EE's weird brand hierarchy

Editor's Comments

Four years ago, Qualcomm held the first of its Innovation Qualcomm events.

It was a relatively small scale event. I can’t remember exact numbers but I’d be surprised if there were more than 150 people there, all in. Andrew Gilbert, the ex-Flarion man and at the time Qualcomm’s European VP, gave a demonstration of the mobile future in which image recognition played a part. This presentation, since termed “the stalker presentation” by many in the industry (OK, by me), posited a world in which a user spies a woman he likes at a dinner party. He discretely scans her face with his mobile, which then recognises the woman and presents him with a list of her favourite things, her social networking profiles, preferred type of chocolates, flowers, all that girly stuff.

Visibly weakening now, Gilbert described how our stalker/romantic, goes online, and orders some flowers which are waiting for our victim/heroine at her home address when she stumbles out of the taxi later that night. Whether our hero also left her a message on her “favourite social nework site” telling her he was coming round with a proposal of marriage in the morning, I can’t remember. But you get the idea.

Qualcomm had the technology vision, but it is always hard to see how these things are actually going to make themselves useful. I do remember Gilbert distancing himself from that particular use case of image recognition/ social network/ shopping preferences mash-up – but the potential of the technology was apparent.

Fast forward four years. IQ is now an event with hundreds of participants from all corners of Europe. As well as Qualcomm’s own demo areas, broken down smartly into Reach More (networks), Connect More (M2M and embedded), Create More (Chip stuff), there are a clutch of external partners, showcasing the “Qualcomm Inside” advantage they have.

The growth of this event reflects that of Qualcomm's desire to be seen as ever-relevant in a world in which network intelligence, and the ability to apply that intelligence as low down the system stack as possible, is more and more important. If you want another example of that this week, then note the alliance between Mindspeed and SpiderCloud Wireless to put SpiderCloud technology on Mindspeed’s SoC.

Qualcomm’s aim to be seen as driving innovation reflects especially on the arms race in device power and capabilities, but there were a surprising  (to me) amount of networks-based demonstrations at the event – for example, of the two guest keynotes, the “surprise speaker” was Vodafone Germany CEO Jens Schulte-Bockum, who talked about LTE, not just from a device but a heavy network perspective. Qualcomm’s own COO Steve Mollenkopf talked about the need to design a new diversity of network architectures – and especially to design small cell networks. You can read much more about Qualcomm’s network thinking in the pieces linked to on this email.

(An aside: this year there was another image recognition showcase in the keynotes as well, this time under the snappily titled Vuforia name. This time around, AR and image recognition are combined to deliver a richer shopping experience to American Apparel shoppers in Berlin. A customer points her camera lens at a pair of shoes, up is brought an app showing user reviews of the shoes, availability in other colours and styles, and so on. Image recognition hasn’t gone away, it’s just been de-stalkerised.)

While that was going on, Everything Everywhere shocked everyone by unveiling its new brand as …EE. It has, as you are bound to know, linked this brand to LTE. So customers of Orange and T-Mobile are only T-Mo and Orange customers as long as they are on 3G. As soon as they would like to upgrade to 4G, they will need to exit their existing contract and move to EE.

This, I think, sends an odd message to the customer. If you work at Orange, you are essentially saying to your “best “ customers, “Thanks for all the business, now off you go now. You have accessed Level EE.”

This has been brought about in the first place by what I feel is a misplaced need to have an umbrella brand for Orange and T-Mo, rather than a mere Holding Company Ltd, which could have had a dry, corporate presence only. The other way to go would be to have only one brand, and truly merge the companies. But that has major implications in regulatory and operational terms, of course.

The thing is, we are now left with a situation where customers are going to exit long-held relationships with Orange, or T-Mobile, to head for EE, if they want LTE. So I asked Orange, what happens to customers that really like Orange Wednesday, or any of Orange’s other customer loyalty and reward schemes? Do they lose all that? This is the reply I got:

I said:

If an Orange customer moves to EE for LTE - do they still qualify for Orange benefits, offers and services, such as Orange Wednesdays etc?

Reply:

Hi Keith,

Everything you love about Orange will stay exactly the same including Orange Wednesdays. EE will be announcing propositions in the coming weeks

Hope that helps.

Well, it didn’t really help, because it didn’t explicitly answer the question I was asking. So I replied:

OK. What I'm asking is - if a customer moves to EE, do they still qualify (if that's the right word) for Orange Wednesdays etc. That is to say, are they still in any sense an Orange customer.

It sounds like that's a no, from your answer. They will be eligible for benefits offered by EE (which may or may not be similar or the same to those of Orange).

And the reply?

Hi Keith,

Orange customers can still get Orange Wednesday and we will be announcing a range of benefits exclusive to EE customers in due course.

So, that’s clear, yes? Orange customers are fine. Orange customers who become EE customers (because they want LTE), er, we’ll be announcing offers in due time. I think this is a far from ideal state of affairs. Sure, senior Orange execs don’t like the EE brand (many of them still don’t love Orange, btw, over FT, but that’s another matter). But the issue to me is, what’s the point in the expense, branding, marketing and messaging of a third brand when you have two well-understood brands already. One reason, of course, would be if you were preparing to move everything up into one brand, because you want to sell the company.

Let’s see.

Finally, a word about iPhone 5 and LTE1800. As you will also no doubt know, 1800 is the only band supported by Qualcomm. One industry expert reckoned this was so surprising this might be a misprint. Here's how he put it:

"The GSM model A1429 supports LTE in Bands 1 (2.1GHz), 3 (1800MHz), and 5 (850MHz). Apple says it is for the European market, specifically mentioning Deutsche Telecom in Germany and EE in the UK.  However, in Europe LTE is not deployed in Band 1 (2.1GHz). Furthermore Band 5 is not the European 800MHz Digital Dividend band - that would be Band 20 (CEPT 800).

"This is really odd, perhaps Apple made a mistake in its website publication and it should read Band 20 (CEPT 800), Band 3 (1800 MHz), and Band 7 (2.6GHz). This band combination is the normal European LTE phone specification, as used for example for the Samsung Galaxy LTE model sold by Vodafone Germany and others.”

So I asked Apple's PR, tongue in cheek, if perhaps they had sold the world a dummy by mistyping the Bands supported in its list of specs. The reply?

No official comment but it's not a misprint.

A glimpse of humour, I thought, towards the end of what must have been a very long week.

Have a good weekend, all.

Keith Dyer
Editor
Mobile Europe