Voipfone - The Future Of Communication

Selling Air

Last month Ofcom announced that it’s holding a 5G spectrum auction in January 2021 ie, the government is raising taxes by selling air to mobile operators.

Back when I was in BT I was involved in the 3G spectrum auctions. We worked for months to build financial and bidding models. I remember the term “Monte Carlo Simulation” being used a lot. The models produced cash flow and profitability forecasts at all bid points under various scenarios; we knew exactly how much we were prepared to bid in every round. We had a sophisticated game plan and the models told us when to stop bidding.

After the first couple of rounds of bidding we threw all the models away as all bids were higher than our highest modelled bid we analysed. At that point the BT politicians got involved and we basically bid to win at any price. Vodafone had said that’s what they’d do right from the beginning, presumably attempting to pre-empt usurpers. The final winner was, of course, only the UK Treasury, it expected to bag about £5bn in total from 5 licences. In fact, from one licence alone it won almost £6bn – Vodafone; their strategy obviously failed. BT spent £4bn and the treasury landed £22.5bn in total. For air!

Many, if not all, of the losing bidders thought themselves lucky and some of the winners wondered what on earth they’d done. In BT’s case it was so deep in debt caused by that and its ludicrous international ventures that it had to sell its mobile network – Cellnet/O2 – only a year later, leaving it the only incumbent telco in the world with no mobile product.
And no 3G.

Just how much BT overpaid for 3G was shown 5 years later when it bought EE for £12.5bn. For this they got the 3G licence, the national built network, a profitable business and 24.5m new customers. Oh, and it got the latest 4G licence thrown in as a freebie.

This time around the mobile operators attempted to persuade Ofcom that they should allocate the spectrum ‘administratively’ ie prorate it to existing operators based on some fabricated mechanism to avoid another financial catastrophe, but Ofcom declined.

So it’s another bidding war. I don’t expect the same cavalier approach this time around as the world is not as frantic as then and maybe all concerned are a little wiser – there maybe something of the “we don’t want to hurt each other do we” about this one. Maybe a few meetings in motorway service stations…

The 3G auction was quite a thing; whilst trying to remember it, I found a really good history here. Written by a loser.


The Auto Button

Our dishwasher’s down. Its heating element has gone the way of all things. Normally I’d take on the challenge to fix this as I see it as my role in life to dadfix anything and it’s a personal failure if the only solution is a trip to the tip. Or, god forbid, I have to ‘get a man in.’

But I’ve fixed this beast several times – it’s had various problems along the way – but as it’s now 16 years old it’s probably time to say goodbye, and, as my dad used to say, “it owes me nowt”.

I have to say, I was a little bemused by the first sale guy I rang to get an upgrade, he asked me how old mine was then said “they don’t make them like that anymore.” Apparently, they make them worse now. I’ll spare you the details about how Covid has created massive shortages in the white goods industry and so on. I finally found one that seems suitable and it’s now happily whirling away under the worktop.

I’ll also spare you the details of what you find when you remove a dishwasher from a place that hasn’t seen the light of day for 16 years but is also in close proximity to a waste bin. No, this monologue is about


My 13 year-old sales guy was hot on features and could bang on all day about them. The dishwasher I finally bought has a measly nine features involving combinations of temperatures, eco, noise, out-of-hours working. And a magnificent button called ‘Chef’ – eh? My child salesboy doesn’t know this but I actually bought it for a single feature called ‘Auto’. Press that button and it decides everything. I can reliably predict that that button will wear out first.

But it doesn’t seem to be like that in Voipfone. We’re constantly developing new features. We do this for two reasons 1) we haven’t got an ‘Auto’ button, 2) people keep asking us for them. Almost as soon as we put out a new product we get asked to add another feature to it. In our world things get increasingly intricate because features are useful things. We start with as simple a product as we can and it just grows. Last month we produced an update and upgrade to our IVR produce with new flashy features and in a couple of months it’ll be call barring’s turn. Then call queues. Features, features, features.

The pundits of the industry tell me that features are so last year, then reel off whatever the latest fad they’re trying to promote is. They don’t even say “people don’t want features they want solutions” anymore; but they will, it’ll be back. I just nod and smile and think of the length of wish list that our customers have created for us.

But I really wish we had a ‘Auto’ button.

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