Unlimited Surfing Claim All Wet
The launch by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE) yesterday of the smartphone known as SPV (see Orange Uncovers Its SPV) was accompanied by an "all-the-data-you-can-eat" claim that has failed to stand up to scrutiny.
The customer data package sounded so good at the launch event -- £6 ($9.30) for all the access and use of online sites that a customer could manage -- that at the end of the presentation the unlimited-access claim was questioned. Richard Brennan, executive VP for Orangeworld and Brand, made it clear that, although individual events such as the downloading of ringtones and individually-priced content files would command extra payments, customers on the tariff would be free to access and use regular HTML websites as much as they wished. So although it will cost more to send a picture message, there will be no additional charges for sending emails using a Hotmail account. "All the data you can eat," was the phrase used. This applies to consumers and not corporate customers, who have more standard GPRS tariff packages based on large amounts of data usage.
All you can eat for £6 sounds like an offer Unstrung would like to see at its local Chinese food emporium. However, we would be quite miffed if, when on our 14th plate of spare ribs, the management "had a word" with us because we were eating too much. I mean, it says all you can eat, doesn't it?
Well, it seems that like many tempting offers thrust in front of consumers today, the phrase "Some restrictions apply" should be featured prominently. In Orange's case, it was not even whispered during the presentation or the Q&A segment of yesterday's event. Analysts Unstrung spoke to were sure there were no limits.
Enter the "fair usage policy" that customer contracts will include, which stipulates a 10-megabyte upper limit to data use. An Orange spokesman explains that although any SVP user exceeding this limit would not be charged more, they "would be contacted by Orange" to discuss alternative charging arrangements. This, says the spokesman, is to deter people from using the handset, which provides access to the operator's GPRS data network, as a wireless router for connecting notebook PCs to the Internet and indulging in a month-long orgy of email (my phrase, not Mr. Orange's). "The data bundle is designed for people using the SPV and its functionality," adds the Orange spokesman. But not designed for taking liberties, which Unstrung was planning on doing, to be honest.
This prompts the question: Why not mention this at the event? The presenters, notably Richard Brennan, had two clear opportunities to mention what is not an ungenerous limit. So why was the audience of at least 200 left with the impression that this was a data free-for-all? "[I am] not sure why it wasn't raised," says the spokesman.
Despite this, the Orange man says the company feels it is very important that people know about the 10-Mbyte policy. It has even prepared a table to show what kind of usage would make up that amount of data, since no one knows what data volumes look like. But apparently this wasn't important enough to show reporters en masse. Here's the table.
Table 1: How to Eat 10 Mbytes the Orange Way
|GPRS usage||Size (k)|
|Browse 350 Web pages||7,000|
|Send/receive 70 text emails||700|
|Send/receive 20 emails with attachments||1,000|
|2 downloads (utilities/games)||1,000|
|Browse 100 WAP pages||100|
|1 backup session||200|
|Source: Orange, to give an indication of how 10 megabytes of data usage might be achieved by an average customer|
A couple of analysts who attended the presentation were surprised that such a reasonable limit was not divulged. "It's a case of misinformation, and we don't need that," says IDC senior research analyst Paolo Pescatore. "I got the impression there was no limit."
That view was shared by Gartner/Dataquest senior mobile analyst Ben Wood. "They gave the impression it was unlimited, and having a usage limit is something you have to do, so I don't know why they wouldn't mention it. Most people wouldn't use that amount of data, so it shouldn't be an issue. Orange should be applauded for going down the route of allowing a lot of usage for a small amount of money," adds Wood.
Both analysts believe the joint Orange/Microsoft launch will be upstaged by the launch of Vodafone Group plc's (NYSE: VOD) "Vodafone live!" mobile content offering on Thursday. "I didn't think there was that much new in the Orange offering, though the features on the phone make a difference," says Pescatore. "Improving the user experience is the most important thing. I am expecting more from 'Vodafone live!', " he adds. Wood is also more upbeat about Vodafone's prospects, though he was unable to offer any details at this time.
But Unstrung's man in New York, Dan Jones, has been informed that the Vodafone service will include the unveiling of two very interesting handsets -- one from Sharp Electronics Corp. and one from Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. Ltd. (under its Panasonic brand) -- that could steal Microsoft's thunder.
Guess we’ll find out Thursday!
Meanwhile, November 11 will see the SPV hit the shops, and we are keen to see if there are any restrictions on the nature of the content that can be accessed. Could the SPV become known as the "Soft Porn Vehicle"? Please, no offers from folk willing to try it out. [Ed. note: Wouldn't want anyone to steal your fun, eh, Ray?]
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung