Mobile Business Awards 2005 – The Best of 2005

The votes are in, the emails have been counted, the hand-picked judging panel has laboured long into the night. Voices have been raised as the arguments raged: who and what really deserve the supreme accolades that come with the Mobile Business Awards? Industrial quantities of pizza and curry fuelled the debate, whole bottles of indifferent red wine lubricated the discussion, the floor grew littered with discarded handsets and abused SIM cards.

And as dawn was breaking on New Year’s Day, a frantically pedaling bike messenger could be seen scampering to the Mobile Business print works, shouting “I have the results! I have the results!”

The Best Phone for Buyers
This is the ultimate accolade for handsets. We defined it as the phone you’d like for yourself – irrespective of price, network, and other considerations. 2005 saw some very strong candidates among the also-rans (and there were a few outright dogs, too) and we could have listed ten or twelve possibles. But the panel found one handset that represents the best mix of design, functions, performance and style

WINNER:
Sony Ericsson K750i
Ok, it could look a bit better than it does; but the K750i feels like the business. It packs in everything bar the kitchen sink (and 3G) – excellent 2mp camera, good and fast games, large and vivid display, a memory card, RDS radio,good battery life … The list just goes on. Performance with power equals top dog.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Nokia 8800
  • Motorola V3i
  • Samsung D600

The Nokia is a fabulous style statement and has one of the best slider mechanisms on the market. The Samsung finally turned up rather too late in the year to impress us sufficiently – we needed some real-world experience to support this award – but it’s clearly going to be a contender next year. The V3i also appeared late, but it is simply the latest incarnation of a brilliant marketing exercise, adding a decent camera and SD memory card to the iconic RAZR.

The Best Phone for Sellers
In this category we were looking for the handset that proved to be the best sell of the year. So it had to have genuine sales appeal, and preferably be a phone that the punters actually asked for. It had to be easy and effective to demonstrate, with lots of strong features and few problem areas. And it had to keep the customer happy: no-one likes returns.

WINNER:
Motorola V3
In a fast-moving world like the handset business, products aren’t expected to last. The RAZR will, and after a year of retailing it’s still attracting attention from buyers. Yes, the battery life is indifferent and until the V3i appeared at the end of the year the spec was a bit underwhelming. But nothing else on the market says style quite like the V3 (especially in black, pink or gold). A phone that sells itself: what more could you want?
RUNNERS UP:

  • Nokia 6230i
  • Samsung D500
  • Vodafone Simply

The Samsung and Nokia are the mainstays of many retailers. The 6230 adds a megapixel camera and an improved colour screen to the basic 6230, and the result is real high-class workhorse. The D500 is a little bit sexier but presses much the same buttons – everything you need in a neat package. The Sagem-built Voda Simply gets its place here because it does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a phone aimed precisely at one market, and it is crafted perfectly for that market.
Another one that sells itself …

The Best Network
The award identifies the network that has the best deals for users, the best relationships with dealers and retailers, the best coverage (nationally and internationally) and the best performance – which we defined as the fewest line dropouts when driving at speed down the M4. And when we started to look at the evidence, it turned out to be a particularly difficult one to decide.

WINNER: O2
O2 gets the award for doing the basics well. It has carved out a solid position for itself by appealing to the text-hungry youth market with its SMS-heavy bolt-ons, and there are sound reasons why it has 15m UK subscribers. It has also managed to maintain generally good relations with the channel, and its network of elite dealers is particularly impressive in its enthusiasm for the network. Then there’s the launch of i-mode – a possibly risky but undeniably bold and probably imaginative way to sell the mobile internet to more users. And it has some good own-brand handsets on top of that.
RUNNERS UP:

  • T-Mobile
  • Vodafone
  • Virgin Mobile

T-Mobile gets its place here for U-Fix is a set of price plans that aren’t as immediately easy for the punters to understand as T-Mobile thinks, but once the explaining has been done they do look like a good deal for many consumers – which makes them easier to sell, if not particularly profitable. Vodafone is here primarily for its 3G offerings, which represent the richest offer available to the UK public. And Virgin Mobile’s regular appearance in the customer-satisfaction charts wins it a place among the big boys.

The Best Distributor
What makes a good distributor? We think it comes down to confidence, and in particular the ability to give a sense of confidence to the dealer. So as well as access to a good mix of products, the dealer should feel that their distributor will go the extra mile – to get deliveries out on time, to come up with exclusives and specials, to provide sensible and effective sales material, to offer useful management tools like virtual stores. A tough spec to meet, but we had some good input here.

WINNER: Mainline Distribution
Yes, Mainline is Orange-only (and part-owned by orange too) so you won’t get the same range of products and deals that you might see from an unaffiliated distributor. But the deals are still there; and, more important, so is an impressive professionalism in dealing with dealers. The point-of-sale material is excellent, the incentives programme is good, the and in general “you can believe what they say” as one nomination put it.
RUNNERS UP:

  • Elite Distribution
  • 20:20
  • Avenir Telecom

No distributor stood out as strongly as Mainline for 2005, but there was a strong showing towards the end of the year with good offers and solid dealer support from these three.

The Best Dealer Manager
We started with two dozen candidates, which augers well for the mobile industry – it’s gratifying to see that there are so many good people in the distributors. But it didn’t make our job any easier. We tried to weight the quality of the citations; and we did  back through our Dealer Manager of the Month names, especially those that had been nominated more than once.

WINNER: Roy Abbott, Anglia Telecom
It was tough to select just one individual, but we liked Roy’s longevity (a dozen years with Anglia) and the fact that he has been a dealer too. On top of that, he had a particularly impressive reference from one of his dealers that concluded “This is the kind of service that gives us confidence in dealing with our customers”. Which, ultimately, is what you want from a DM.

The Most Profitable Product
This one isn’t just a question of the difference between the price a dealer pays and the how much he can sell for. We were looking at a broader and more rigorous definition of margin, trying to take into account the true costs of selling that product: if it takes a long while to sell, could that time have been better spent selling more of something else? If the buyer is on the phone every other day with trivial queries, you have to factor in those costs.

WINNER: Vodafone Data Card
Our award goes to a product with a high retail price, good gross margins, a relatively easy sell, and few returns. It also adds value to other purchases, and helps to build a long-term relationship with the customer. What more could you want? The Vodafone scores over the competition (O2, T-Mobile, Orange) because while they all do the same thing – 3G/GPRS/WiFi access to email and the internet plus SMS – the Vodafone has a slightly better control program for the user’s laptop. And it runs with Macs as well as Windows, so the potential market is a bit wider.

The Best Accessory
We think accessories are important, both for the extra revenue and because they can build a relationship with the customer. There’s a lot to be said for selling accessories; it increases the value per sales visit if you can sell something else to the handset purchaser, and it certainly increases the value per customer if you can retain that business for future sales. Under the broad heading of ‘accessories’ we looked at a huge range of options, from handset insurance and roaming SIMs to lanyards and stick-on phone jewelry, but Bluetooth pressed all the right buttons – and our winner pressed them hardest.

WINNER: Jabra SP500
It may not be particularly glamorous product area, but a Bluetooth speakerphone for hands-free use in the car is one of those things that ought to be a must-have for anyone who drives on business. And the SP500, launched in the Spring, turned out to be one of the best examples we’ve seen. Ok, it’s not as neat or compact as some of its competitors; and the styling is characteristic, to say the least. But the comparatively large size and the weight (a chunky 170g) has gone into an excellent loudspeaker that genuinely gives enough undistorted volume for the SP500 to double efficiently as a conference-call speakerphone back in the office. Solid, easy to use, very effective, and a pretty sexy RRP around £50.

The Best Mobile Joke
Excluding all references to the networks’ attitude to independents and the perennial shortage of the handsets that are promoted most heavily on TV, we found this politically incorrect offering always raises a smile among the Awards Committee members.

WINNER: Blonde in the supermarket
On the whole, the young man who was pretty happy to be married to his young blonde wife; so he bought her a fancy mobile (probably a Vertu) for their first wedding anniversary.
She was thrilled. And the next day at the supermarket, her new phone rang. “Hi babe. How do you like your new phone?” asked the eager hubbie.
“I love it,” she replied, “But there’s just one thing I don’t understand.”
“What’s that, pumpkin?”
“How on earth did you know I was at Asda?”

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