that is definitely the networks’ loss — not his.

GRIPE LINE TOP THREE GRIPES
• T-Mobile’s great business email offering, NOT! You can’t seriously expect a company running MS Exchange to pull out their existing BES infrastructure and move to BlackBerry Internet mail if they want to sign up with T-Mobile through the dealer channel.
•All networks for not counting 07744 and 07755 numbers in inclusive call minutes. If it’s 07, it should be free. Otherwise we’re just confusing the consumer.
• Orange’s new data bundle – you can’t call 30MB of data for £8 unlimited!

DEAL DOSSIER TOP THREE DEALS
• Orange Racoon 35: 700 mins, 100 texts, unlimited Landline calls, free Nokia E65 (what a great phone), unlimited 8MB wireless broadband, unlimited calls from home to Orange phones and UK & International landlines … all for £40 a month plus £10 per month to BT. A great cross-selling package (so why are they finishing it?)
• T-Mobile’s Web’n’Walk USB Modem – 3.6MBps speeds for £29 a month. Mobile broadband for the masses.
• FlexT 35 and Web’n’Walk 12- month with the MDA Vario II for £80 — still the best voice-anddata package.

JAFFA CAKE
Saima at Strawberry Cheesecake – thanks for your help with that unlocking advert. I don’t know how you got it from 90MB to 600KB, but that was a lifesaver!