Cutting Room: Future certainties and uncertainties


If the 67 industry leaders that appear in the monster talking-heads feature on pages 22-38 of the last issue of Mobile News (January 18, 2010) are to be believed, certain clear trends will develop over the year ahead.

If we take their utterances as gospel, and award some kind of rank to them according to their frequency, then the mobile phone industry should be dominated by unified communications and smartphones in 2010.

For the record, and for fun, the score card runs as follows:
Unified comms/convergence = 27 mentions
Smartphones = 24
O2 = 20
Google/Android = 19
Apple/iPhone = 18
Applications/apps = 18
Vodafone = 17
Platform/OS = 15
Consolidation = 13
Orange/T-Mobile JV = 11
Economy/recession = 10
= 6
Cloud computing = 5
Channel alignment = 5
Digital Britain = 4
One/OneNet = 4
Joined Up = 4

Of course, much of the above crosses over.

If we sum up 2010 in mobile in a single sentence, as we might pitch the industry to some outside party looking to gauge its progress over the coming months, it might run: O2 and Vodafone lead a rapid industry-wide carve-up by deploying solutions that marry together mobile, fixed line and IT communications, and run off hardware/software by computer giants Google and Apple, and are sold to punters as the answer to a stinking economic climate.

Of course, this is simplistic hack-talk, and the industry’s future will likely play out more prosaically over a longer term. The end-result will surely be, however, single providers of smarter devices. And sales channels must think in these terms, now, it seems. Take it from the industry kings in the long feature in issue 455.

The curious subtext to all of it is how incumbents cope with the changing market. O2 and Vodafone have assumed “leadership positions”, as O2 UK chief Ronan Dunne would put it, to start to combine communication technologies into something smarter, neater, cheaper and more efficient.

Vodafone’s deep integration of its One and OneNet propositions appears especially to set the pulse of 2010.

The problem is, despite Vodafone UK enterprise director Peter Kelly’s protest to the contrary, Vodafone is sluggish in its delivery. It has outlined the importance of the dealer market to its enterprise operation in these pages several times recently, and like the rest of the market it appears to be coming around again to the value of the channel.

But Vodafone has yet to properly sort its channel strategy. It has appeared unsure of Yes Telecom’s direction since Keith Curran was forced out more than two years ago.

Of course, its balancing act is to ensure its new unified communications propositions, which are genuinely innovative and should improve any sales agent who can handle them, are ready to roll. It cannot issue a half-baked solution, when it represents such opportunity.

But at the same time it must shape the market with strategic thinking and deployment of its human resources, and not simply by clever technology. All its sales channels must be prepped and savvy.

And it requires the kind of flexibility that has seen O2 come to market with an apparently lesser FMC product, to work it better and drum up a real fanfare in the channel.

It is a similar story in some ways in manufacturing, where Nokia appears to be in deepening trouble as a quartet of newer brands take share from it.

Apple, BlackBerry, HTC and Google look impossibly stylish and exuberant compared with Nokia’s stodgy old hardware operation. Demand for Nokia product has fallen away as the mid-range has shrunk and smartphones have become mass-market.

Similar tales of old behemoths struggling against agile young things are playing out in distribution too.

Micro-P looks to be recruiting choice talent, and stealing business away from slower operations in multiple channels. 20:20 Mobile and Data Select, the pair with the sought-after Nokia contracts, have huge infrastructure, which looks tough to sustain.

The question is whether Vodafone, Nokia and 20:20 will all come through unscathed. Some appear more likely to than others at this early point.