January 14, 2013 8:26 pm

BT app heaps pressure on mobile operators

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A new smartphone app from British Telecom will let customers connect their landline tariffs to their smartphones as the telecoms group seeks to benefit from customers looking for ways to minimise their mobile phone bills.

The “SmartTalk” app hooks up a customer’s smartphone with their home calling plan and its perks, such as free evening and weekend calls, as well as cheaper calls home from abroad.

The move puts further pressure on mobile operators who in recent years have had to compete with “IP-based comms” – products which use an internet connection to field calls and text messages, rather than standard mobile networks.

John Petter, a managing director at BT, said: “[Mobile operators] will not be celebrating today, but this is not geared to getting a reaction. It’s about giving customers what they are asking for.”

Similar products from companies such as Skype and Viber are available, but this is the first time that a large landline operator such as BT, which has almost 20m customers in the UK, has given customers access to their landline tariffs on their smartphones. Virgin Media announced a similar product in November, which is set to be released later this year.

James Barford, telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, said: “The operators are generally worried about IP-based comms substituting for voice traffic, which includes email, social networking and texting apps as well as Skype et al, with total UK mobile minutes now in decline in part due to this, so I doubt the entry of BT and Virgin Media will make a big difference to the overall environment.”

“Over-the-top” apps, such as WhatsApp – which allows users to send unlimited amounts of text for free to other WhatsApp users, effectively bypassing mobile operator tariffs – have become increasingly popular.

“The downside [for BT] is that it’s a very crowded market for similar apps now, with apps such as Skype and Viber available,” said Mr Barford.

BT hopes that the app will appeal to less technologically-savvy users, who may not be aware of other companies offering similar products. “The benefit for us is that it reinforces BT’s central role in the life of the household,” said Mr Petter. “It makes us relevant to our customers’ lives.”

The app is available on Android, the Google-owned operating system used in Samsung phones, and Apple’s iOS operating system. The app works over 3G and 4G networks, although BT said that it worked best when a smartphone was connected to a WiFi network.

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