What has happened in the telecoms world in 2018?

What did you think of 2018? These are the thoughts from Equinox

2018 has been an interesting year, with a number of big impact issues, none bigger than our first one. Here are our opinions on what has happened.

GDPR

This time last year, everyone was getting all in a tizz about just what they had to do. “GDPR consultants” were scaring the beejeebers out of everyone in two ways:

  1. You’re going to get fined up to 20 million Euros
  2. You cannot say anything to anyone without their explicit consent

Thankfully people are seeing things more clearly now. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has issued plenty of educational material to help you understand what you can and cannot do, particularly around email and other digital communication, including text messages. You can find their Direct Marketing Checklist here.

Data breaches continue to be headline news, particularly if it is a major company, but nobody has yet been fined more than the £500K maximum by the ICO. This is simply because the breaches occurred before the 25th May deadline. However, if you look at the ICO’s website, you can see the progress they are making and it can only be a matter of time before some company gets a huge fine.

GDPR does seem to be going the way of Y2K, but we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you that it isn’t going away and if you choose to ignore it, it is highly likely to bite.

5G

April’s 5G auction raised £1.8billion for government coffers, but there hasn’t been much noise about it since. Trials in Bristol and Greenwich were touted earlier in the year, but results and reviews of the trial seem thin on the ground.

With services due to start in late 2019 or 2020, we will have to wait and see whether the vaulted benefits:

  • Ultra high speed connections to the home and office, without a need for cables
  • Augmented and virtual reality experiences in public spaces
  • Truly on demand services

 

Gavin Patterson

Depending on which media you read depended on whether you believe he stepped down or was pushed. The recent announcement that Philip Jansen is taking over from the New Year. It will be really interesting to see how things change there.

BT is still pushing ahead with changes to makes savings, with the latest news being that they are selling their fleet management division, as well as its Global Services division.

Rural Broadband

The government’s commitment to providing at least 10Mbps to everyone in the country by 2020 looks more and more likely to become to become a millstone for them. This is particularly problematic in rural areas as the Openreach infrastructure simply doesn’t cater for them. The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) actively campaigns for better broadband for rural business communities.

VoIP vs. PSTN

The telecoms industry has lots of great companies, but, unfortunately, also contains a number of less than scrupulous businesses too.  They have used BT’s plan to shut down its PSTN network as another tool to scare up new customers. We talk to lots of small businesses who have been told that they’ve got to move to VoIP quickly – or face the loss of their landlines.

BT want to turn off their old network by 2025 and we’re sure they would like to do it sooner, but these unscrupulous companies are not helping the business community by scaring them. Companies that invested in new hardware in the last 2-5 years can still sweat those assets a little longer before having to migrate.

Of course, we still recommend that people do migrate to VoIP, but only when the time is right.  The benefits VoIP provides are far more than what is available from a PSTN service, but its got to be done at the right time for the business. With over

89% of UK households still have a landline.

However, many of these are simply there to carry their broadband. A survey earlier this year suggests nearly £0.5 billion is wasted on landlines that never have calls made over them. Mobiles are most people’s communication choice, with Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp dominating the consumer market for internet-based calls.

For businesses it is a different matter. With 2018 expected to end with over 3.5 million business users, a growth rate of nearly 10% and a total penetration of over 15%. The biggest opportunity initially looks to be in the sub-10 user market, although many of these are expected to go to mobile solutions, particularly with the arrival of 5G due next year.

We look forward to 2019 and to seeing what happens. You may think that we’ve missed one big issue from this article: Brexit. We did think about it, but seeing as nobody really know what is going to happen in March, we’ll leave that to our annual looking forward piece.

 

When I was a Lad…..

40 Years of Telecoms – Remembering When the UK was at the Forefront

As someone who has nearly completed 40 years in the telecom industry, it seems appropriate to look back. Let’s see how the pace of change has increased and then ponder what changes are likely to happen in the future.

No mobiles!

sony walkmanBack in the late 1970s none of the elements that we all take for granted, in our personal and work lives, existed.   There were no mobiles. The only computers were mainframes the size of a small aircraft hanger. It was still 10 years to go before Tim Berners-Lee would conceive of the internet.  Even basic features such as voicemail did not exist; you relied on colleagues to answer the phone and scribble a message.   The advantage was no one bothered you on holiday and all you could do on the way to work was read a newspaper.   The Walkman was only launched in Japan in the middle of 1979.  It took a bit longer to reach the UK.

So how have we got to where we are today and what happens next?

Remember Cellnet?

history of telecoms and mobilesIn 1985 Cellnet and Vodafone, two rival operators launched Britain’s first cellular telephone service in 1985.  Cellnet was partly owned by BT who, rather short sightedly, sold it and then spent £12.5 billion in 2015 to buy it’s way back into the market.   The UK was actually ahead of France and Germany in launching the technology as it often was in those days.  Unfortunately now, when it is more core to our lives, we have fallen behind.

WWW

Four years later it was a Brit, Tim Berners Lee whilst working at CERN wrote down his ideas for the web and followed that up in the following by specifying HTML (the hypertext language) and HTTP (the protocol).

 

GSM

The following year in 1991 a British Company – Orbitel (then a joint venture between Racal and Plessey) created the first GSM phone.  Unfortunately they did not capitalise on it and Orbitel ultimately ended up being part of Ericsson.

The first-ever text

It was another Brit in 1992 that sent the first ever text message.  Neil Papworth, at the age of 22, sent it to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis.  Pre emojis it simply said Merry Christmas.  That same year saw dial-up Internet access first introduced in the UK by Pipex.

VoIP

That was probably the last year that the UK was ahead of the rest of the world.  In 1995 it was an Israeli company VoaclTec that developed VoIP although it would be a technology that needed better broadband before it could really take off.   It would be five years before ADSL broadband was commercially launched in the UK.  And it would be a further seven years in 2007 that VoIP became prevalent enough for Ofcom feel the need to publish “Regulation of VoIP Services” – which is still available online to read.

3G & Skype

In the meantime, Japan launched the world’s first commercial 3G network in Japan on 1 October 2001.  The technology would not be available in the UK until 2003 and still hasn’t reached some parts today.  In between Nokia had launched the first ever camera phone in Europe.   That year also say the launch of Skype and the saw the start of decline in international call revenues for operators.

4G & the iPhone

By 2007 the world of mobiles was revolutionised by the IPhone, with Blackberry’s then Chief Executive saying touchscreen phones would never catch on.    The device was undoubtedly helped by the arrival of 4G which was first launched in late 2009 in Stockholm and Oslo.  As a sign of the ever increasing gap the UK had to wait almost 3 years before EE launched it to 11 cities in October 2012.

Fibre

By 2008 Virgin had launched one of the first fibre broadband services and a year later BT announced they would connect 2.5 million homes to fibre to the premise by 2012.  They achieved 10% of that number by 2015.

Government broadband promises

Governments began making broadband promises – most of which totally underestimated the growth of the digital age and the inadequacy of plans.  This started with Labour government in 2009 promising that all UK homes would receive 2 Mbps broadband by 2012.  Two years later the coalition Government changed that to 90 percent of UK premises receiving 24mbps by 2015.  This was then pushed back to 2017.

The last few years have seen the growth of VoIP and SIP based services.  15% of business connections are now VoIP and SIP has overtaken ISDN as a means of connecting PBXs.  Whatapps has over 1 billion users worldwide and the numbers of text messages has fallen by half since is peak.

And finally… 2018

In February 2018, BT  confirmed that it will be spending at least £3 billion to roll out FTTP broadband in the UK by 2020.   Their target means that would still leave us only reaching the point the rest of Europe currently averages

The Government has said we should be fully FTTP by 2033 when countries such as South Korea and Japan who are leading the new technical advances are already in the high 80% level.   We are just starting the first trial of 5G n one city when Japan plans to launch it commercially in 2020 and South Korea the three mobile operators have combined to build a single 5G network which is planned for launch in March 2019.  Consequently Samsung will be able to steal a lead on bringing 5G devices to the market.  Could you see Vodafone, BT,

So, what have the last 40 years taught us.  Firstly the despite having invented many of the technologies the UK has failed to exploit them.  Secondly various Governments of all political colours have made promises to improve our infrastructure and consistently failed and now announce future plans with dates that are so far ahead at least two elections will be fought beforehand.   Without doubt we will become more and more dependent on our handheld devices but we may be able to use them for less things and in fewer places than other countries

Free phone system scams, what do you need to know?

Back in 2011, three directors of a Telecoms company in Norfolk were sent to jail for fraud. They enticed companies and charities with the promise of free phones, but those who took up the offer found themselves stuck in expensive, long-term contracts.

Phone system scams like these keep resurfacing – and companies keep getting caught out.

They usually start with the promise of a new phone system for less than a firm’s current outgoings, backed up with a proposal that purports to compare current and future costs. Typically, these imply large savings, but in reality they are very short on detail and obscure the fact that you’re signing a lease hire agreement, plus a long-term commitment to lines and calls.

If you are approached with this type of deal, here are the questions to ask. Only accept answers in writing and if you sign the contract, add a clause based on the responses you received and state that it is on that basis that you’ve signed.

Reputable suppliers who have a genuine offer should be willing to answer these questions and agree to make responses part of the contract.

Once you have all the answers, rework their ‘before and after’ pricing. Does it still show a saving or has it swung to a point where it is costing you money?

If you have already signed one of these deals, there is still hope. If there was a false inducement to purchase, the deal could be struck down by a court. Trading Standards is another option. If you are a company of fewer than 10 people, check to see if the supplier is registered with the Ombudsman scheme, as they offer free binding arbitration.

There are some genuinely good deals being offered but there are also far too many dodgy ones. The old adage, ‘if something looks too good to be true’, holds here – if it looks too good, it’s probably dodgy.

Questions to ask:

What are the actual prices for the lines and calls?
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    1. Compare the prices to your current bills to confirm the claims.
    2. Are those prices guaranteed or only for the first year?
    3. Do you have the right to cancel if they raise prices?

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Have they quoted for all the services you currently receive?
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    1. When comparing costs, many proposals include money you might be paying for an alarm line or lines for PDQs in your current costs but exclude them from the proposed costs.

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When they present back your existing costs, check them against your actual bills.
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    1. Go through your recent bills and check that they are accurately reflected in the current cost column of the comparison.

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Is the system being provided on a lease hire or lease purchase?
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    1. If the latter, what are the options at the end of the contract?
    2. Is there a cost for the transfer of title so you actually own it?
    3. If so, is that reflected in the claimed savings?
    4. If it is a lease hire, what happens at the end of the agreement?
    5. What happens if you need to expand the system during the lease?
    6. Will any equipment that’s added link to the same end date as the original agreement?

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Ask for a separate quote for outright purchase of the equipment.
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    1. Then ask other suppliers for a purchase price so that you can compare. Ask them to break out the different elements of their costs, rather than just giving a total figure.
    2. Then ask them to confirm the rate of interest being charged.

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What equipment is actually being supplied?
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    1. Ask for the make and model of all elements. Visit the manufacturers’ websites and see if they are current and the prices quoted are right.

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Are there any charges that will be levied that are not identified in the proposals?

Who is providing the finance?
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    1. If it is a third party finance contract, be wary as it will be harder if you want to challenge the contract later.
    2. If the finance is provided by the supplier or the equipment manufacturer then you have a greater chance of disputes being resolved.

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Data roaming charges still set to be abolished within the EU by June 2017

As the ban gets closer and closer, we are almost half way through the 14-month interim period. During this interim period, companies are still allowed to add surcharges, but at a reduced rate. The European Commission reckons this alone will make roaming within the EU 75% cheaper than at present.

From April 2016, telecoms operators will be able to add a surcharge of no more than:

€0.05 (3.5p)extra per minute for calls
€0.02 (2p)extra per SMS sent
€0.05 (3.5p)extra per megabyte of data used

Here at Equinox we believe this will be a good thing but it still does leave a number of questions unanswered:

1. What will happen to roaming charges elsewhere?

The EU has forced mobile companies to cut roaming costs before. When they did, many customers saw an increase in roaming costs for other parts of the world.

2. Why is it taking so long?

The EU has taken a clear stand on this issue. Roaming costs are to be abolished. So, why do we have to wait two years for it to happen? Sure, costs will drop in the interim. But 24 months is still quite a wait.

3. What happens to people mid-way through a contract?

Many mobile contracts include data roaming bundles, usually sold to customers on the basis that they’re cheaper than standard roaming costs. Will the operators reduce the price for customers with these packages?

4. What about making calls?

While the elimination of data roaming costs is certainly to be welcomed, what about the cost of making and receiving calls? If the principle applies to these too, shouldn’t roaming costs for voice calls be abolished?

Finally, with the UK’s planned EU referendum as a backdrop for these changes, what will happen if the UK decides to leave the EU? Could we end up with new roaming charges, just as the rules abolishing them come into force?

New Year’s Telecoms Resolutions

I know it’s a bit late for anything that involves New Year’s resolutions, but I must admit I am excited on how things are going this year. It’s never too late to change with regards to your Telecoms, here are my top 5 New Year’s resolutions for businesses.

First Telecoms resolution

When did you last test your Customers’ experience by calling your own company – often this is potential customers first experience of dealing with your company. If you use auto prompts are they easy to use or do they ask for information that then has to be repeated when you speak to a real person. Does the person you speak to create the impression you want for your business and finally if you use an answering service are they creating the right impression for your company?

Second Telecoms Resolution

Have you got the right technology to allow staff to be more productive and that customers get the best service? Technology costs that enable home working and working on the move have fallen dramatically. Call recording to review the quality of customer service and video conferencing / webinar services to reduce travel costs were previously the preserve of large companies. They have got dramatically cheaper and are available for small monthly fees. Investments need to be justified by returns but because costs have fallen it is worth revisiting these areas.

Third Telecoms resolution

If you use 0843, 0844, 0845 or 09 numbers to front your business – is it enhancing or being detrimental to customer perception. Also is it compliant with Ofcom rules. From 1st July 2015 you must show in close proximity to it i.e. web, cards, vehicles, hoardings the cost of calling it. Our research showed that 75% of small businesses were in breach. At some point Ofcom will start issuing fines so make sure you check. Big firms are also guilty I saw yesterday a Barrett’s hoarding with an 0843 number and no details on the costs.

Fourth telecoms Resolution

The unfortunate events in Cumbria and Yorkshire have highlighted that businesses of any size should have a continuity plan that covers Telecoms? What would you do if you couldn’t access your premises or services are interrupted – lorry knocks over a BT cabinet (that’s happened)? Do you have a plan that enables you to answer calls from customers or suppliers? If not, they may go elsewhere? There are plenty of solutions to improve resilience which cost a lot less than lost business. Create one for your business and make sure everyone knows it.

Fifth telecoms Resolution

When was the last time you really checked your phone bills and not just make the payment? How do you know your provider has not put up the prices since contract was signed? It happens all the time.

Are there hidden charges they didn’t tell you about i.e. minimum call fees? Do you still need all those lines or handsets – 1 in 7 companies is paying for stuff they don’t use. It is a competitive market place so how do you know if prices have fallen, are you still getting a good deal. One of the deadly sins is sloth – don’t let it apply to taking time to check your bills.

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Two thirds of firms are open to being fined!

Chain Cards

New rules were announced in July 2015 require companies using 084, 087, 09 or 118 numbers to display the cost of the call wherever they are promoted. Did you notice?

We carried out a study in the first week of August and surveyed 100 companies that use these numbers. We found 65% had no information on the cost of these calls on their websites.

It is quite clear that the majority of companies, particularly smaller ones, have not made the necessary changes and as such are leaving themselves open to fines. It could be argued that Ofcom could have done a better job in promoting the scope of the changes as could have the telecom providers of the numbers themselves.

In addition web site designers should be advising their clients of the risks they run by not amending the site. Other companies in the broader marketing community such as printers, advertising display providers and signage for vehicles need to help their clients avoid the potential penalties when producing materials.

The consequences of not abiding by these rules means that your company can be fined or customers can ask for the money back from the call charges. Your customers will also be within their rights to take your company to court to successfully reclaim the excessive charges made to them.

If you are a company using 084, 087, 09 or 118 number you need to display the cost of the call wherever they are promoted or you can change your number to something more suitable such as an 0345 number. To find out how the costs of certain numbers click here: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/phone/how-much-does-a-phone-call-really-cost/

If you want to change your number before it’s too late we are happy to help.

 

We are also going to retake this survey in the New Year to see how it’s changed.

Our favourite dirty tricks of 2015

card trick 750With Ofcom fining Unicom £200,000 for misleading sales techniques we thought it would be good time to share the best or worst, depending on your point of view, of the dirty tricks we observed this year.

Third – an old favourite: the minimum charge for calls. This was for an outbound call centre where 70% of calls last less than 30 seconds. It wasn’t a PPI company otherwise it might have been justified – but it wasn’t and the supplier had not declared it in any of their materials and it inflated the call bill by 50%

Second – having already caught out a company on a long term lease hire which meant £3k of equipment was going to cost £14k, the supplier suggested extending the lease for another 7 years when they wanted to add a couple of handsets. This would have added another £10k to the bill.

First – a supplier who uses what looks like a landline number for its broadband support desk. But if you call it from one of their own lines it costs 50p a minute. We tried calling it from our lines and the cost was as per a normal landline – so they must have programmed their billing to charge it differently. Maybe they also engineer faults on their broadband to drive up profits!

If you know people who are worried about their contracts, ask them to give us a call. We want to expose the tricksters to protect others, so the more evidence we have, the better.

Should BT still own Openreach?

separation

Ofcom is conducting a review as to what the ongoing relationship between BT and Openreach should be in the future. They are considering 4 options:

  • Maintain the status quo
  • More deregulation
  • The “structural separation” of Openreach and BT – in particular whether Openreach could be spun out more fully from BT
  • Adjusting the existing system to make it “more fit for purpose”. That could include improving services, repairs, and laying new superfast lines

The head of Ofcom, Sharon White, has said that retaining the status quo is unlikely but she is facing strong opposition. BT’s boss Gavin Patterson having first called it a mistake has since threatened to take legal action if Ofcom decides to split Openreach from the telecoms giant. And the digital minister Ed Vaizey has already indicated that the government is sceptical about such radical action.

Our view is that only the structural separation can help the end customer benefit. Interesting to note that Gavin Patterson does not make any mention of the quality of service their customers experience on a daily basis. Almost one in four repairs take longer than the laid-down targets and 10 per cent of all new installations are not completed to the original committed date. It becomes even more interesting today, with the announcement that Openreach’s CEO has resigned. Joe Garner is off to the same role at the Nationwide Building Society.

Many targets are set so low that achieving them is no great shakes. There is no financial penalty for missing them. Even based on new targets – signed off in June – it will be acceptable for one in five faults to take more than two days to fix and one in five installations to take more than two and a half weeks.

The other providers have long felt that they are disadvantaged by Openreach sitting within BT and want Ofcom to go further. They complain about the time taken to connect services and roll out new broadband access – something about which many local rural areas regularly complain.

As a end customer you cannot talk directly to Openreach if there is a problem. You have to speak to the company that you ordered the services through and they in turn talk to Openreach. The only thing you can complain directly about is if their engineers make a mess of your carpet. If you want any financial compensation you have to claim through your supplier who in turn makes a claim against Openreach.

A separate company would be much more accountable for performance particularly if operated under licence. They would know non-performance could lead to loss of its licence. If BT are to retain ownership then they need to radically overhaul their approach to customers and accept financial penalties for missed or cancelled appointments or failing to fix faults in time. Only in that way will things improve.

If you are in any doubts one final example as to why it is necessary BT tried to charge Openreach part of the cost of acquiring EE. It was only £1.7m out of £12.5bn but had it gone through then effectively BT’s competitors would having been helping to fund the acquisition through the charges BT Openreach makes them. Fortunately Ofcom has blocked it.

We’ve been shortlisted!

Equinox has been shortlisted for the Great British Entrepreneur Awards

As a Micro-business Entrepreneur

It was a good day that turned into a great day when we received notification that we’d been shortlisted for this award. The Great British Entrepreneur Awards has 16 different categories looking at a whole range of different business types. I’m not counting my chickens as we’re up against some other great companies, from slime parties for kids to a diet delivery service to specialist bicycle insurance.

Simon Burton, founder of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, said: “The entries we have received for the Great British Entrepreneur Awards can only be described as awe inspiring. The quality has been outstanding. The judges have had the extremely difficult task of whittling the great and good of the entrepreneurial community down to the very best and we are delighted by the companies that have made the shortlist.

The Great British Entrepreneur Awards, taking place on 25th November at the Ballroom Southbank, Central London, are set to become the recognised standard of excellence amongst entrepreneurs. They mark a new era for entrepreneurship in the UK and this inaugural event is set to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution and inspiration provided by entrepreneurial businesses.

It will be fun to find out, in November, whether we’ve won or not. Wish us luck!

What Will the Telecoms Market Look Like in 2015

So we are just over one month into 2015 and it is already looking like it will be an interesting year in the telecoms market. Apple have managed to start two more law cases so no change there. They have also announced record profits. The CEO of Blackberry has demanded developers should be made to produce apps for his devices. Bit of a Stalinist approach to the market – you will build them even if no one wants them. This from a company that would never let anyone near their software – chickens coming home to roost.

Then it looks like all change in the UK mobile market with BT buying EE and O2 merging / being bought by 3. So what will this mean to consumers and businesses over the rest of the forthcoming year. It does always assume that Ofcom will allow there to be only three mobile operators in the UK when they have publicly stated they want four. An interesting challenge for the new head to find in her already bulging in-tray. I think she will allow it given the number of MVNOs that now exist who will be classed as quasi operators. After all you can pick up a mobile contract with your weekly shop in Tesco’s who often offer very cheap sim free phones with clubcard points thrown in.

It was all started by BT wanting to join the quad players (phone, broadband, mobile and TV) in the residential market. Following the launch of BT Sport they were just missing the mobile element having got rid of O2 many years ago. Having decided they didn’t want them back and EE were a better bet, they would be in a position to compete with Virgin. Sky have quickly responded with an announcement that it will launch a mobile service next – surprise surprise in conjunction with O2.

That leaves a few companies sitting on the edges of the dance floor looking at who’s left to partner up with before the evening is over. Most notably TalkTalk and Vodafone is that the next marriage made in heaven or would it be out of necessity?

That potentially would create four companies targeting the quad play domestic market in what is a price sensitive market and probably in a race to the bottom. The domestic broadband market is evidence of that where prices and one could argue service/product quality has fallen dramatically.

With all this focus on the domestic market both in terms of time and resources will the business consumer suffer. For the suppliers which will be the most lucrative to focus on – that will determine their priorities. For some businesses the potential of a single supplier may be attractive whilst others on principle do not like all their eggs in one basket. It should be noted that integration will take some time and businesses anticipating a single contact point for faults will be disappointed. BT do not offer it yet so expecting them to merge EE’s support into their existing centres quickly is being a tad optimistic.

Also of interest will be how the cultures and approaches of the combined companies in the various merging will work out. For example 3 have been ahead of the market in extending the mobile packages to overseas countries without charge. I am sure some companies with large roaming bills would welcome this change as the business providers continue to make large portions of their profits in this area.

Certainly I think businesses should be wary of making long term commitments until the dust has settled and they know what and more importantly who they are signing up with. The company they sign with may look very different by the end of the year.