Have telcos got any idea how to sell 4G LTE?

O2 telefonica is currently trialing a 4G LTE network in London with 1000 individuals. I’m struggling to see why customers want/need this and have grabbed the above image from O2 website’s coverage checker as it clearly shows that the vast majority of London already has indoor and outdoor 3G coverage (colored blue).

The following video produced by Cambridge Broadband Networks has been made to highlight the project from a backhaul perspective:

My thoughts:

> Use cases

I see the same misguided efforts going on with the London Underground connectivity build out. Rather than getting some reliable mobile connectivity to commuters (SMS would be a very fine thing) the powers that be have decided that it would be better to provide free WiFi network on the platforms. Maybe this is just way over my head but I can’t see how this is going to help.

First of all I think the communication requirements in a hot busy underground tunnel (a SMS to say I’m running late?) are very different to what a spotty WiFi network can ever acheive. The security advantages are a false argument (they could just as easily monitor mobile network traffic) and I think it’s going to create it’s own set of new problems eg. where are the power sockets? Will this result in several thousand more pick pocket crimes being reported (TFL’s advice to commuters starts with the line “keep valuables out of sight”), etc.

In the video above all we see is a QuickTime movie being played in Soho Square:

And a Vimeo Online Video being played in a central London cafe:

I can think of half a dozen reasons why most people wouldn’t want to be using a £1000 laptop on a bench in Soho Square and I cannot remember when I was last in a London Cafe that didn’t have WiFi for customers (eg. in an odd twist I’ve noted that O2 recently began providing completely free WiFi at Cost Coffee cafes and already have a product called “Wi-Fi Bolt On” that gives customers access to “unlimited” Wi-Fi at public hot spots across the UK with BT Openzone). What’s more the likes of IBM have developed much more effective and advanced means of reducing the backhaul needs associated with online video eg. the local cell mast storage solution Vodafone UK are rolling out.

> Why don’t they just upgrade the backhaul to their 3G masts?

The oddest bit about the video is that it actually explains there isn’t a need for 4G becuase the technologies are speeding up the backhaul (ie. between the mast and cloud not between the mast and the mobile device) and “are also applicable to 3G and HSPDA+” networks. Instead of the waste of funds marketing 4G why not just plough this into making the best 3G and educating customers about the benefits of offloading mobile networks by using WiFi (when/where available).

> Are Mobile Operators capable of communicating 4G to end users?

A simple google search highlights how O2 Telefonica has been caught up in several major communication failures with their 3G Data offerings. Even their customers who pay for a “Wi-Fi Bolt On” for “unlimited” access to Wi-Fi at BT Openzone hot spots are informed that there’s “an excessive usage policy”.

If they can’t even make these offerings comprehensible to the average custiomer today (years after widespread adoption) what chance have they of communicating something that’s being marketed as mega fast connection speeds, a fixed line alternative, HD Video on big screens delivered through non mobile optimised websites, etc?

To me this latest 4G LTE marketing effort needs to start with a compelling value proposition otherwise it’s just going to be felt by customers that they’re trying to sell them on more of what they’re already not allowed…

About David Doherty

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