Well it has been a busy time throughout the telecoms world during the summer, with a number of decisions impacting us all.
Ofcom for a second time bottled the opportunity to separate Openreach from BT. They have said it must operate at arm’s length, as it had been found to favour BT rather than the industry and country as a whole. In our opinion, this does not go far enough as BT will still appoint the board of Openreach and provide the funds for future investments. This will not solve the shortage of fibre broadband for businesses in cities and business parks, nor will it address why barely 2% of the country has access to fibre to the premise (fttp) unlike many Eastern European and Scandinavian countries where the figure is well over 30%. It seems Ofcom is more worried about the BT pension pot than the technical infrastructure of the country.
One of the main possible impacts is the plan to abolished roaming charges within the EU in July 2017. Other countries such as Norway and Switzerland have said they will apply them to it is probable so will the UK. Recently the EU has said it is looking at the plans again anyway after claims that the mobile operators will move the costs elsewhere to the effect that non travelers would be subsidising the roamers.
Like many other manufacturing industries as a country we import far more telecoms equipment than we export. Not many mobile phones or phone systems are made here – most of them are imported. EU Trade agreements will stay in place for 2 years after we invoke Article 50. We can negotiate our own deals with the countries that do manufacture the equipment because, as the fifth largest economy that makes us attractive to the handset makers, we could create lower import tariffs for them. However, in the short term the drop in the value of sterling has seen equipment prices start to rise with a number of suppliers announcing increases.
Finally, it has raised the spectre of a second Scottish independence referendum. If that happened and they voted to leave, then that would impact businesses with operations or customers across the two countries. Calls from London to Edinburgh would then become international calls. If you were in Scotland with an English SIM card, you would be making roaming calls. There would also probably need an Ofcom for each country and potentially different pricing for lines and internet which could be challenging for businesses with sites in both countries. It would also impact the operators who were granted licences for the whole of the UK. It will depend on how the licences were worded, but if they were for the UK and did not specify the constituent countries then the UK would still exist albeit smaller leaving Scotland free to sell new licences.
September saw the launch of the iPhone 7 without an earphone socket. The cynics among us would say that is just to promote the sale of AirPods, or even Dr Dre headsets which they now own. Also, Samsung had to recall its Note 7 product as it had a tendency to burst into flames – an unwanted if spectacular feature!
Is the future perhaps for more niche phones such as highly resilient ones for the construction industry? Dewalt and Caterpillar licence rugged handsets, which are subject to more rigorous testing than ordinary smartphones. Jaguar Land Rover has also announced it intends to launch a smartphone in 2017. New Gorilla Glass is coming on to the market to improve the strength of phones. Some are becoming water resistant, although that doesn’t solve the problem of how you talk underwater.
And waiting in the wings is Google and Project Ara. The concept is simple in that you buy a basic phone and then you pull off the bits you don’t like and replace them with those you want. Companies, including Samsung, are queuing up to offer components. If it catches on it would shift the power from the manufacturers to the users. With a modular phone you’ll only pay for what you actually want, not what a team of ubergeeks think you should have. Additionally, if a component goes wrong, you’ll only need to replace that component, not the whole phone; and the environmentalists will be smiling at that idea.
The recent Pokémon craze has shown the first real application of augmented reality technology. Whilst the initial hype of the game has died down, it is a forerunner for potential business applications that may change the way we do internet searches. As you walk past a restaurant – its menu and prices appear on your screen and the ability to book. As you look at outside of a house for sale, a floor plan and virtual tour appear plus the ability to submit an offer.