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    Getting results…


    ..did the 3G launches conceal greater underlying trends?

    A busy month or so has seen Mobile Europe attend a clutch of 3G launch events, some more glitzy than others, as well as a range of half year results announcements. Take Vodafone, and the difference between the two could hardly have been more pronounced. In fact, the results briefing turned into something of an embarrassment as the question and answer session, which included the ceo, coo and cfo, quickly revealed that the assembled journos had very little indeed to ask about a set of results that were good enough to have included a share buyback and an increased dividend. Perhaps all involved were simply Vodafoned out, the results announcement coming as it did just a week after the operator had pressed the button on its 3G consumer services. Whatever, Vodafone’s press officers must have felt that, to twist one of the nastier phrases of our time, the week had turned into a good time to bury good news. 
    Perhaps O2 was trying to create an obscuring blizzard of its own, aware as it is that it is now the only UK operator that isn’t going to have a live consumer 3G offering in the near future. It too had an excellent, much praised set of results, but unfortunately the operator also knew it would have to deal with the upcoming departure of its ceo Dave McGlade and all the questions its decision to go with i-mode would pose (mergers, sale, whither O2 Active etc etc). Whether announcing the start of an HSPDA trial, on the Isle of Man in summer 2005, no less, was the optimum way to do this remains doubtful, but it seemed to fool at least one of the broadsheet business desks, which obligingly trumpeted a new high speed wireless broadband service from O2. What the announcement did usefully tell us, combined with the i-mode announcement, is that O2 has decided that if it is going to compete on 3G it will need to be on speed and services. Sounds simple, but the decision to go with i-mode was made, if those at O2 are to believed not on financial grounds but on technical ones. It is a bit like changing horse in mid-race, or rather adding another horse, but O2 appears to have been convinced by the amount of i-mode services available, as well as the user experience in Japan. Even so, the i-mode experience in Europe has been less obvious in its impact on service uptake and data usage, at least in comparison to well-marketed services such as Vodafone live! and, it has to be said, O2’s own Active.
    Interestingly, when we put to O2 the impact of the i-mode decision on the Active brand, we were firmly told that Active is not a brand and that the only brand is O2. This is not exactly what we were being told a year ago by one as exalted as Mr McGlade, so therein perhaps lies one of the thorny issues which have had O2 vacillating over this decision.
    Another might be the fact that although O2 has achieved exclusivity for i-mode in the UK and Ireland, it cannot do so in Germany where NTT DoCoMo already has one partner signed up. The operator will say the more the merrier, of course, but if as we think the 3G strategy is going to be around speed (early HSPDA) and differential content (i-mode) then exclusivity will be a useful card to play.
    All of which is smallish beer in the grand scheme of things, of course. There seems to be change afoot in the industry as a whole. More people are coming in from different markets, often ones with real consumer marketing focus. The old guard seems to be shifting on and moving out, and consolidation is rife in the billing, OSS, test, content, indeed pretty much all the supply side industries in the market. This underlying theme will be as important as, and in fact a reflection of, the impact of 3G in 2005. So a Happy New Year to all readers!