So here they are! The highs and lows of the telecoms industry that have kept us all intrigued, if not always entertained, throughout 2015.
The Year of the Internet of Things
What a start to the year it was, with Ofcom announcing the creation of a "regulatory environment" to promote investment and innovation in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. It was, for some, an anticipated move and for the telecoms sector, one that was widely welcomed. Ofcom outlined four key areas for its IoT strategy: continuous monitoring of spectrum requirements, ensuring data privacy issues receive due consideration, network security and resilience, and network addressing including continuing support for IPv6 connectivity. And have they delivered?
Well ‘yes’ and ‘no’ really! Yes, in that those four key areas have indeed received lots of coverage and exploration but, for me, there’s just been too much ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing,’ and too little decision making which has, I feel, muddied the IoT waters rather than clarifying their depth.
Should Have Bought Those Shares
Damn, I should have bought those shares in BT, I thought, as I saw them leap by a whopping 4.5% in February, with the announcement of the group having finalised a £12.5bn deal to buy mobile phone network EE. Gavin Patterson, BT’s chief executive, described the transaction as a major milestone for the company, announcing proudly that “The UK’s leading 4G network will now dovetail with the UK’s biggest fibre network … consumers and businesses will benefit from new products and services as well as from increased investment and innovation.” Since then, the charismatic Patterson has gone on to pledge a universal minimum broadband speed of 5-10Mbit/s, enough for everyone in the UK to enjoy popular internet services like high-definition video. He also cited new technologies developed at BT’s research laboratories, which should help boost slow speeds for many hard-to-reach premises – something to watch out for in 2016.
But it wasn’t all good news for the telecoms giant, with Sky and TalkTalk calling on the regulator to break up BT, claiming the current market structure was not fit for purpose and that BT's acquisition of EE would only make a bad situation worse. Today, it seems that big changes may still be afoot for BT and Openreach, with talk of a possible breakup and certainly dramatic times ahead. Ofcom’s chief, Sharon White, is keeping her cards fairly close to her chest right now, but a final decision is expected to be made in January 2016.
What Happens in Vegas …
Despite record numbers at the Consumer Electronics Show, the offerings were, in my opinion, quite underwhelming, as you may recall from my column back then. The highlights, if you could call them that, consisted of oodles of Apple Watch competitors alongside the uber-hyped Watch itself.
There were self-stirring saucepans and other Bluetooth kitchen gadgets we never knew we needed and to be honest don’t even want, along with yet more of those now rather mundane promises from auto-manufacturers that never quite seem to make it through to the final round (if you’ll excuse the X-factor analogy). Call me a cynical fool, but I’m not raising my hopes on any great CES revelations in 2016 either – we shall see.
A Byte Out of the Apple
April saw the much hyped launch of the Apple Watch, but the vast queues normally associated with the cult following of anything Apple were nowhere to be seen, since the company thought it would be better to have their loyal fans book a taster try-on session instead. I’ve been quite outspoken on this decision by Apple, as I feel the move was, to a large extent, brought about by a fear of demand (or rather lack of it) for the product.
I also think that, as a result of their change in launch strategy, Apple have disconnected themselves from the consumer frenzy that has historically driven their sales. And, on the subject of sales, CEO Tim Cook has been keeping sheepishly shtum over the numbers of Watches sold. He has only said that sales so far “exceed our expectations”, and that he expects the Apple Watch to be “one of the top gifts of the holiday season”. Hmmm!
So Tell Me Again – What Exactly Is 5G?
Whilst no-one quite seems to be able to tell us what 5G is, there’s no doubt that it’s predicted to be huge, with Ericsson expecting 5G subscriptions to reach 150 million by 2021. And that’s not all!
Ericsson has also predicted that 5G will become the wireless choice for consumers over the next few years, as demand for IoT devices increases. Honestly, did they just stick their fingers in the air to come up with the numbers? It all just seems so random and vague and, come on, shouldn’t we be getting 4G right before moving up a digit?
An Open Window for Developers
Microsoft, however, is finally getting it right and its launch of Windows 10 in July was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year. But it just gets better, with Microsoft encouraging developers to hop on board the Windows express (toot toot). Yes, Microsoft Universal Windows apps are making it possible for apps to work across many Windows-based devices including PCs, smartphones, tablets, the HoloLens virtual reality headset and the Xbox. What’s more, Microsoft are making it much easier to address devices' UI differences through their Adaptive UX, which adjusts not only the screen size but also the input type (such as keyboard, mouse, and touch) for each target device. Windows 10 currently has more than 200 million users and that figure is rapidly increasing. For me, the dream of one experience across all devices is increasingly becoming a reality thanks to Microsoft. Their new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book have been both welcomed and embraced by the public – Apple, are you getting nervous?
In many ways this has been a year of “all talk and no action” for much of the industry, but there have been a few gems of inspiration like those IoT strides forward that have paved the way for continual innovation and, of course, the holistic user experience across devices that has made Microsoft a technology superhero once again. But whatever your view on this year may be, let’s hope that we continue to learn from our mistakes and push forward into 2016 with challenges that empower and enrich the industry rather than overwhelm it.
Until Next Time …
That’s it for another year! I’ll be back next year with a look at what’s to come in 2016. For now, I wish you all a happy Christmas and a spectacular New Year.
So, this is where a mulled-wine infused Dr. G signs off (hiccup).