I’ve been talking to Alex on and off by email and over IM for quite a while now, particularly as he’s been making some really valid (and brilliantly cynical comments and contributions) here on the blog for some time. As Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of SendMyTxt, his comments come with the context, awareness and experience of one who works day to day in the mobile industry. (You won’t believe what his current ringtone is, though, make allowances as he’s a Spooks fan — I can’t wait for the next series.)
Reading through the answers to his questions as I marked them up to publish, I couldn’t help but smile in recognition of some of the situations and points he makes about the industry.
Right then! To the questions… mobile brick phones at the ready!
1. What was your first phone and network?
A Motorola M400 (the dreaded flip without a flip) on One2One. In fact, I’ve got it in my hand at the moment. 300 grams of pure brick power. I got it back in 1994 for my 18th birthday, and it cost £350 from a car audio shop in Dulwich, South London. All my birthday money went on it, which is sad really – nowadays kids seem to be able to get new phones with their pocket money each week, and still have change left over to top up and blow all their credit on ringtones!
2. What is your current mobile configuration? (Handsets, networks and so on)
After a while of trying to live with two handsets – one for work and one for personal, I gave up and stuck with the work one. It’s a Sony Ericsson P910i on a Vodafone group tariff, which is fab as we get to share minutes, texts, and can call each other (or the office) for free. However, there’s not much love lost between us and Vodafone – which is why we’re changing to Orange. My new shiny Nokia N80 is sitting here waiting for number porting.
3. What was your first exposure to working with the mobile industry?
I put together a monitoring system for BSkyB’s website back in about ’98 – which alerted the webmaster via SMS if anything went down. It relied on a load of modified paging software, and an old analog modem that dialled up to each network in turn to send a text. They didn’t charge anyone for the service, so given a big enough bank of modems you could have theoretically run a ‘free sms’ website.
4. What is your current day to day role?
I’m CTO (and co-founder) of SendMyTxt, a mobile services company based here in the UK – so day to day my role is quite varied. We operate a flat company structure and all ‘muck in’ with the daily chores, so I can be working through the technicalities of a new interconnect one minute, on the phone to a customer the next, and then later might be in a pre-sales meeting. Variety is not only the spice of life, but keeps your brain ticking over – and helps breed new ideas and ways of thinking.
5. When was the last time you sent a picture message and a video message?
Got to admit it’s not been for a while. I got a cross-network MMS the other day, which downloaded about 50% and promptly aborted itself – taking the MMS notification with it. Last time I sent anything was when I got a parking ticket, and couldn’t get the photos I’d taken off my phone – so I sent it to my email via MMS.
6. List the UK mobile networks and give your experience of them?
Here’s the interesting thing – it’s always changing. My opinion of them a year ago is so different to now, and will probably change in the future. But anyway, here goes.
Vodafone – Used to be great in all ways, the leaders, innovators, and all round rock solid network performance. Nowadays, having spent too much money on F1 drivers to advertise their brand, I feel they’ve lost their way. Oh, and we’ve had nothing but trouble with our handsets – which is why we’re going to Orange. As for the SMS side, hmm. Got to say that a lot of the time their SMS platform – both premium and free to user – seem to run like treacle having a race with a milk float.
Orange – I’m more impressed as each day goes by. Their continued innovation and ‘different way’ of looking at things fits in well with my ethos. Remains to be seen how great their handset service is, as I’ve never used Orange for my primary mobile service.
T-Mobile – still have nightmares from the one2one days. No matter how much rebranding they do, I still think of their awful customer service, technology and general drabness from back in the day. Personally you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to use them as a main handset provider, but that’s just my 10p worth.
O2 – Used to be good, but where’s the spark gone? I remember Genie being the best thing since sliced bread – but O2 in their infinite wisdom killed it off. Shame, it had real potential.
3 – I had a 3 Motorola phone ages back. Wasn’t at all impressed by the quality of the network (I seemed to spend most of the time on O2), and the 3G features weren’t all that. Fast forward to today, and well, maybe it’s just me being sucked into their marketing and PR spin, but I’m impressed. They seem to be constantly innovating.
7. Name three innovative mobile services or applications that you’ve seen recently? Say why you think they’re good.
Oh gosh, this is a hard one. Some of our customers at SendMyTxt have come up with some really impressive services over the past few years, but I wouldn’t want to favour any particular one. In terms of stuff that isn’t related to work, I’m still impressed with Shazam – it’s both lost and saved me a few quid in pub bets over the years. Nothing much in the UK has really grabbed me recently.. so I’m either so used to SMS that nothing seems new anymore, or we really aren’t innovating like we used to (see my rant about the networks!)
8. What’s your ringtone?
Depends who’s calling. At the moment my main tone is the theme from the TV series Bewitched. I usually make my own ringtones from CDs and the like, so I get exactly what I want and don’t have to pay for it 🙂
9. Which are the most used applications and services on your main handset?
My web browser for accessing email on the go (Gmail and Outlook Mobile Access), and (rather shamefully) Solitaire. I’d never really played cards until I got stuck on a long train journey one day, so fired it up and learnt how to play. I hope I can find a version on the N80, otherwise I’m gonna have to carry both phones around!
10. Which three people do you most rate in the mobile industry?
Tough call. John Davies at Cable & Wireless is a top bloke, and although he’s a bit far away to have a pint with since he emigrated to New Zealand, I owe him quite a few. There’s so many other people I’ve dealt with over the years that have come and gone, probably too many to mention here though. Oh, and of course you Ewan. The man with the master plan. I really enjoy reading your blog and contributing, long may it continue..
11. What was your mobile bill last month? What do you think is a fair amount to pay for your mobile service each month?
Actually I don’t know.. I only ever know it’s been a high usage month when I get a rather pissed off beancounter on the phone asking whether I ever get the chance to sleep. Most of my bill nowdays is data, as I’m always on the ‘net when I’m out and about.
12. How many times have you voted for Big Brother? 😉 Assuming you did – or pretend you did – do you think you should get your money back since they’ve put a whole load of those housemates voted out back in?
Actually I don’t think I ever have. Not intentionally anyway. As for the whole refund malarky, well I’m undecided. I mean, do people really think their votes do anything? I’ve always had the funny feeling things like these are rigged..
13. What sites do you regularly read to keep up to date with mobile?
Yours of course.. The Register is good for mobile news too. Also sites like BBC News are a great way of seeing a mobile industry story from ‘the other side’ of the fence. It’s good to take a step back and see how the real world views something.
14. What one issue or technological advancement would you like to see with the mobile industry? What are you looking forward to?
Introducing multicast properly and allowing straight to handset broadcast. Wasn’t ‘high speed data’ the whole point of 3G? Why is mobile TV coming over DAB then? You might as well just strap a freeview box to a mobile. If operators gave proper data access and worried less about crap like video calling and walled proprietary multimedia content, it’d create a proper truely open platform for content providers to give consumers what they want.
15. Where do you stand on mobile vs ipod?
I have 1Gb of memory on my SE phone, and regularly keep it loaded up with music, movies, and TV programmes. Watched virtually half a series of Spooks a while back on my little screen. Certainly passes the time on long train journeys.
16. Have you ever bought anything from a shop (ie not a ringtone) via your phone?
I’ve occasionally bought access to sites and services by text before, but apart from that.. can’t say I have.. I’m setup for Paypal Mobile, but still yet to find a real use for it. As for using my browser on the phone, ecommerce can be clunky at the best of times – so I doubt I’d bother try on my mobile.
17. What’s the last movie you saw at the cinema?
Er, this is rather embarrasing. It was the Brit Flick ‘Confetti‘, with Jimmy Carr, Martin Freeman, etc. Got to admit I’m a great fan of torrents, DVDs, and Sky+, so with the £8 plus for a cinema ticket nowdays I’m usually more inclined to stay at home and spend the money on popcorn, chocolate and beer instead. I also keep meaning to go see movies, and by the time I get around to it they’re not on release anymore. Last one I pencilled in to see was ‘The Da Vinci Code’, but wanted to read the book first. Having read the book, the film wasn’t on anymore. Got to wait for the DVD now.. but at least I can transfer that to my mobile and watch it on my travels 🙂
Thanks for taking the time, Alex!