If 2001 was the year the mobile phone boom ended, 2002 looks set to
be the year the industry grows up. The patchwork organisations of global
operators are to rebrand into recognisable international brands, while
the industry acts to get its house in order in advance of the arrival of
new technology - all of which will require a great deal of work to keep
customers and pundits informed.
WestLB Panmure telecoms analyst Benedict Evans says the decline in sales
is indicative of market change. 'Everyone worth having as a customer has
a mobile now. Rather than subsidising handsets and acquiring customers
the issue now is retaining them. This year is going to be seen as
breathing space before 3G launches and the upgrade process starts all
'The operators' PR task is to get customers to identify with their
brands rather than their rivals. In the next couple of years, price will
essentially become subordinate to brand both through emotive links and
the services firms offer,' he adds.
Last month, the freshly demerged mmO2 captured the prevailing mood of
the industry when it announced it was delaying the launch of 3G services
until 2003. But while companies' launch dates for the service vary, the
strategy of educating the public about it is a common challenge.
Vodafone is pressing ahead with plans to introduce the service by year
end. But head of corporate communications Anna Cloke says operators must
exercise caution in its promotion.
'When WAP was introduced, we saw a huge amount of hype from some parts
of the industry, claiming it would be an amazing service. It was a huge
leap forward, but the hype created false expectations and some
commentators were disappointed with what was delivered.'
Cloke says the introduction of the 'next generation' mobile service -
'we don't call it "3G" as it doesn't mean anything to people' - should
be seen as evolution, rather than revolution.
One2One director of comms Neil Lovell, who is reviewing all his firm's
PR needs, agrees: 'We want the technology to be invisible and for people
to buy based on the services they will get.'
Evans says PR surrounding existing offers will not be hampered by the
impending arrival of 3G. 'The bulk of pre-pay customers now have an
18-month-old handset. When they see one on sale with a colour handset
and GPRS (new mobile technology similar to broadband in its expected
impact), they'll buy it.'
Even without 3G, change is afoot in 2002. Names such as BTCellnet and
Genie will be replaced with the pan-European O2 brand, while One2One is
to assume the brand of parent Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile. UK market
leader Orange is extending its brand to subsidiaries in countries from
Poland to Cameroon, as Vodafone looks to extend its name across other
European markets. All of this as the combatants prepare to do battle
with yet another rival - the licence-winning 3G operator backed by Asian
conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa.
David Nicholas, mm02 media relations head, acknowledges that his firm
faces a major PR challenge. 'It's not just about communicating the brand
externally but communicating our culture internally. We have developed a
strategy to instil a new culture within our 15,000 staff around
At One2One, Lovell believes his company's new branding will enable
T-Mobile to continue acquiring customers, particularly among the
business community. 'T-Mobile is not exclusively a business brand, but
it makes sense that if people are using their phone in the UK they can
use the same brand when they travel abroad - that particularly applies
to business users.'
Operators are now taking strides to convince investors and
opinion-formers of their business models following a hugely difficult
Vodafone, perceived as the best-managed of the main operators, is,
according to Cloke, trying to keep people informed through transparency.
'We want to ensure people have access to the right individuals here so
they can be confident of our strategy,' he says.
Orange has similar plans. 'A big priority is to educate the markets that
we're a serious business,' says Denise Lewis, group director of
One2One, meanwhile, is preparing for a potential IPO this year, meaning
it too will need strong market links.
With the mobile telecoms sector maturing to match its market, one area
of certainty at least is that their comms teams will be busy.