It's 3GSM time, and a flock of British journalists are taking to the skies. I join the migration courtesy of O2, which has hired an entire hotel — if you will, an O-tel [No, I won't, if you don't mind. - Ed. ] — for the event. It is early on Sunday morning and I'm not at my best, but to give the company its due it has the decency to send a cab to haul my mortal remains to the airport.
A melancholic chap, rough around the chin, all distressed features and distressed leather jacket, picks me up from the Goodwinsery. It's a long drive to Gatwick, and there's not much chance of restful silence throughout. Inevitably, I break under interrogation and reveal I'm going to Barcelona for a mobile phone show. "Yeah?" he says, his saffron-ringed eyes queasy in the rear view mirror. "I gotta problem."
Mmm. Know what you mean.
"I'm on pay as you go with Orange, right?" Right. "I signed up for this text service, and now it keeps sending me messages that cost me a quid fifty to look at. I keep topping up the phone, but it's all gone by the time I've made a coupla calls".
"You can just text STOP back to the shortcode."
"Tried that. It shuts up for a bit, then starts again."
"You should let the regulator know. What's the service?"
I do my best to merge with the back seat while staring out of the window. As we're driving through Croydon in the rain, this does nothing for my mood.
Monday 13/02/2006 — Morning
I have dealt with the problem of hundreds of PRs asking me to meet their EMEA business development managers by ignoring most of them and setting up a very few meetings with people I'm actually interested in meeting. This plan falls at the first, as the PRs for those meetings promptly rearrange them and with a tedious inevitability manage to make them all clash. So it's Plan B – select targets of opportunity and dive in out of the sun.
My first big meeting is with O2 itself, which has tastefully chosen 0830 for its rearranged briefing, thus neatly eclipsing my 0930 with CSR across town. This is a reasonably massive affair, at which we learn that everything is going well with the Telefónica takeover, that the 3G network is 'holding up really well' as users move over — I get that from other people about other networks as well, so it looks like the engineering side has matured. Some talk of new roaming tariffs (thank goodness) but no details. If you want to know what O2 will be doing in the UK for enterprises, look at what Telefónica has been making a success of in Spain where its been rolling out managed telephone services for offices.
There's the occasional insight into how operators see their world. 3G, for example, is seen as having a 20-year payback, which is an astonishingly long term view perhaps engendered more from necessity than initial vision. That it will have that sort of life span, though, is more likely — GSM is around fifteen years old and probably slap-bang in the middle of its useful existence.
Other aspects of the briefing echo what will turn out to be big themes of 3GSM itself. HSDPA is gearing up rapidly; mobile TV is making an exhibition of itself but is more of a gamble than perhaps people are letting on, and IP, IP, IP everywhere. In particular, multimedia and instant messaging over IP is coming faster than expected. WiMax is not.
And then its out and off to the show to register.