Triple play finaly reaches the UK… and WiFi frustration at Heathrow

In London today, visiting the CTO of Sky Didier Lebrat. The UK is finally catching up on broadband penetration but still lagging behind in terms of VoIP. As France boasts over 7,8M VoIP lines using dedicated multimedia boxes offering a primary line service (about 20% of all residential telephony lines, 26% of fixed to national and 46% of fixed to international calls), the UK has just an estimated 2.4M, most of it via softphones for occasional use).
As most network operators are looking at the content and IPTV business, and most appliance vendors and portals enter both the telephony and the content business, it is only logical that a major media player like Sky will be interested to touch the Telco business. Didier himself is an excellent example of the changes in the industry. He worked for France Telecom/Orange in the UK, experiencing the perspective of ISPs and fixed network operators, he was then CTO of Vodafone in Italy where we had met before, experiencing the cellular pure-player view, and finally looking at the strategy of a mass-media group. Triple play in one person !
As I write this from Heatrow, I realize that I can’t connect to the T-Mobile WiFi network via the usual iPass roaming agreement… this is a closed community open only to few unlikely partners. I am amazed to see that still today, mobile operators don’t realize that by remaining so closed in all aspects, they are really creating the urge of many consumers to do without them. The day is coming where all major cities will realize that just like public roads, public buses and trains, even public bicycles (a great success in Paris), public wireless internet access is the infrastructure for the future… and no, existing competition forces are simply not enough to provide it.
Somehow spectrum, this public resource which should serve all, has been highjacked by a few players enjoying healthy 40%+ margins (yes, to pay back a few billions’ worth of licences sometimes) and blocking innovation, notably all forms of wireless data… the whole thing is nonsense. The current situation is exactly as if the government had decided that there would be only toll roads, and the licence to be allowed to build a road would be a billion per kilometer… We would have no cars today. Well, we have no wireless internet today and pollution cannot be blamed.
I don’t think the idea of auctioning scarce resources like frequencies is a bad idea, but failing to ensure that the auctioning process preserves innovation was a major mistake which led to the spectrum being awarded to those with the deepest pockets, not necessarily those offering the best service.