When companies I buy a service from send newsletters out they occasionally have some interesting tidbits and so I saw today’s newsletter from EE telling me that I could now make journeys through public transport in London by paying with my phone. I was a part of the recent TFL trial using contactless payment cards, so this was interesting for me – solving one of the problems I saw with the contactless system (waving your credit card around in public is surely just asking to be mugged).
So I follow the instructions and check the list of handsets supported for NFC payment (EE branded as “Cash on Tap”) – surprisingly my fairly new HTC One M8 isn’t on there – what gives? It’s certainly got NFC capabilities. A quick google shows something interesting – Only recently has the HTC One M7 been added – that handset was released almost 18 months ago. I couldn’t understand what was going on until I spotted the fine print – “These devices have been securely tested by EE and MasterCard®.”
Now, I know what’s involved in protecting credit card transactions and rightly so – fraud is a multi-billion dollar industry funding all manner of criminal enterprises. However, if you’re telling me that EE is taking 18 months to test new handsets (NFC payments have been out on EE for quite some time), then they really need to review the process. Those people with the highest amounts of disposable income are likely to be the same people who renew their handset every 2 years on a new contract, so an 18 month delay in rolling things out to the customers most likely to make use of this isn’t really on.
Sadly, it’s a trend we see across the industry. My inbox is full of promising new technologies (including a fair amount of vapourware) which larger providers are unable or unwilling to roll out to customers rapidly – and this really is where the smaller ITSP can make a difference. By reacting quickly to customer demand and new technology, they can deliver on these new technologies whilst the large Tier 1’s are still scoping out the deployment project. It’s a pattern I see every day and our customers lean on us to bring the experience of rolling these kinds of features out to the table so help them succeed in delivering. Unfortunately, the mobile industry isn’t really geared for small providers so the large carriers end up stifling the very innovation that they need.
What’s the answer? I really don’t know here – a different regulatory framework might work, perhaps one that splits the network from the handset in much the same way as OpenReach provides the network that thousands of smaller ITSPs use. It may be that LTE will enable a better way of working between the network providers and the service providers, allowing service providers to treat the RAN like a simple access network. We may even find one of the MNO’s suddenly gets off their proverbials and starts reacting better to the technology and userabase. I’m not even sure, given the progress of that industry whether anything will change without a regulatory shakeup, but what I do know is that the customer experience is suffering. The current system doesn’t promote innovation – something needs to change.