Vodafone has announced when it will begin to sell the iPhone in the UK and what the tariffs will be. But, if anyone was expecting some sort of real price competition in this over-hyped market, they can forget it. Vodafone's prices are very similar indeed to those of O2, Orange and Tesco. Strange that, muses Martyn Warwick.
Vodafone will begin to sell the iPhone on January 14, well after the Christmas present-buying season is over, as the sales start and just as the reality of January credit card bills hit punters in their depleted wallets.
However, that reality hasn't prevented Vodafone's PR people from building a mountain out of a molehill. By the way they have been playing up the fact that would-be customers (and who knows how many of them there might be out there given that O2, Orange and Tesco are shifting the devices at a rate of knots?) can pre-register to go on a list to buy an iPhone in 24 days time (that's Thursday by the way, if you are really interested) anyone would think that they expect millions of gasping wannabe punters to be queuing round the block for the privilege.
And what an absolute privilege it will be. Vodafone subscribers will be able to pay almost exactly the same as those charged by the three iPhone suppliers in the UK. Once again the Ambassador is spoiling us.
Operators of course can, and do, hide behind the fact that the terms of the deal they have struck with Apple and that nice Mr. Jobs are so opaque and secret that they'd have to shoot us and themselves if they were ever to be revealed to the hoi-polloi. That's why we are left in the dark with the big bills. We just don't know the demands being made of operators by Apple and are therefore unable properly to judge the extent to which we are being ripped-off - or not. But, hey, hazard a guess.
You'll probably be spot on.
Despite the expectation that the ludicrous prices being charged for an lengthy iPhone contract might actually fall as a result of competition (remember competition? That market force that mobile telcos profess so to love and embrace but which in reality they fear and loathe in equal measure), consumers are being fed the line that "competition" here is all about reach and quality of networks.
OK, so O2 has had some bad press over the past few days because of a prolonged network outage but other operators suffer the same pressures on infrastructure and the same glitches and breakdowns and will continue to do so. Smartphones like the iPhone gobble up bandwidth when they are connected to data-heavy applications and services. The networks, of every stripe, find it difficult to cope with demand at peak times and, as everyone knows, the direct result of this is the slowing to a snail's pace of downloads and also a lot of dropped calls. It's the nature of the beast in its present incarnation.
That's why the CEO of Vodafone UK, Guy Laurence, says the company has been augmenting and tweaking its "robust" 3G network for "over a year" now in the expectation that, as smartphones increase in popularity with consumers, it will deliver the "speed and reliability" that subscribers need and expect.
Mr. Laurence tellingly adds, "The iPhone is not a price war, it is a quality of network war and it is one I feel we are very well positioned to win. It's about being the best, not about being the biggest." Yeah? Well time will tell about that.
Vodafone is currently Britain's Number Two mobile operator but could be pushed down to third place in the rankings if the proposed joint venture between Orange UK (part of France Telecom) and T-Mobile UK (Part of Deutsche Telekom) becomes a reality. That's why Vodafone has been pursuing a 3G infrastructure-sharing agreement with O2 (part of Telefonica of Spain) the very company it is getting at when rabbiting on about "robust" networks and "speed and reliability". Necessity makes strange bedfellows.
Vodafone is also making peace with Carphone Warehouse, patching up old quarrels with the retailer as part of a bigger effort to improve its own sales and performance.
So that's it then. Hear that feeble "phut"? It's the sound of a damp squib going off.
Underwhelmed? So you should be. Opportunities missed? Too right. Price competition? Don't make me laugh. Spin? You betcha. Cynical? Oh yes.
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