BT’s EE acquisition now cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority


Last January we reported on BT’s £12.5 billion takeover of mobile provided EE. We had since been awaiting to hear from the Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) whether this move would significantly harm the competition, in not just the mobile provider arena but in the Quad-play (selling a package of fixed-line phone, mobile, internet and TV) space as well.  Surprisingly, the CMA have granted BT the all clear in the EE buy out.

Both BT and EE are giants in their specialties with BT controlling 37.6% of the UK home phone market, 31% of the UK fixed-broadband market and EE holding 33.8% mobile market share. Together they hold 35 million customers between them.

Rivals, including Vodafone and TalkTalk had voiced concern during the acquisition’s original announcement calling for competition authorities to force BT to spin off its Openreach operation which maintains the UK’s copper and fibre communications cable network. This has since gone to regulator Ofcom for review for whether BT and Openreach should in fact be split up due to concerns their performance to other providers had often been poor.

The bringing together of BT and EE will likely see both cross-promotion and cross-sales between landline services and mobile.  One would assume that customers buying all their telecommunications packages from both BT and EE should get monetary savings and they wouldn’t want to lose by switching their mobile carrier next time round, something that is more frequent in the mobile world compared to consumers switching their landline provider.

Another matter yet discussed is the fate of the EE brand, being relatively young at just 6 years. Despite its size as the largest in the market, BT may not be able to resist the temptation in switching the EE brand for uncool BT Mobile. If this was the case, we could see some users switch back over to other mobile provides due to BT’s lack of lustre reputation in customer services and lack of historic expertise in the mobile arena next to O2, Vodafone and even now Three.

Is this really a fair and prudent decision by the CMA in what should be a competitive marketplace?

This week’s technology news – 25th October 2014

Wearable Technology – not so Mickey Mouse

It was never going to be long before the commercial opportunities from wearable technology would be fully grasped by the entertainment industry. Into frame comes The Walt Disney Company, who have been discussing the success of their adoption of wearable technology at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit recently.  Their new “MagicBand” aims to “improve customer experience and engage with visitors” at its parks and resorts.   This is a neat euphemism for describing big data analytics consuming and helping direct customer behaviour through holding personal details to enable greater marketing opportunities to be had.

The MagicBand uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.  Visitors can enter parks, hotel rooms, purchase food and gifts, use fast-track services as well as link Disney photos to an online account with a swipe of their arm.   Acknowledging the issue of privacy and security, Disney’s customers can elect whether or not to share their personal data.  If they do, families can register one time payment details to avoid carrying a wallet to pay for individual items during a stay, or register their children’s names and birthdays to make a “magical” personal greeting at a ride – or have informed conversations with a Disney character whilst walking around.

Should we be surprised, well no, not really.  After all it is 20 years since Tesco employed company DunnHumby in 1994 to analyse their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data to find patterns to help direct marketing campaigns. This quickly became known as the highly successful Tesco Loyalty Card.  Even this wasn’t cheap though – the scheme is reputed to cost £60million per annum to run.  However, the exploitation of data to direct company decisions is the future and central to the Internet of Things to make our lives easier.  So the more intelligent organisations are about their use of data, its connections, privacy and security, the greater the potential opportunities that can arise in future – and hit the bottom line.




Apple’s new SIM

Apple announcements come and go, but last week’s big Apple event was mostly underwhelming, bringing incremental refreshes to its iPads and Macs with an absence of exciting new features. A small detail that went unnoticed by most (and wrongly reported by others), is the new Apple SIM that comes included within the new iPads in the US and UK.

The Apple SIM is essentially an Apple branded nano-SIM which lets you swap between different network providers without swapping the SIM itsel.  This can be done by choosing you provider of choice on the iPads touch interface without visiting a physical or web store.  That is the plan at least. Currently here in the UK, only EE have signed up so you are limited to swapping between EE and nothing.

You can thankfully also use a standard nano-SIM in the new iPads, but it has yet to be confirmed that if you sign up for a data plan on the new Apple SIM it will still work if taken out and moved into a non-apple device?

If the answer was no, then this annoyance would likely go unnoticed by most, as only a fraction of iPad buyers opt for the cellular capable option.  However, if this was used in the next iPhone launch, the Apple SIM could tie Apple devices and numbers together making an iPhone to iPhone upgrade painless, but an iPhone to a competitor a difficult or impossible task.

If this was to come into play, it may fly in the States where Apple has stronger control over network carriers and a history of less flexible mobile options.  But here in Europe, it would likely be slammed by anti-trust laws for unfair competitor practises. Apple’s new SIM may be both a starting point and a testing bed laying low in new 4G iPads, but things will escalate extremely quickly if it makes the jump over to iPhones in the future.



Yahoo! finds success in mobile


Not long ago we saw Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO make the statement that they had missed a huge opportunity in mobile. Since then Yahoo! has been hard at work enhancing its modern mobile portfolio with a sequence of clever acquisitions of mobile app development houses.

With the company revealing its latest quarterly earnings with mobile revenues in excess of $200 million, they estimate growth revenues in mobile to exceed $1.2 billion by the end of this year.

Over the past 10 months Yahoo!’s mobile acquisitions have included Snapchat clone “Blink”, messaging app “MessageMe”, home screen app “Aviate” and mobile analytics startup “Flurry”. In addition to their existing apps these start-ups were also tasked with creating the new Yahoo! App suite including News, Sport and Weather. The surprisingly high quality of these apps have earned them a recent surge in consumer interest and the spin off has been that consumers are returning to use Yahoo! Services.

When a company the size of Yahoo! misses a technology shift as big as mobile apps they can often find themselves in serious trouble. Yahoo! is currently rumoured to be involved in numerous new mobile app development house acquisitions, so in finding success in mobile, it is safe to say they are going to focus more than ever on mobile.  If the next set of acquisitions turn out as well as the last, Yahoo! may see a new lease of life as a heavyweight in the mobile app business.



How out of touch are we?


Microsoft has been developing touch technology for a while now to embrace realism in resistance and weight on their keyboards and touch pads (see blog 5 July 2013), however touch devices are moving on again to evolve into next generation technology described as “rich touch”.

The iPhone was regarded as being an exemplar of multi-touch interfaces, but recently an altogether more creative suggestion has been made by Professor Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University in the States.  Interfaces have become far simpler for people to use, but Harrison derides the empahsis on size reduction in favour of the flexibility that different touch can provide to expand the use of a device.  All of this is based on analysis of the richness of how humans naturally use their hands, versus how many fingers you use to poke at a screen.  Guitars he sees, are very sensitive for this in terms of touch, pressure and grasp and can pick up on vibration.  Harrison sees this as the key to matching desktop productivity on mobile devices.

Rich touch would enable your knuckle to be used to add another dimension to your pointer finger ie. lassoing part of a photo, or tapping on the screen with your knuckle to bring up a contextual menu and refine and edit content. These variances can work as a “left-click” for touchscreen interfaces. Further options can be cued by the angle of touch to turn the screen into a different menu sequence, so a poke is different to grazing your fingertip across the screen – which could alter the scrolling process (a big deal for smartwatches). Then there is “drilling” the screen to turn volume up or down and other recognition of hand shapes to perform other functions.

All of the above developments seek to connect the user more personally and practically with their devices which should increase output and engagement satisfaction.  As long as options remain for selecting how we access different menus, and rich touch options can be switched on or off, it will add another new rich layer to our user experience, whilst also protecting the less dextrous user amongst us.



This week’s technology news – 19th September 2014

Heavyweight US auditors report glaring holes in US healthcare website security
It will come as no surprise that a government website is a leviathan and complex structure, often leaving much to be desired from a user friendly point of view.  However, one will always hope and demand that such a public body website is at least safe to use.

This was not the case, as the Government Accountability Office found with, run by “CMS” (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) in the US.  “Technical controls protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability” of data, were found to be lacking.  In particular, they identified the operator’s failure to enforce strong passwords, implement software patches and properly configure the administrative network for the “Federally Facilitated Marketplace” (FFM) – this being the area where US citizens buy their health insurance.   Whether or not the end user dislikes eight or more character passwords, it remains a base necessity, until tighter personal verification procedures are deployed like biometrics eye, fingerprint or vein scanners as we have documented recently.

With more than $500m spent to date on the site’s construction however, public sympathy will be hard to find.  At its core, secure network connectivity, authentication procedures and threat and vulnerability management must form the base strategy of any good governance plan going forwards.  Public sector bodies, like many large and long established organisations, whichever side of the Pond, are often burdened by complex legacy systems (in this case backend integration connects the federal site to federal agencies, state governments and insurance companies). So, a central part of any security review should seek to work towards simplification of the IT infrastructure to make it more manageable in future, rather than just adding more sticking plasters and spending on quick fixes vs a long term solution of commercially construed investment and the chance to regain trust with its public.

KPMG id’s the most disruptive IT trends
In KPMG’s Global Technology Innovation survey of 768 technology business leaders, respondents reviewed disruptive trends across technology and identified the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and biotech (healthcare IT), as the top three most likely to impact on the way people work and live over the next three years.  This is more than double the number of responses to these topics in KPMG’s 2013 survey.

Other technologies identified as most likely to transform enterprise included: mobile, cloud computing, big data analytics, digital currencies, artificial intelligence and autotech.

ABI Research in New York estimate that there will be 40 billion active wireless-connected devices by 2020, more than double the present number.  ABI Research also predict that this explosion will be driven by IoT (Gartner estimated that IoT would drive increased installation to a lower figure of 26 billion units).

It is the risk factor associated with disruptive technologies that is challenging swifter adoption by businesses.  However, analysts anticipate that those companies prepared to gamble will be the ultimate winners.  Business leaders in the survey believed that so-called ‘intelligent shopping’ has the greatest potential to generate revenue because of IoT (20%) – as devices communicate with each other. Respondents also suggest home automation (14%), and surveillance/security and social interaction (12% respectively), will also act as revenue drivers in the next three years.

Digital currency Bitcoin, was also identified as one of the emerging technologies most likely to impact on business between now and 2017. However, geography played a massive part in differentiating countries anticipation of wider exploitation of this method of payment:

 Europe (32%)    America (15%)    China (70%)

Counterpoints to advances will always exist and those cited most commonly as likely to limit or constrain innovation were :
• Restrictive regulatory policies – 34%
• “Consumer fatigue” – 29%
• ROI – 27%
• Security – 27%
• Technology complexity – 22%
• Customer adoption – 21%

Rome was not built in a day, but the end user has come a long way and fast in technology.  With such a crowded marketplace, official standards will be required with the IoT (see 4th July 2014 blog) and growth and opportunity for MSPs and providers will come through intelligent mapping and strategy, with the winners including good governance in their plans.

UK No. 3 in world connectivity rankings but can we stay at the top?

Fast and reliable internet connectivity has long since moved from being a luxury to an absolute necessity. Being able to connect instantly to customers, providers and partners is vital in today’s economy.

A newly released study from major Asia telecoms manufacturer Huawei, has ranked countries by score on internet connectivity. This is not just wired broadband connections, but access to high speed mobile internet on smartphones. From these scores, the UK has been ranked third  worldwide, just behind the USA with Germany taking the top spot.

Specific industry sectors are driving the growth of connectivity more than others including; finance, education, oil and gas and manufacturing.   The impact of better internet connectivity was also attributed as being directly linked to the GDP growth of each country, varying from 1.4% to 1.9% per capita and Chile and Kenya scoring very highly because of their relative scales of investment in telecoms infrastructure.

Whilst being ranked third worldwide in connectivity is definitely something for the UK to be proud of, we are still faced with the legacy of BT having an unreasonable monopoly still on infrastructure provision. This is different to the slightly more competitive market in Germany and a far more competitive landscape in the US. The effect may be to restrict the wider enablement of businesses long term in being able to compete if we are to count it on a truly nationwide basis vs the continual plugging of high speed connections to our main City hubs.  With faster and more accessible access to high speed internet comes greater opportunity for our country in the future.  We cannot rest on our laurels though; the majority of the UK score comes thanks to its current connectivity, with a smaller portion dedicated to Growth Momentum.  There is still an urgent need for deep investment and a level playing field in both wired and wireless to keep on top of the game – and for that the Government and regulators are the only ones able to change the landscape.

The rise and fall of Smart Phone sales
Many things in the world of technology change at a rapid pace, with fierce competition in development of new, innovating hardware and software enabling new devices to come out of a left field, taking many by surprise. Some trends however stay fixed. Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last week on schedule, taking no one by surprise. This week Apple announced another pre-order record for both smartphones topping over 4 million pre-orders so far. This yearly event is naturally a big deal for phone networks and retailers, with all taking pre-orders, including independent mobile phone retailer Phones 4u.

This week Phones 4u, despite financial stability and plenty of pre-orders for the iPhone 6 went into administration. This comes from the unexpected news, for Phones 4u at least, that both Vodafone and EE (parent company of both Orange and T-mobile) would not be renewing contracts, preventing Phones 4u to sell subsidised phones on their networks. Earlier this year O2 pulled support, which would have left them only able to sell Virgin mobile contracts.

So why would all the major UK network carriers pull out of what appeared to be a successful partnership? The allure of higher profit margins is likely to be the top reason. Selling phones exclusively direct forgoes splitting profits with an independent. Back when Phones 4u opened shop in 1996, splitting profits made a lot more sense to expand reach and brand awareness.  But the mobile industry is a very different beast today, with the only players left being giants. In addition new strategic partnerships, such as rival Carphone Warehouse and Dixons increasing their already dominant high street presence, made Phones 4u the weaker of the two to attack.

Carphone Warehouse despite its stronger position is likely to be doing its best to secure future contracts on a longer term basis and evaluating alternative strategies just in case. A stronger emphasis on non-network subsidised plans and its own phones services is a better tactic. The closing of Phones 4u will mean less competition and potentially higher prices when buying contracted phones from your network carrier of choice. When you contract is up for renewal, consider buying your phone separate to your phone plan as now more than ever, this will likely be the more sensible route going forwards as the US model is showing.



Amicus ITS weekly technology news – Easter Edition

Windows Store V Mac App Store
This week the Windows Store hit over 50,000 published downloadable Apps on Windows 8 and RT. Although this number is smaller compared to the app stores for smart phones, it is definitely worth noting that the Mac App Store launched in January 2011 currently has only around 16,000 Apps. Microsoft is effectively beating Apple at its own game!. What comes of the future from Microsoft and Apples ecosystem?

Continued growth in mobile browser usage
Web browsing on phones and tablets has tripled in the last two years, and doubled over the last 12 months. Apple’s Safari leads all mobile traffic with over 50%, people are using iOS much more for web searching than other mobile platforms. Although other browsers including Chrome and Safari are available on the iOS app store they are in reality just Safari re-skinned. The importance of information being quick and easy to find on a mobile browser is more important than ever! Is your website user friendly enough on a mobile, or are you potentially ignoring this new growing sector of ’mobile on the go’ users?

USB’s and IT Professionals
At the recent RSA conference, more than three-quarters of IT professionals admitted to breaching their own protocols and plugging in USB flash drives that they found abandoned or lying around! There are a number of ways to prevent this as an organisation, as a starting point, we would suggest educating your staff against this. Why not supply your staff with encrypted USB sticks which can be regularly checked for malware, or you could use software which restricts USB devices. However you choose to address this issue, you should be aware and actively trying to reduce or restrict it.

Cyber Attacks
You might have heard about the recent major cyber attacks, firstly the attack that South Korea has accused China of starting (potentially falsely) and then a row between a spam-fighting group and a hosting firm. Cyber attacks on national infrastructure remains a top concern. In the US, President Barack Obama has recently signed a cyber security executive order requiring federal agencies to share cyber threat information with private companies. Security experts are voicing concerns about the choice of targets for the recent cyber attacks which suggest that an attack that could put a nation into jeopardy could happen. The Cyberbunker attack is said to be on an unprecedented scale and has been continuing for well over a week with five national cyber police forces currently investigating. Whilst this highlights some potential gaps in the security, organisations need to remain vigilant in their search of indicators of compromise on their networks.

Have a happy Easter !

Your first stop for this week’s MSP news in technology

MDM? Not without MSP’s help  

Even though the BYOD trend is gaining significant momentum, some organisations are still refraining from implementation.  Adopting MDM requires investment in technology, training, staffing and policy creation, meaning organisations can’t justify the funding.  However we believe there is a solution to this problem; introducing MDM through a managed service provider.  MSP’s can offer all the MDM benefits including 24×7 managed support, but save customers time as well as costs.  This will allow even small businesses to work more mobile.

Looking into the future in the Tablet market

The big three: Microsoft, Google and Apple are now all runners in the tablet market share race.  In recent months Apple has seen its sales decrease due to the increased popularity of cheaper Google devices. At this pace we may see Android over take Apple in Q2 2013. As Microsoft’s devices have only been on the market for less than a quarter, we are expecting a slow and steady uptake.  As more devices and apps come over to Microsoft’s new platform next year, we predict the market will shift.

‘Appy’ Christmas

Microsoft has announced that their Windows Phone app developers will be hard at work this festive season.  Since the launch of Windows Phone 8, mobile app requests have increased by 40%, seeing a recent surge in the last couple of weeks.  However, some companies refuse to jump on the bandwagon. Google have declared they have no plans to develop apps for either Windows Phone 8 or Windows 8. We believe that Google might be missing a trick.  As Windows 8 adoption grows momentum in 2013, we are predicting Microsoft’s app store will take off in a big way, enabling both a consumer and a corporate environment.

Microsoft release Cloud Deployment programme

Microsoft has released a new Cloud Deployment programme designed at educating partners as to how they can get the most out of Office 365.  Organisations have currently been viewing the Cloud as a threat to their security rather than an instrument for success.  With Microsoft’s latest partner programme, MSP’s will be able to offer management tools and expertise to help consumers understand the Cloud.  We believe that this will give MSP’s the opportunity to add value to the Cloud, helping customers with its set up and running.