Revolutionary Measures

The end to rural notspots?

Amidst all the hype about the rollout of 4G and the excitement around fibre optic deployments (note to BT – I’m still waiting, and you said I’d have it in June), the UK has a hidden issue when it comes to communications. Too many rural areas still don’t have a decent, basic mobile phone signal.

Cwm Rheidol Telephone Kiosk - geograph.org.uk ...

In my village, in the middle of Suffolk, only one provider has any reception – and that is just 2G, not even 3G. When the local mast went down for a month last year it paralysed rural businesses, as well as impacting on the lives of local residents. And this is not the Outer Hebrides – I’m less than an hour from Cambridge and Norwich, and 20 minutes from several major towns.

Given my experiences, the news that the Government is considering forcing mobile phone operators to share their networks (so called national roaming), to widen choice, looks like a positive move. Putting aside the fact that the starting point for the new rules was apparently David Cameron being unable to get a signal while on holiday in Norfolk, it should benefit anyone living in the countryside. It will help stem the growing gulf between rural communication ‘have nots’ and urban dwellers with 4G and superfast broadband. A similar system operates in the US, which has a lot more challenging terrain than over here.

Obviously the mobile phone operators are crying foul, pointing out that they have spent heavily on masts in rural areas, and being forced to share their infrastructure will jeopardise future investment. Frankly, I just don’t buy this. Everywhere else they have competition and somehow survive – after all, most people pick a network operator on price/what you get for your money, rather than “do I actually get a signal?” At the moment they have captive markets that they have carved up amongst themselves, forcing people to choose by postcode, not package. Sharing infrastructure makes it more cost-effective and opens up new markets. Additionally the government has promised £150m to improve areas where there is no coverage at all.

The government claims it has big plans to turn the UK into a skills-based, technologically literate society. Entrepreneurship is being encouraged (albeit focused heavily on the media-centric Silicon Roundabout), coding is being re-introduced into schools and infrastructure projects promise faster links between major cities. So far rural areas have been left behind – with high speed broadband projects running late and a lack of skilled jobs hitting local economies. It is time for the government to address these issues or risk creating a two speed economy that deprives those of us in the countryside of the same opportunities open to the rest of the United Kingdom.

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Creators versus consumers – the new digital divide

Internet Access Here Sign

The last ten years have seen massive progress in getting the UK population online, with over 86% of people now having been on the internet. There is still a digital divide however, with 4 million households without internet access according to the Office for National Statistics.

And, the ability for online access via mobile is extremely variable – as Liz Stevenson from Cambridgeshire County Council pointed out at the recent Cambridge Smart City debate, 41.5% of the county isn’t covered by a 3G signal. I dread to think what the figure is over the border in Suffolk, where I live in a village with sporadic 2G coverage. Efforts continue to help the offline into the online world, particularly by targeting specific groups such as the elderly and disabled and by providing more user friendly devices such as tablets.

However a new digital divide is emerging. As the Economist Intelligence Unit points out in a recent report, this is between those that understand and use the internet to its full potential and those that simply shop, watch or read the content that they find there. It is essentially a split between creators and consumers. You’ll always get power users in any technological change but the risk is that those who don’t take up the opportunities offered by the internet will become disenfranchised, pay more for basic goods and services and miss out on achieving their full potential.

And it doesn’t need to be that way – the internet offers the chance for everyone and anyone to create (no matter how niche or, let’s face it, downright awful) their efforts are. It also offers the tools to make compelling content either for free (for example WordPress, YouTube) or at a very low cost (with a handheld video camera for instance). Only by doing can you gain the full benefit of the internet. At a basic level imagine someone on Twitter that merely lurks, following people without starting any conversations themselves. They may find out what Stephen Fry is doing, but it doesn’t add much else to their own lives (or the lives of other people). People who treat the internet in the same way as TV, as a lean back, broadcast medium, are missing the point (and much of the fun.)

So how can we encourage more creators who understand the opportunities that the internet brings? A really simple way is to copy the behaviour of the young (though without the selfies on SnapChat). As digital natives they start with no preconceptions and no manual to read – they just get on and use the internet as a tool to do what they want to do. Not having a fear of failure, or an embarrassment gene, is going to lead to cringeworthy moments, but it will also mean you experience new things, learn new skills and create. Once you’ve mastered these skills you’ll understand what you can do – giving you better control of the medium and deepening your understanding of how organisations might be trying to channel and constrain your internet experience for their own ends (normally to sell you something).

Otherwise this new digital divide will solidify – splitting the digitally savvy from consumers and providing a two speed experience that will damage people’s enjoyment and potentially harm their prospects. Go create!

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EEek!

A tight squeeze Project 365(2) Day 357

The High Street at Christmas is a loud and particularly garish place. With fewer and fewer physical shoppers retailers have to shout at the tops of their voices to attract attention. Which is probably why I’ve not really noticed the rather catastrophic rebrand of EE (previously Everything Everywhere), the owner of Orange and T-Mobile.

Everything Everywhere was quite obviously an appalling name – although it did give rise to the wonderful FT headline Everything Everywhere disappoints analystswhich pretty much summed up the performance of the telecoms conglomerate. But as a holding company it was fine – you had two strongish brands, Orange and T-Mobile with defined markets so why confuse matters with a third umbrella brand? In a similar way when BA and Iberia merged the new holding company was called International Airlines Group (IAG) – not fancy, not competing with its existing well-established brands, but just providing a name, a website and a name for the stock market.

But EE has decided in its infinite wisdom to essentially bin the Orange and T-Mobile brands. I switch on my phone and it says EE, even though my contract is with Orange and the previously recognisable high street storefronts are now a drab blue grey that looks like it has come from the Farrow and Ball catalogue (my money is on Hague Blue). Given that Orange became successful by being a new, interesting and involving brand that people wanted to be part of and that T-Mobile screamed value to countless students it seems ludicrous to write off that amount of goodwill in a stroke. As Nils Pratley points out in The Guardian it looks more like a dull but worthy European quango than a leading edge telco.

But does it matter? Many people in the technology industry don’t really bother about branding, focusing on building advanced products and services and giving them involved names made up of lots of numbers and Zs and Xs. However while that may work for deeply technical audiences if you want to get mass market appeal you need an appealing and non-threatening brand that is clear and easy to understand. Apple is the obvious example, but looking around the tech industry you can see plenty of others. Even in the telecoms world there has been a lot of effort put into building global brands – from the clever (O2) to the limited (3) and the mundane (Vodafone).

Ironically at a time when it has the UK’s only 4G network, rather than talking about technology advancement, EE seems to be embracing the safe and boring. It may claim that rebranding has ‘re-energised the organisation’, but in a crowded market it looks more like a retreat than a step forward. Apple, Raspberry Pi, Banana Republic – EE should have stuck to fruit………….

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December 12, 2012 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment