Fat mobile pipe

Fat mobile pipe

Julien Parven, head of marketing

Julien Parven, head of marketing at Daisy Distribution

The UK is an interesting place at the moment with regard to mobile broadband. Higher data speeds and increased capacity on 3G networks has led to its growth over the past couple of years, and WiFi has now started to play a huge role. Here, Heather McLean looks into the status of mobile broadband in the UK today.

Julien Parven, head of marketing at Daisy Distribution, states there is no doubt that growing demand for mobile broadband is fuelling the emergence of both smartphones and improved wireless broadband technology. He remarks: “Device driven demand is also fuelling the boom of mobile broadband, with the iPhone being a massive contributor to that, as well as the android and Blackberry devices, which are a data centric part of the device market.

“While on-deck mobile data usage and non SMS mobile data services remain strong, offdeck usage to both mobile specific internet sites and regular sites is also increasing,” continues Parven. “This is also aligned to the growth of advanced mobile devices and more powerful wireless technologies, such as HSPA and WiMAX. An increasing number of businesses are recognising the power of the mobile when driving more traffic to their website. When accessing their site, internet users want it to intuitively identify that they are accessing it from a mobile device, instantly providing them with the site’s mobile version.”

 

On what stage the UK is at now with regard to the growth and saturation of mobile broadband, Bob Sweetlove, business manager at HSC, agrees there has been massive recent growth driven by data-friendly smartphones, operating systems, applications and decent mobile web browsers. “I suspect though that customers’ desire to do more and more with data on mobile devices is only going to keep on increasing in the foreseeable future. And more and more data-centric services and applications will come to market.

“Overall, the technology needs to be able to meet that demand. It is not just about the networks, though although they have the biggest job. Some device and operating system combinations allow data traffic to be transmitted more efficiently than others,” he concludes.

 

Gold rush

Andy Tow, managing director at Avenir Telecom, comments that mobile broadband is today’s gold: “With social media being key to both businesses and consumers these days, it is becoming more and more common place to use laptops with dongles for emailing and internet browsing, in order to communicate or source data, instead of the traditional communication methods such as voice. The convenience and flexibility that mobile broadband can offer, in an instant, results in greater efficiencies, especially for businesses.”

It is clear to see how far mobile broadband has come, Parven notes, when you consider that mobile email was the initial driver for introducing people to data on the mobile. “Now, it is not just a case of sending and receiving an email, it is being able to download and work on attachments, which includes not just Word documents, but graphically-illustrated Powerpoint presentations,” he says.

We are increasingly seeing many forms of communication take preference over voice calls and, in Tow’s opinion, data demand will become greater than demand for voice. “We are already seeing signs of this with applications such as RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger replacing the need for text messaging, and in many cases replacing the necessity for a conversation over voice services. The WhatsApp application is another example of how this trend is increasing, where cross-handset communication is free, influencing customers to use this service rather than make a phone call.”

Parven adds that also fuelling the need for continual mobile development is music and ringtones, and now movies, which require significant bandwidth to download. Together with location based services, social media, and online gambling and gaming, this is a massive growth area, particularly within the consumer space. In terms of consumers, a report published by Acision in February 2011, finds that 71% of consumers use mobile broadband regularly throughout the week.

“However, the technology challenge lies around the bandwidth, in terms of whether the network is going to cope, and how quickly the device manufacturers react to the demand. There may be a tipping point in the future where a device is only going to be capable of holding so much data, before the handheld starts to become more tablet orientated. If up and coming devices, such as the iPad, Playbook, and the Galaxy Pad, also grow in demand, this would be a further reaction to the massive surge in mobile data usage,” Parven says.

 

Pushed to the limit

Parven continues, that o catch up with the demand of broadband applications on the mobile device, a continual improvement in infrastructure is required. “Currently, the new data hungry applications and devices can create a physical bandwidth overload and clog up the network. It’s becoming increasing common to see network error messages when calls are dropped or you lose signal. It’s technologies such as HSPA and WiMAX that will see us through this, as we head into 4G within the data sphere.”

On networks hitting their capacity limits on mobile content, Tow says the mobile operators have made their own uncomfortable beds, with the trend for flat rate pricing that has led to a rapid growth in data traffic.

“The networks still have a way to go in terms of ensuring they offer the best service, whilst at the same time providing reliability and speed,” Tow adds. “Operators must ensure that they evolve with the technology eco-system, but at the same time, provide the customer with what they want. Given the growth in mobile broadband traffic, many will encounter capacity issues, especially while the requirements continue to rise. Those networks that invest in new technologies, as soon as they are established, are those that will take the lead.”

As to how close UK networks are to being pushed to the limit on mobile content, Sweetlove remarks: “Very close it would appear. The recent capping of unlimited data plans was a clear indicator that the operators have suffered some capacity issues albeit sometimes isolated to certain geographic areas or even a small subset of their subscriber base putting a disproportionate demand on the service.

“Many announcements have been made about how the networks are working to make their infrastructures more efficient,” continues Sweetlove. “We hear that literally millions of pounds per day are being spent across the UK to grow mobile network capacity to meet not just current demand but the forecast huge increases.”

Tow comments: “Strategies need to be proactive and follow the changes in the industry if operators want to remain at the top of their game. The same applies to any business working in mobile; they need to put their time and effort into those services that will bring them success and longevity.”

 
“Across the board the networks need to make it easier for a customer to know how much they are being charged in as close to real time as possible and make informed decisions on usage,” Bob Sweetlove, business manager at HSC Andy Tow, managing director at Avenir Telecom”
 

Bill shock

Yet big bills out of the blue are still a problem, says Sweetlove: “I think there is a real issue here. You do hear the horror stories, but even average users can rack up sizable mobile data charges quite easily. The product in your hand is designed to make it seamless to do so many data functions, but how does the average user know where they are in relation to exhausting any data bundle they are on or how much they are paying as they consume data?

“Across the board the networks need to make it easier for a customer to know how much they are being charged in as close to real time as possible and make informed decisions on usage,” Sweetlove says.

However, with increasing awareness around the bill shock issue, many customers are now more conscious of their internet usage and spend, Tow believes. He says they are becoming more aware of the exact specifications of tariffs, and Avenir does its best to help dealers and their end customers understand exactly what package is best suited to their needs.

He continues: “In 99% of cases, we find that our dealers have given their customers the right advice and the caps applied to each of the tariffs offered are usually set so high that the customer can happily use their mobile broadband for things such as emailing, web browsing, video, music downloads and photo-sharing without having to worry about the monthly bill.”

 

How to sell

In order to overcome demand for capacity, network operators need to concentrate on implementing plans for the future that include investment in new technologies, such as 4G, that not only increase speed but enhance capacity, says Tow.

He adds: “But there’s a lot more that we can do in the meantime to make sure we get it right for our customers. Networks such as O2 are already offering increased premium WiFi hotspots and partnering with other venues to improve access to the service. We are also working with them to encourage dealers to ensure every sale of mobile broadband is a realistic one. Checking the minimum specification of the customer’s laptops, ensuring that coverage and network speeds are clearly identified, and genuinely helping customers to understand what mobile broadband can bring to their business, all assist in stabilising customer expectations,” Tow continues.

“The sale of broadband is all about helping the customer to understand the advantages of the service and the benefits it can offer to their business. We continually encourage our dealers to take the time to understand exactly how each of their customers operates, and advise them to make comparisons between the different options to really show the true outcome that a business could enjoy,” notes Tow.

While Parven says: “In terms of how to sell mobile broadband, it’s about partners being engaged with their customers’ business, rather than focussing on how much it spends in any particular area of its communications. Instead of simply offering a quick sale of mobile services, or calls and lines, partners need to understand the applications that their customers work with in order to present solutions that will give greater efficiencies and productivity benefits that the mobile environment is offered.”

Tow concludes: “With mobile broadband becoming more user friendly and further improved, we are likely to see the requirement for mobile broadband continue to grow.

“Investment will work to overcome the challenges faced by the mobile operators, who will be frantically working to meet the demands for increased capacity, reliability and speed, whilst at the same time trying to compete with one another on price to stimulate revenue from this channel.”

 
“Strategies need to be proactive and follow the changes in the industry if operators want to remain at the top of their game. The same applies to any business working in mobile; they need to put their time and effort into those services that will bring them success and longevity.” Andy Tow, managing director at Avenir Telecom”