Monday, May 25, 2009

Mobile Monday Edinburgh

Way back in Autumn 2005 I sat in a pub with Jim Black of MX Alliance and Michael Ewins of I-Play chatting about the lack of a technical focused gathering for the mobile and wireless folks in Scotland, and came up with the MX Techtalk event.

These ran with moderate success from then until the end of 2007 by which time they more or less fizzled out. Key learning from it was that the initial focus had been a little too narrow, and that the best events had been when the focus was a little less exclusively technical, more about what we can do with it as opposed to just what we can do and how.

Since then I have been humming and hawing about kicking off something new, and after a number of visits to the excellent Mobile Monday London specifically about running something under the Mobile Monday banner up here, but as often happens it never quite made it to the top of the heap!

During February I became aware of several other folks who were thinking along similar lines. Two of the regular attendees of the techtalks, Steve Brown and Justfone and Gary Irvine of ConnectedDay, the latter also one of the original founders of MX Alliance, were talking to the MoMo London committee about starting up a Scottish satalite of that event. In addition Ben Hounsell of Tenbu was talking to the Wireless Innovation team at Hillington about a mobile focussed event for Scotland.

This all resulted in a group of us getting together in the ETTC conference room to chat about what form of event would make sense, both in terms of appeal and sustainability, and also simply fitting into the existing landscape of technical and business events in Edinburgh which has become considerably more crowded since I started the techtalks in 2005! Present were:
The formula we decided to run with (taking seeds of inspiration from Mike Coulter's excellent new media coffee morning - see pages on facebook and 38minutes) initially at least is a gathering around an inexpensive and informal networking lunch at Centotre on George Street in Edinburgh on the first working Monday of each month, with mainly informal discussion around topics provided by the attendees, but with the potential for specific after lunch speakers as well in due course. This will almost certainly develop over time!

Our first event on 11th May was semi-closed, with each of us inviting a couple of guests. In the end 12 of us got together in the downstairs boardroom at Centotre and a good lunch and even better discussion was had - and photographed by Richard.

We have now created a google group in support of the event so please do join that to keep in touch with what we are doing! The next meet on 1st June will be open to all - with booking via Amiando by Wednesday 27th. I am looking forward to it!

PS. The latest Carnival is up over at the Mobile Broadband Blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blyk's journey from MVNO to network service

UPDATE2: It now turns out that the previous story may have been more late than wrong, at least so says NMA and This is also obliquely supported by Jonathan MacDonald's latest blog on the subject!

UPDATE: Looks like New Media Age might have got it a bit wrong in their article that kicked all this off! According to Mobile Marketing magazine the original story is a lot of tosh. This is backed by a blog post by Jonathan MacDonald on the subject. Perhaps, following along some of the lines of thought below, it is what they should be doing though?

Was interested to read this morning that Blyk had taken the second step in what has become their transition from an MVNO to a network service provider. When they announced their last round of investment part of the story was a new "partnering strategy" - one aspect of which was direct partnering with MNOs.

They have now taken the next step down this road and announced that they will no longer operate as a consumer facing MVNO, and will rely entirely on partnership arrangements with operators to get to the consumer.

From an extreme helicopter level view the overall pattern of relationships remains the same. The MNO provides access to the consumers to Blyk who then partners with brands to engage those consumers. The brand pays for this engagement and the consumer is rewarded by call credits etc.

That said there are obviously a large number of practical differences between the two shapes:
  • Blyk end up with a massively reduced operational overhead - being a small MVNO is not cheap - as many have found to their cost before.
  • the users now "belong" to the operator, not to Blyk. This shifts the balance of power, but also makes the partnering concept a more appealing one to the operators since it increases their number of subscribers, and for subscribers in Blyk's current demographic likely increases ARPU.
  • Blyk are now much more dependent on the operator for effective communication with the customers - but then conversely the operator is now more of a partner than simply a paid conduit.
  • Blyk can now offer their service to any operator who is willing to take it worldwide - much more flexible.
Looking at all of this retrospectively (or using "post rationalisation" as Russell put it ;-) using an initial MVNO phase to prove the model works - and with 25% response rates to show to brands and healthy ARPUs to show to operators they have certainly done that - might have always been the plan.

One small fly in the ointment is that now Blyk have spent a large amount of their investors money proving their model works, other players might start muscling in and taking market share from them. It is early days yet but Russell Buckley recently blogged about a Croatian company Out There Media which had launched a comparable service called Tomato Plus with some success.

On one hand you might ask if giving up the MVNO angle has reduced Blyk's differentiation and thus made them more vulnerable to smaller newcomers, but on the other perhaps it was never a sustainable mode of operation but it has given them first mover advantage (which they must now maintain) and an established brand identity. Only time will tell!

PS. Very pleased to have got a mention in the latest Carnival which is up over at VoIP Survivor.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

3's brave new world!

3 in the UK are heavily promoting that they are changing mobile forever by offering unlimited free calls. At a slightly closer glance this is all based around their relationship with Skype - and what they are really saying is that people on a 3 contract or on PAYG for 90 days after activating a top-up, will be able to make unlimited free Skype calls to other skype users and landlines and mobiles abroad.

There are some small flies in the ointment however:
  • you need a handset that can run the three Skype client. My E61i I use on 3 isn't supported which is a pity, especially snce other equivalent handsets are. All the current handsets being sold are compatible which is good.
  • you must use the special 3 skype client. If you use some other skype clinet (e.g. Fring) you will rack up significant data traffic which could end up costing you a lot. Can't help feeling that this is going to be confusing for the normob and will lead to a Daily Mail headline or two. Usual mobile industry problem of lack of simple predictability of cost.
  • According to the support site "3 doesn’t support Skype video calling (known as SkypeIn), Skype SMS (texting) or Skype voicemail" (sic) so if you use anything beyond the basics of Skype you are out of luck.
  • SkypeOut only works outside the UK - if you want to make calls to UK numbers you have to use a conventional mobile voice call.
While it would be easy to throw our hands up in horror at some of these restrictions they do make some sense in terms of making it possible for 3 to do it at all - and provide a usefully different view on mobile service provision in the process. Distinctly disruptive!

At a more strategic level this is one one hand fairly brave and on the other playing to their strengths. The obvious risk of any operator doing this sort of thing is that they canibalise their voice revenues, but given 3's demographic are not likely to be massively voice-centric this is far less of a risk for them than it would be for the likes of Vodafone - who are thus unlikely to feel able to follow giving 3 a useful point of differentiation.

Three have been doing this for a while now - since the X series came out - but they seem to be now pushing it as the defining difference of being with 3. Will be interesting to see how the other operators respond!

PS. This week's carnival is up over at mobilestance.