Image Credit: Jimmy Chang

Where are the good Mobile Networks?

Danny Smith
Jun 19, 2017 · 4 min read

In recent years, a lot of industries have been “disrupted” by tech companies. It’s been great to see some of the more awkward consumer services we use daily get challenged too.

Banking, insurance, utilities and mobile networks are traditionally a nightmare for customers. Each provides a service that everyone needs, but the companies that provide them have very little incentive to care about their customer’s needs.

As a customer, I associate these industries with nightmare call centres, paper bills, unreliable technology and poor service. As a developer, I associate them with legacy infrastructure and bureaucratic, costly, bloated business operations.

Thankfully, the likes of Monzo, Starling et al. are fixing this in banking. There are a few firms doing the same with insurance — Lemonade and Neos with home, DigitalRisks with business, BackMeUp, Arowana and Trov with gadgets & things. Bulb are making inroads with electricity and gas supply.

So it seems like we’re on the right track. Except for the mobile networks.

The Big Four UK mobile networks

Why is nobody disrupting the mobile networks?

I got to thinking about this today, and I’ve really got no idea. It seems to me to be a space that’s wide open to a fresh, new entrant. The obvious answer is the cost of infrastructure. Mobile networks need cell towers, complex telephony kit and and all the rest — which are prohibitively expensive.

Except that it’s possible to piggyback off an existing provider’s infrastructure, much like Tesco Mobile and GiffGaff piggyback the O2 network. There’s a complete list here.

The only contender I can find is Tello (thanks, Iain), who piggyback the 3 network, and their offering is hardly ground-breaking.

So what might a hypothetical modern mobile network look like?

Well, assuming decent 4G coverage and readiness for 5G in a few years, let’s start with some basics:

  • A smallish team with good engineers, who build software to help run the company. This should mean fairly low overheads.
  • A good product/design team, so stuff looks nice and works properly.
  • An decent mobile app (unlike EE’s abomination).
  • Nice, fast and friendly in-app customer support via chat: with actual people who understand the company and can fix your problems. Monzo are brilliant at this.
  • An online community of some sort.

All of that stuff if pretty much par for the course when it comes to startups, and the combination of community engagement, good design and engineering might make it possible for such a company to develop some pretty cool features.

Here’s My Wishlist

I’ve not given this too much thought, but this is the sort of thing I’d expect to see from such a company…

  • Live data on calls, usage and billing. Live, as in up-to-date to the second. If modern banks can do it, I’m sure telecoms providers can too.
  • API access to my call and usage data, and webhooks for call, SMS and voicemail events.
  • The ability to send texts from my own mobile number via API. This would have to be limited to prevent abuse.
  • The ability to integrate voice calls with other software. Imagine Twilio, but tightly integrated with your personal mobile number. I’m not quite sure how this would work but I love the idea that a third-party company could provide a transcription service for my voicemail, for instance, and all I have to do is authorize the app with my network provider. This would allow the network to act as a platform on which developers could to build voice or SMS apps.

Again, I haven’t given this too much thought, but I’d love a good mobile app that…

The Revolut App
  • Had a live dashboard showing usage graphs and average usage.
  • Let me share data between multiple SIMs. The Revolut app lets you associate multiple cards with your account, and set spending limits on each of them. I’d love the ability to do this with SIM cards and data/call limits. I feel like there’s potential for business telephony here too.
  • Associated multiple phone numbers with a single account. This is something I’ve wanted for years. I’d love to have a second number for business, but short of a multi-SIM phone or in-app calls, that’s not possible at the moment. It shouldn’t be too hard for a network operator to prive additional virtual numbers (either landline or mobile) and internally route calls & SMS from those to the number associated with your SIM. I imagine outgoing calls would be a little more challenging without the cooperation of the OS makers.

It is just me?

I’d certainly be willing to pay for this sort of service, and I can’t help but feel there’s a massive opportunity to tie all this in with business telephony systems, too.

Am I barking mad, or does this seem sensible to you?

Hit me up on twitter 🐦 with your thoughts.

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