Welcome to rip-off Ireland – ALTO

19 May 2003

The chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators (ALTO) has launched a scathing attack on Ireland’s two main mobile networks.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by ALTO in Dublin this morning, Iarla Flynn said: “Data from the regulator, ComReg, shows that Irish consumers pay the highest mobile bills in the EU. Vodafone and O2 have claimed that this is because Irish mobile users talk more. So far they have provided no proof to back up these claims. We call on both companies to publish EU-wide comparisons to show exactly how Irish users compare in terms of usage and charging”.

Flynn’s claims were supported by statistics quoted by Damian Blackburn, head of commercial development at Virgin UK, who pointed out that Virgin makes about £136 sterling or €200 a year from its subscribers, the highest of any UK operator. In Ireland, by contrast, average revenues per user stand at about €500 a year.

Blackburn was giving an insight into the success of Virgin as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in the UK. Since its launch in November 1999 Virgin, which provides a service using the T-Mobile network, has won over 2.6 million customers including 250,000 in the first quarter of 2003 alone and current revenues exceed £1m sterling a day.

“Not owning a network allows you to focus on delivering services that customers want and need and make sure that as new technological developments come along you can launch new services that appeal to customers,” he said adding that the strong Virgin brand name and the customer service ethos it represents were driving its success in the mobile area.

Blackburn would not be drawn on whether the firm was looking to enter the Irish market, saying its top priority was to succeed in the US market which it entered last summer.

Flynn believed that the Irish market would benefit from the launch of MVNOs but felt that Vodafone and O2 would not see it in their interest. “For an MVNO to exist requires an existing operator to agree to its network to be used by an MVNO. O2 and Vodafone have never publicly said whether they would support it but they as they would surely see it as bringing competitors into the marketplace.”

He said the best hope lay with Meteor, which has the excess capacity on its network to support another operator but, without a strong brand, had struggled to make an impact on the Irish marketplace.

Apart from the entry of MVNOs, Flynn called for a number of other measures to boost competition in the Irish market, including the implementation of the roaming proposal advocated by Meteor – allowing O2 and Vodafone to use the excess capacity on Meteor’s network in return for access to their networks in Donegal, where Meteor currently has no coverage; rapid implementation of mobile number portability between networks; and decisive action from ComReg to cut the cost of calls made from a land line to a mobile phone.

By Brian Skelly