4G. The results are in. What next?

Posted by CJD on February 20, 2013

So the 4G licences have gone to all the usual suspects

No surprises there at all – except that at £2.3bn it was about £1bn less costly than expected – which is bad news for the exchequer, where all the dosh is heading, but good news for us customers, as it should mean cheaper services.

(Or perhaps I should rephrase that – the mobile companies don’t absolutely have to sell 4G at top-end prices, if they do it’s because they’re being greedy.)

But more importantly for me and (and my shares) is what BT will do now that it once again has a mobile licence.

BT has made a lot of dismally crazy strategic moves over the years, but one of their more stupid was to sell it’s mobile company, O2 – ex-Cellnet, to Telefonica.

It’s class 101 on any MBA course that you do not sell your growth product unless you intend to get out of the industry. BT isn’t Virgin, it’s a single industry player with very few clubs in its bag and it sold its driver. If broadband hadn’t come along to save its embarrassment, BT and my shares would be not just in the proverbial toilet where they are now, but beyond the u-bend and heading out to sea.

So now it has a mobile licence, what is it going to do with it? Well it seems not to be mobile telephony. The word is that they will use 4G to extend its WiFi network. Which, as Stephen Fry would say, is Quite Interesting.

It’s interesting because, unlike the flaky 3G, it looks like 4G will work properly with VoIP – at least ’til it too gets congested.

The only existing 4G licence holder, Everything Everywhere, has infamously refused to sign the industry agreement on net neutrality so we must presume that they wish to block VoIP to protect their call revenues. Whether they actually will, we’ll have to wait and see, but BT’s move may well turn out to be a turning point for the mobile industry.

Up till now the mobile industry is a cartel of a handful of players and it locks out all others. This prevents the Holy Grail for telephony being found. For many years this Grail has been the much over-hyped Unified Communications. Only this morning I received yet another breathless invitation from yet another unified com conference marketeer:

“Would you like to improve business process, improve your customer satisfaction, and make a difference to the bottom line?

Visit Unified Communications Expo to learn more… “ And so on.

Unified comms tries to melt all telephony and messaging into one big sloppy fondue and for the most part it’s just slide and vapourware.

But who knows, BT’s 4G based WiFi service may be a step towards it which would be good for BT, good for my shares, good for VoIP, good for Voipfone and good for everyone – dare I say it – everywhere.

Don’t hold your breath

Ofcom’s announcement:


ps at £186.5 m, BT paid the least for their licences. Attaboy.

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