Monday 27 February 2017

Ireland's latest mobile operator goes heavy on data - but light on iPhones

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

James Gray, Consumer Director Hamish White, General Manager; Paul Walsh, Head of Operations at the launch of iD in Dublin. Photo: Naoise Culhane
James Gray, Consumer Director Hamish White, General Manager; Paul Walsh, Head of Operations at the launch of iD in Dublin. Photo: Naoise Culhane
James Gray, marketing director, iD Ireland
iphone
Click to view full size graphic

Today, Ireland's newest mobile operator opens its doors for business. But how does iD, created by Dixons Carphone, compare to rival offerings? Is it here for the long run? Our technology editor looks through its plans and assesses whether it is worth signing up to as an alternative to Vodafone, Meteor, 3 Ireland and the rest

THE BASICS:

What's it all about?

It's a new mobile phone operator launched in Ireland by Dixons Carphone (the new name for Carphone Warehouse after its merger with Dixons). The new operator is called iD.

Is it a brand new network?

It's a new operator, but not a new network. It's basically 3 Ireland's network resold by iD, with its own brand, billing systems and customer service. In other words, it's a 'virtual' operator. It's the result of an EU ruling that forced 3 Ireland to facilitate two new 'virtual' operators in exchange for getting permission to buy O2 Ireland for €780m.

What's its main sales pitch?

The main idea round the plans is flexibility. It lets you chop and change the amount of data, texts and calling minutes you use every month, no matter what plan you're on. Under its system, you have to choose separate (pre-set) amounts of minutes, texts and data. You must choose one of each, but you can chop and change them, like at a deli. Where it offers you a contract, the contract is only to pay off the phone.

Is it good value? Where does it rank compared to others?

It scores well for those who want generous amounts of data, but it's not the best deal you can get if you want a decent amount of calls and texts as well as data. For example, iD offers 20GB of data for €19.50 per month (including basic calls and texts), which is cheaper than any other operator. But 3 Ireland offers 15GB of 4G data with a lot more calls and texts for €20 per month.

Tesco Mobile offers a variety of different packages, but none are data-centric at that price point and the operator does not offer 4G. Vodafone is the most expensive at the cheaper end of the market with 5GB of 4G data and only 'Vodafone-to-Vodafone' calls and texts for €20, but its 4G speeds are much faster.

The new operator also says that 4G is a basic, free default standard for all packages, whereas other operators only offer 4G for some packages or claim that it's a "promotional offer" due to end in a number of months.

Is there a catch?

The only thing that might be called a catch is that you can't choose just one of the elements, like data. You must choose calls and texts as well. So it's not completely flexible.

Also, if you choose a contract to buy a phone (12, 18 or 24 months), you're stuck paying for calls, data and texts for that entire contract. So they're not actually as separate as iD might initially make them out to be. (If you really want to get out of the contract, iD says that they will let you pay off the phone contract, although it doesn't say whether that will be at a premium to the price of the handset or not.) The operator will also miss out on having iPhones at launch and may not even have them in time for Christmas.

PHONES/ UPGRADES

What about upgrading to a new phone mid-contract?

The operator says this is possible but is a little vague about the details. Basically, if you have a handset contract and want to upgrade to a new phone, iD will take back your old phone, determine a value for it, and then add or subtract that value to the contract for the new phone.

Does it have nationwide coverage?

Yes. Its network is the same as 3 Ireland's.

Does it have 4G?

Yes, this comes as standard on all of iD's packages and it will use 3 Ireland's 4G network. The Irish Independent's testing of networks showed 3 Ireland's 4G network returning an average of 9Mbs around the Dublin area, which is fast enough to do almost anything you need on a phone, including high definition video streaming. On the other hand, it's significantly behind Vodafone's 4G speeds, which are between two to three times faster. Vodafone is more expensive, however.

Will it charge extra for tethering (using your phone as a personal wifi hotspot for other devices)?

No. You can use it to connect as many devices online as you like.

Will it have all the top phones?

It only has top phones from Samsung (S6) and HTC (M9) at launch. It has mid-range models from Sony and Huawei and a basic Windows phone from Microsoft (formerly Nokia). The biggest gap, and one of its biggest initial hurdles, is the lack of any iPhones. "We're working on that," said an iD spokesman. "It's not that there's a problem, it's just that we're working with Apple to try and get iPhones."

Does it have its own 08- number prefix?

It will use the 089 prefix, like Tesco Mobile, Lycamobile, 48 and UPC's new mobile operator, due to launch later in the year.

Will it do deals for corporate accounts?

Not at first, according to the company.

Does it have any roaming deals?

No. It doesn't have anything like Vodafone's 'Passport' roaming deal or 3 Ireland's '3 Like Home'. This won't matter so much soon, with roaming rates set to fall by over half next year under EU law and be abolished altogether across Europe in 2017.

Is it a shoestring operation? What about things like customer service?

The operator is investing fairly heavily in this element of its set-up, saying that it has set up a customer service centre in Waterford with over 50 people who will be dedicated to looking after iD customer issues. Overall, it says that it is investing €30m in launching the operation.

Does this mean that the Carphone Warehouse is now going to push iD over other operators in its retail stores?

Yes and no. The company insists that it is committed to being a multi-operator retailer and that it will give honest advice on rival operators within its retail stores. On the other hand, it also says it is about to cut rival operators out from 12 of those stores (within Harvey Norman outlets) and focus solely on iD. That is a noteworthy reduction in retail commitment to Vodafone, Three and Meteor.

Is Ireland the only country wth iD?

No, a sister network - also called iD - was launched a couple of months ago in the UK.

So how does iD Ireland compare with iD UK in terms of pricing?

For heavy data users, the Irish operation is cheaper based on current exchange rates. For example, a 20GB plan on iD UK costs €28 per month with no calling minutes or texts. The same price here gets you 20GB plus 5,000 minutes and 5,000 texts per month. And a 20GB plan here with minimum calling minutes (100) and texts (100) costs €19.50 per month. So it seems that we're not being ripped off.

Is this the same company that was hacked a couple of weeks ago?

It's in the same corporate group, but Irish executives insist that the UK and Irish operations are completely separate. A spokesman told the Irish Independent that none of the customers who signed up to pre-register for iD here (submitting their names and phone numbers) were affected by the parent group's data breach, which affected 2.4 million of Dixons Carphone's UK customers.

Is this operator here to stay?

The company says that it aims to achieve 6pc market share within five years. It's an ambitious target given the competition now emerging at that end of the market. It's not just Tesco Mobile (which currently has 6pc), 48 and Postmobile that stands in its way. It's the new mobile operator that UPC will soon launch, which will be based on bundles with its TV and broadband services. And then there's 3 Ireland and Meteor, neither of which will give up market share without a fight. Vodafone Ireland is prepared to let some of its prepay customers go, but only up to a point. And it is currently the only operator making significant profits in the Irish market, so it has a warchest if competition gets intense.

Does this change the Irish market?

It is another step in making Ireland a more competitive market. By some metrics, Ireland is already one of the cheapest mobile markets in Europe: few other countries offer 15GB to 20GB of data, plus some calls and texts, for €20 per month. But you can't have that kind of competition without some players facing tough times. Pressure could soon come to bear on the operators with the smallest market share, including Postmobile and 48.

What's the bottom line? Is it worth trying?

The operator's way of letting you pick a tariff is a novel one and gives you more flexibility than rivals. For consumers, it's a pity that it doesn't go the whole hog and let you simply pick a data package or a calling minutes package or a texting package. By forcing you to choose calls and minutes, as well as data, the operator is making you pay for things you may not need. On the other hand, it has to make money somehow and it is pretty good value, overall.

Killbiller, an Irish mobile price comparison service, estimates that iD plans would trail Tesco Mobile as the cheapest operator for the majority of Irish people (32pc versus Tesco's 42pc) whose phone consumption patterns it currently tracks.

However, Killbiller says that iD would end up being the cheapest 4G service available for three-quarters of Irish people who use 4G services. (Killbiller's estimates are based on 32,000 phone users with an average of 1.7GB monthly data, 220 calling minutes and 120 SMS messages per month.)

How iD Compares to existing customers

Cost Data Minutes Texts

iD €29 20GB 5,000 5,000

Vodafone €301 GB 5,0005,000

3 Ireland €25.41 *15GB 350 350

Meteor €30* 5GB 45,000 10,000

Tesco Mobile €30 15GB 10,000 10,000

Postmobile €20 3GB 250 250

* 3 Ireland offers 350 'flexi-units' which are minutes or texts. It also offers free calls between 3 Ireland accounts on this plan. It also offers a pre-pay option with the same features for €20 per month. Meteor has an online-only offer of €31.20 per month for an additional 10GB per month.

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