The new network battleground
While the smartphone market begins to heat up again with launches of all sorts of foldable devices, the network side seems lethargic in comparison.
Now that 5G signals are established as a standard component throughout newly launched devices, operators need to look to new ways to promote their network. The avenue of choice? Events, I hear you scream.
Yes, the fields of competition, music, and culture – if you can call falling over in wellies culture – have become the battlefield for the networks to gain kudos, a bit of brand exposure, and a handful of new customers.
Some may say that this is at the expense of some tangible new products that may get the average joe to part with their hard-earned money, however Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insights, said that events are actually a great way to showcase a network’s capability.
“It’s interesting because festivals and temporary events seem to be a kind of increasing battleground amongst the telcos. Three has focused on the Wireless Festival, Vodafone had a presence during the Glastonbury festival, taking over from EE, and it sounds like they did a good job and scored quite a big PR goal by doing that.
“In an industry where it’s hard to differentiate, certainly beyond pricing and even networks quality at times, something like festivals and temporary events is a really good opportunity to raise the profile of a brand because the people who go to these events want to upload to their experiences to social media; which is why it’s become a real battleground.”
Different use cases
As 5G grows into maturity, questions over whether the tech – labelled revolutionary by everyone from politicians to business leaders – has really met its potential.
Adoption is certainly growing. Speaking at a round table before the Wireless Festival, Three UK chief network officer, Iain Milligan said that the UK-based mobile operator has deployed all of its available spectrum, and added that, on the consumer side, usage of 5G is still growing and accounts for over half of traffic on a daily basis.
“The big part of what we’re looking to do is provide connectivity to Live Nation’s customers and our customers,” said Milligan. “We’ve got a fleet of temporary masts, which have got a full network capability and we’re rolling them out to each one of the events.
“The exciting thing is how consumer behaviour has changed from last year to this year. Customers are now using triple the volume of 5G data because the experience they get from the network allows them to do that.”
Naturally this is good news for Three UK. However, analyst Paolo Pescatore echoed Mann’s comments that a focus on festivals and temporary events is symptomatic of a telecoms market that is struggling to differentiate.
“There’s been a bit of tit-for-tat in network rollout among the UK telcos and a war of my network is better than yours. Beyond price, telcos have tried to differentiate their offerings through network quality.
“That battle is now extending towards temporary masts which are needed to improve coverage, providing additional capacity and reducing congestion at big festivals and sporting events.
“This has been an area of focus for the Three network which has been inferior to rivals with users struggling to get a signal to even make a voice call at some of these events. While users pay for a service and demand connectivity, providing temporary coverage requires significant effort and is costly, especially if it is unlikely to lead to new subscriber sign-ups.
“User perception and credibility is paramount; more so when the telco is the connectivity partner of an event. Inevitably user satisfaction will outweigh the cost of deployment and in theory increase loyalty.”
Catering to demographics
Along with building customer satisfaction, these temporary events can also give us a look into the future as to how mobile networks are being used.
According to Mann, Wireless Festival relied on 5G signals a lot more than other festivals like TRNSMT and Glastonbury. There was also a sizable difference between the usage of networks during music festivals and sporting events like the British Grand Prix.
“The share of traffic over 5G at Wireless Festival was 62% this year which is up from 38% last year,” said Mann. “That’s higher than Three recorded at other large events such as the British Grand Prix, which was 51%, TRNSMT which was 49% and Glastonbury which was 43%.”
This change in demand is something that Three UK chief network officer, Iain Milligan, is acutely aware of, as the network looks to cater to the customers they have at each event.
“We look at these events as two things. From the consumer perspective, to make sure we hit their demand, but also the brand perspective where we don’t want to miss out on opportunities. Aintree is an example, where there may not be a lot of Three customers there, but all the other players have bought into the system and there’s an opportunity for us to demonstrate our capabilities to that location.”
Three has positioned itself as the Official Connectivity Partner at several iconic festivals across the UK including Wireless, Latitude and Reading and Leeds festivals, along with sporting events like the British Grand Prix.
Such a breadth of events also represents a challenge for Three to cater to the way different people use their devices. Milligan said that there are differences between a live event like Wireless Festival and other music festivals as well as sporting events but added that the usage of the network is more or less “constant”.
“People are sharing constantly, and we saw this during Euro 2021. We noticed that from a voice perspective there were massive spikes before the match or at halftime, but usage was constant throughout these events.
“We’ve built our network to be able to deal with these spikes, particularly in the core, we don’t differentiate between the traffic types, what we try to do is make sure we maximise as much bandwidth as possible to handle any traffic.
“There are things we could do to be more efficient too, like rip up cell site gateways that connect sites to the transmission. That could drive a lot more efficiencies among boring stuff like packet utilisation within the connection and make us up to six times more efficient just transmitting data.
“We see our network as 10-year proof because we’re not just focussing on 10GB lines, for example, there’s a lot more efficient things we can do with this technology.”
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