Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 29/11/2005This is more like it. We're at the IBC Euroforums Nordic Telecom Summit, listening to Marie Ehrling, chief executive of Swedish ex-state telco Telia Sonera.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Tuesday 29/11/2005

This is more like it. We're at the IBC Euroforums Nordic Telecom Summit, listening to Marie Ehrling, chief executive of Swedish ex-state telco Telia Sonera. She's upbeat but non-controversial, presenting a familiar story about how exciting wireless is, how it's not true that Telia tries to protect old technologies and markets and slow down the adoption of new ideas — whatever anyone says. It is all very familiar to anyone who's enjoyed a BT press conference, as is the discontinuity between the picture painted by Ehrling and the experience of her customers. My pal in the Swedish farmlands still hasn't got a date for broadband — but apparently the Swedish Prime Minister is buying a holiday home nearby and even in that painfully egalitarian world this makes a big difference.

Ehrling's followed by Schlomo Liran, chief executive of 3 Scandinavia. Full of beans, he's not afraid of controversy. He points out that thanks to aggressive mobile price cuts, people are switching over from fixed lines and that there'll come a time when that's true for broadband as well. Swedish telecom prices have fallen dramatically — it used to be one of the most expensive places for phone calls, but now mobile tariffs are roughly five pence a minute. He complained that termination costs — which is what one telco charges another to accept a call — were nearly double that, so every time someone called a Telia number from 3, 3 was losing money. Telia was fighting 3's efforts to change that and set termination costs at 50 percent of the total call costs, but it was up to the regulator.

And then he got even bolder. Posing beneath a picture of Madonna's crotch — Madge having launched her new album in conjunction with 3 in the Nordics — he declared that his music playing phone was "the Super iPod" and 3's online music delivery system was "Super iTunes". And there were the PowerPoint slides to prove it. As Andrew Marvell wrote in his famous poem, "Let's Get It On Before It Drops Off" — "At my back I always hear, Apple's winged lawyers hurrying near".

Thing is, he's right. Once you get the prices down, the question of whether you want your phone to be an iPod is moot. It is, whether you want it to be or not. If you can stream media to your phone without any extra cost, why do you want storage? A flat-rate subscription model that combines a Napsteresque all-you-can-hear deal on the music and a very high cap on inclusive data transfer, and you're unbeatable.

Ah yes, flat rate. I buttonholed him after his talk and asked "But won't it take flat-rate to make it all work over 3G?" "We have flat-rate 3G here," he said, in one of those responses that journalists find as unwelcome as they are informative. "Oh, really? How much?" seemed a sensible response. "Around €40 a month. No cap."

"And when high speed 3G comes in?" I asked, remembering how impressed I'd been with the Isle of Man's HSDPA network. "Well, we can't make it any more expensive, can we?" he said. "And you make money at that?" "Oh yes," he said. "No question".

So: if 3 Scandinavia can make money selling a flat-rate uncapped mobile broadband service at what would come out at around thirty quid a month, why are we paying through the nose in the UK? And doesn't that enable a whole world of other new services? I mean, forget about DBV-T and all these other mobile TV ideas, just stream over the Internet from your home digital TV receiver and you're done.

3 UK? O2? Voda? T-Mobile? This is the future calling, chaps. Hello? Hello?

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