Manufacturers are calling on operators to create a ‘level playing field’ in their tariff structures when giving customers internet access through
They claim that operators are strategically giving preferential treatment to some manufacturers in terms of tariffs, particularly data allowances.
The calls come as operators move closer to manufacturers and align themselves to certain companies through pricing and tariffs.
Operators that distribute the iPhone have created tariffs specifically for that device, with some manufacturers suffering as a result.
The most visible example of this policy is Vodafone, which gives its iPhone customers 1GB of data, while customers who choose to go with another manufacturer are given 500MB.
Orange, which started selling the iPhone last November, has a price plan that includes 750MB of data for iPhone customers per month.
On the other hand, customers that choose the Motorola Dext are offered 500MB of data per month.
The situation raises questions of competition for other manufacturers trying to attract consumers to devices, which they claim are always connected to the network.
Mobile World Congress has only just finished and as expected, manufacturers launched a host of devices.
Over the coming months, Sony Ericsson will be releasing the X10, an Android device. HTC, which has already invested heavily in Android, will be releasing the Legend, Smart and Desire, while numerous others are pushing to move into the internet-enabled devices space.
Informa senior telecoms and media analyst Dario Talmesio says: ‘Apple is very keen for its users to be able to access the internet without having to make a choice.
‘There is no reason why they [Apple and Android] should not be treated equally, but the operators will give preference to Apple as it is still a top selling product.’
Manufacturers are also acutely aware that they may be ‘disadvantaged’ as a result of the set up.
Apple isn’t the only manufacturer that wants its customers to have the freedom to go online, check their emails and update Facebook or Twitter, whenever they want, without the worry of exceeding a data allowance.
One manufacturer source says that one of his company’s main interests is in its handsets being constantly connected to the network.
However, consumers may feel that they are unable to do that if they have a limited amount of internet access and don’t understand the pricing structure. It may stop potential customers from buying the device in
the first place if they think they will get a better deal with another manufacturer.
Currently, operators either state the amount of data available over the
course of a month, give users unlimited internet access with a data figure attached and subject to a fair usage policy, or have completely unlimited
internet access subject to an excessive usage policy.
There are several different models out on the market. O2’s model places no figure on the amount of data a customer can use, but if they use their device to download movies or for peer to peer (p2p) activities they will then come within the excessive usage policy.
It seems like a fair policy, but one source points out that it was probably created as a result of the iPhone and may have placed unexpected strain on the network.
However, the iPhone is not the only player in the market getting some sort of preferential treatment.
T-Mobile, which was the first network to launch Android in the UK, has
created tariffs specifically catering to the demands of its favoured operating platform.
Customers who buy an Android device from T-Mobile will be given 3GB of data access per month. However, other handsets such as the Nokia X6 are bundled with 1GB of data per month – indicating that the operator is re-enforcing its position as ‘The Android network’.
But where does that leave the manufacturers that don’t want to choose one network over the other, and are interested in being available through as many different outlets as possible?
One senior manufacturer says: ‘All the manufacturers are looking for a level playing field.’
Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson marketing director David Hilton says: ‘Operators tell us they like Android devices because they bring choice to the market and I think it is just a temporary situation.
‘I would expect the networks to review their tariffs to bring equality to Android handsets.’
Some point to the fact that operators won’t charge customers if they exceed their data limit – all they do is issue a warning. However, by creating better value tariffs for specific manufacturers they are signalling their position clearly.
And it could prove to be an unwise decision. Over the course of 2010, the market will be flooded with new devices demanding connectivity. Consumers already expect to be able to access the internet on their phones and that trend is unlikely to change.
The choice of devices capable of running internet connected activities is also set to grow again. Those kinds of activities are still being hailed as the future of mobile devices.
One source says: ‘Two years ago, the networks wanted more people to use data and now they have changed their position. Manufacturers have to
respond to the networks making a u-turn.’
It is not only the manufacturers that need to respond. There is a big fight over data set to come, with increasingly mobile-savvy consumers realising they can get more for their money, and possibly sacrificing their preferred device to get there.