Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Championing consumer choice and value

 
This week’s post from Mobile Industry Review.
O2 Germany’s recent move to block Rebtel’s access numbers looks like yet another attempt by the big operators to preserve ‘their world’ at the expense of competition and customer choice. Other recent examples include Truphone’s interconnect issues, disabled VoIP clients on operator branded Nokia handsets and specific 07 number ranges excluded from call bundles.

It reminds me of the early days of Orange and operators like First Telecom taking advantage of Orange correctly treating 0800 numbers as freephone numbers (charging for 0800 numbers is another mobile ‘feature’ in need of corrective action!). As Orange blocked access to First Telecom’s access numbers, First Telecom would open new ones in an ongoing game of ‘cat and mouse’.

Sadly, for the consumer, it seems the big mobile operators have learnt nothing. It’s much easier to squeeze the competition than to compete with it. If Truphone, Rebtel and others can strike deals to offer low international rates, then the big multi country mobile operators could offer even better rates – if they wanted to. But that’s the nub, they don’t want to. Why cannibalise existing revenues when plenty of customers are ‘happy’ to pay more?

Instinctively I’ve never been a big fan of business regulation. I prefer to let the market deliver products and services that consumers want to buy; and let the providers live or die by the results. However sometimes regulatory intervention is a necessity to create the right environment to allow all the players to compete. I think we need clear action from OFCOM and the EU to prevent the big mobile operators from marginalising the new competition.

Despite all this I am actually a big fan of the mobile operators! We’ve got Vodafone and O2 (neé Cellnet) to thank for bringing us cellular comms in the first place. Orange delivered per second billing and transformed tariffs. 3 brought us mobile data at sensible rates. The big operators have delivered lots of good stuff over the years but sometimes the mobile market feels a bit like an oligopoly. We need the new guys to drive innovation and deliver a competitive marketplace for us all to enjoy so let’s ensure they are given the opportunity to compete and live or die on the results.

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