Dave Millett 4 Jan 2018 03:34pm

How the telecoms industry changed in 2017

Telecoms industry veteran Dave Millett, a director at Equinox, reflects on what this year has meant for the sector

We saw the launch of the first £1,000 phone with iPhone X – as well as the return of the much-loved Nokia 3310 - priced at around £50. Compared to the iPhone it’s almost a disposable item – we have disposable cameras, could phones be next?

I’ve not seen any improvement in the government’s approach to addressing the shortfalls in the UK’s telecoms infrastructure. Lord Adonis called on Ofcom to address the glaring holes in decent broadband coverage. Vodafone announced it will start to roll out its own fibre network in conjunction with City Fibre – but we’ll have to wait until 2020 to see if it has an impact. Let’s hope it starts to solve the issues of rural areas and businesses in city centres and on business parks that lack fibre broadband.

BT announced trials of Fibre To The Premise (FTTP) technology. Why do we need trials? Latvia already has 45% coverage and South Korea 85%. The UK has yet to get above 2%. Could it be BT wants to sweat its copper assets even longer?

Ofcom continued to bottle decisions that would benefit consumers and businesses. Openreach remains joined at the hip to BT. And rather than opening up the market to help sort out the mess of fibre broadband shortages, BT is doing it. Ofcom also reduced the levels of proposed compensation for missed appointments and delays in fixing faults – these don’t amount to a slap on the wrist. The compensation needs to be at a level that acts as a real incentive to improve services.

Roaming charges in Europe came to an end this year, which is positive news. I think it’s a disgrace that we cannot roam for free in the UK. This would help reduce the not-spots we all face when travelling the country. I see this as another example of government and Ofcom not standing up to the networks.

Mobile data traffic continued to grow as the number of texts declined, and the percentage of people not using their mobiles for voice conversation over the mobile networks rose dramatically. The growth of communication apps such as Facetime and WhatsApp are drawing users away from the traditional networks.

Similarly, businesses are giving up traditional lines for SIP and VoIP at a fast rate – almost one in six business phones are connected to VoIP now. Traditional premise-based vendors, such as Avaya and Mitel, are promoting their cloud-based solutions equally, if not more than, the premise option. But claims that the landline is dead are in my view premature.

Microsoft gave up its attempts to become a major player in the mobile space, which in some ways is a shame as I think there is a need for a third option apart from Apple and Android. Many new handsets were launched with varying degrees of success. Google’s Pixel phone had reported issues of screen burning in. Much was made of Apple’s facial recognition yet imagine if you are mugged for your phone – surely it’s easier for a thief to unlock it by holding it up to you? Prices seem to rise faster than growth in new features. This is reflected by an increase in people opting for SIM-only deals, which are being more heavily promoted by the networks than before.

In summary the UK remains in the slow lane when it comes to technology. Not much has changed in the last 12 months. Continued uncertainty over Brexit remains the biggest concern – overshadowing some of the telecoms issues. However, we need to address the issue of poor telecoms infrastructure in the UK if we are to compete on a world stage after Brexit. Waiting until we leave will be too late. On the positive side, individual companies continue to show the ability to innovate despite our infrastructure continuing to slip behind.

Dave Millett is a director at Equinox