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Thursday, May 08, 2008

BT - FMC and VoWLAN for conservative customers

I went to a launch event for BT's new upgraded version of its Total Broadband service yesterday. This is a package the company has offered for some time, which bundles assorted additional capabilities along with the basic (and fairly slow - just 8Mbit/s) ADSL Internet connectivity - online backups, access to BT OpenZone WiFi hotspots, BT Broadband Talk VoIP service and so on. It's centred on BT's Home Hub gateway which also provides WiFi, a DECT handset and remote management.

In the past, the Home Hub also acted as the centrepiece of BT's ill-fated Fusion dual-mode UMA service, which has been quietly interred, after singularly failing to set the world on fire.

But BT has now reincarnated its FMC plans, calling it Total Broadband Anywhere, but binning the 'seamless' UMA rhetoric and focusing more on what I see as a sort of consumer-grade BlackBerry proposition, with a bit of added VoIP when in WiFi coverage. At first sight, I was a bit critical of the offer, which features a couple of fairly humdrum 2G-only HTC phones from yesteryear (especially as it was announced on the same day HTC debuted its shiny new Diamond iPhone-challenger device).

But then I had a think about the demographics of BT's broadband customer base. As BT's ADSL service tends to be at the more expensive end of the market, I reckon it tends to be populated by a few particular constituencies:

  • Conservative life-long BT customers with an aversion to the hassle of switching ISPs and telephone providers
  • People who aren't bothered by cable TV & so aren't particularly interested in Sky's or Virgin's 3/4-play bundles.
  • Home workers who feel that paying a bit more gives some sort of peace of mind, but who aren't prepared to stump up for a dedicated Business Broadband line. (I'm in this category myself).

I suspect that BT broadband is less popular among younger groups like students who perhaps focus on cheaper or "free" offers and prepay mobiles, or gadget-hungry enthusiasts who want iPhone along with their HDTV. I also suspect the "traditionalists" and their spouses are perhaps less likely to have company-issued BlackBerries. And the device UI seems to be pretty user-friendly, and BT has focused on some fairly simple setup & configuration procedures.

In other words, there's probably a segment of BT's 4m-odd broadband subscribers who could see the benefit in paying an extra £5 a month for an extra email & web device, also usable for BT's VoIP service when in range of home, hotspot or FON WiFi. It's not going to sell in its millions I suspect, but it should help BT maintain its ADSL margins and minimise churn. It's also notable that it's not being positioned as a replacement for users' existing phones, although clearly the company hopes that some users will choose to port numbers and use the device as their primary handset.

However, there are a couple of flies in the ointment. The 10MB data allowance outside of WiFi coverage is meagre, and perhaps reflects BT's ageing MVNO deal with Vodafone needing some renegotiation. The absence of 3G handsets is also bit weak - although of course both iPhone and BlackBerry seem to do pretty well without it. But what I think is a glaring gap is the absence of a consumer 3G dongle for their laptops. And also that the Windows Mobile devices rely on 'pull' rather than 'push' email, and also don't have any dedicated IM capability.

Overall, I'm more positive on this than I was about the original Fusion proposition.

Just one last thing though.... given that the package seems to encourage customers to get another mobile device, and split their calling between that and another phone, perhaps they could have come up with a snappier brand? I reckon that "BT Fission" would have been appropriate.....


Rob said...

Seems to me that the biggest problem with the BT offerings is that hidden cost of traffic shaping.

I live close to my exchange and it has taken a few changes of ISP to get anywhere near the 8MBps that I should theoretically achieve. I tried eclipse internet as well, but they shape traffic as much as BT so there's no recommendation there.

I have to say that since moving to idnet ( I have no financial or other interest in that organisation ) not only has my overall bandwidth edged up closer to the 8Mbps, but it is also consistent.

Other than in the early evening, I regularly achieve 6Mbps+ download. I put the drop off in the evening to the kids coming home from school. Perhaps I'm just optimistic.

Unless BT come up with the actual goods (voip doesn't consume much bandwidth), my vote is to go elsewhere.

Sadly it does take a couple of jumps to get somewhere that you can get a service.

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