Skip to main content

Only 10 years ago -- a lifetime in the world of technology -- U.K. cellular connections stood at 6.8 million.

Today, there are 62.5 million mobile subscriptions, more than the total U.K. population. The figure accounts for some users who have two phones -- one for business, one for play -- as well as discarded SIM cards.

The U.K. is one of the most competitive mobile markets in Europe, and one that adopts early and fast, says Nick van Veen of Forrester Research Inc. With only 11 per cent of U.K. users owning a 3G (third generation) handset, Mr. van Veen expects that figure to rise to 68 per cent by 2010.

Story continues below advertisement

Forrester puts the country's end-of-year 2005 user penetration rate at 77 per cent, a figure that is expected to grow and peak at 81 per cent by 2010. It's a shift that will see the complete disappearance of GSM-type phones from 21 per cent in 2005, and shrinkage to 31 per cent of GPRS phones, which dominated the market in 2005 at 68 per cent.

"Right now, most people care about design and simplicity," he says. "Most people aren't focusing on the new available features."

With mobile operators spending billions of dollars in obtaining 3G licenses, all eyes are on new revenue generators. Besides voice, the big money-makers in the mobile world are SMS, or text messages -- 100 million are sent a day -- and ring tones.

In a market that will be worth close to $30-billion by 2007, according to the Wireless World Forum, mobile operators, content producers and service providers are creating new business models and marketing schemes.

In the U.K., four operators dominate the market -- Vodafone, O2, Orange and T-Mobile. Add to that 3, a fifth player that pushed the sector in a more aggressive direction with its entry into the market in 2003 with a focus on 3G technology.

Now that the race is on, the question is which ideas will stick.

The climate in the cellular industry is reminiscent of the pre-dot-com bubble days. Such events as MobileMonday, which brings together industry insiders, allow companies to show off their latest "killer apps" and content -- such as mobile payments, mobile dating, repurposing of such on-line applications as eBay and Skype, and a stream of new bells and whistles.

Story continues below advertisement

In all the hype, mobile broadcasting is the new buzz term. Two recent trials for new mobile television services indicate that the market is out there -- people want to watch television while on the go.

One service that's taken off is 3's See Me TV, which allows subscribers to generate their own video content and share it with others on a "cash for clips" basis on the company's mobile video channel. Already, the site has seen upward of four million downloads.

Where do Canadian companies fit into the U.K. mobile boom?

At the recent 3GSM summit in Barcelona, the Canadian embassy launched a dedicated Web link to Canadian players ( http://www.canada3gsm.com), and at least two are making dents in the U.K. market: OZ Communications Inc. and AirG, also known as Air Games Wireless Inc.

OZ, which is based in Montreal, opened an office in London about two years ago and aims to capture a market in which 9 million people younger than 15 own a mobile phone and the average age at which a child gets a phone is 8, according to Wireless World Forum. It would be a natural fit for OZ, which enables mobile messaging using AOL, MSN and Yahoo as the interface, says spokeswoman Beverly Wilkes.

Similarly, AirG -- a privately owned Vancouver company that employs 100 people -- is keen to get a piece of the U.K. pie. Fred Ghahramani, the company's managing director, started it with two partners in 2000. AirG operates in 30 countries and specializes in mobile gaming and mobile-based social communities.

Story continues below advertisement

The Canadian companies face fierce competition, Mr. van Veen says.

"U.K. is a market where twenty to thirty per cent of subscribers move to another operator because they want a new phone or better deals," Mr. van Veen says. "Now that we're almost at the point of saturation, the pressure is on to find other ways of making money. With the plethora of services, time will tell in terms of what sticks."

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter