Audacious MVNO Promises Clearer Phone Calls

Service targets one of the oldest customer frustrations

A couple of months ago, another new player entered the UK’s congested mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) market. But new entrant Audacious brings something far more original than many value-for-money offers that have sprouted up in recent years.

Audacious has pioneered a technology that can personalize mobile phone calls to suit each person’s unique hearing profile. As the mobile industry obsesses over the deployment of 5G networks, it’s refreshing to hear about a provider seeking to tackle a more fundamental problem for customers.

I got the low-down from CEO Rob Shardlow, who explained that Audacious would mostly benefit the almost one in six of us who have some form of hearing loss. In the UK, this amounts to about 11 million people, a huge potential market to go after. In fact, the service could be attractive to almost any mobile user seeking better call clarity, particularly if they’re often in noisy or busy places.

So, how does it work? Sound is compressed when it travels over a mobile network, meaning that the highest and lowest frequencies are lost, making it harder to hear the person on the call. Audacious adapts the frequencies to improve the clarity using technology from Goshawk Communications, developed by Audacious founder, Matthew Turner.

The clever part is that all the technology is housed in the core of a mobile network — Audacious is partnering with EE for this — so people don’t need to change their phone to take advantage of the technology, they simply buy a new SIM card. The technology works for inbound and outbound calls, whether originating from a fixed-line or a mobile network.

There’s no need to take time out to visit a shop or arrange an appointment; a simple online test can create an audio profile in just five minutes by working out which sounds you hear best. All you need is a computer, your mobile phone and a quiet place. I took a sound check and was really impressed by the stronger call quality that I could receive if I were to take out an Audacious SIM card.

As people’s hearing changes over time, and because each mobile phone delivers sounds slightly differently, it’s possible to take a sound check again any time. Audacious then simply tweaks the hearing profile to maintain the quality, without a user having to do anything more.

Of course, launching a new service into a cutthroat market alongside established brands is a tough ask. To encourage trial, it recently introduced a new £1 per month taster plan, available until 31 January 2020. This sits alongside two main packages, both with unlimited minutes and texts, priced at £10 and £20 per month with 5GB and 10GB of data respectively.

Audacious also offers a 28-day money-back guarantee with all tariffs on a monthly rolling basis, so there’s no long-term commitment.

The benefits of Audacious could go way beyond just better phone calls. Mr Shardlow pointed to a proven link between hearing loss and dementia, for example. He also highlighted a stigma associated with hearing aids that he believes the service can help overcome. The average age to take a hearing test is 70, much later than a sight test, he said, and often many years after hearing loss has begun to set in. Indeed, 40% of 50-year-olds have some form of hearing loss according to Action on Hearing Loss. However, Mr Shardlow was keen to stress that an Audacious SIM card can offer clearer calls to practically everyone.

The market for voice calls may no longer be as lucrative as it once was, but mobile-originated call volumes rose 5% during 2018, according to UK regulator Ofcom. Indeed, the average mobile customer used 170 minutes each month in 2018, more than 30 more than in 2013. This is an encouraging trend for Audacious, whose timing could also benefit from Ofcom’s new switching rules that make it easier to change provider.

Another advantage for Audacious is that it can tap into a distribution network that differs from most other mobile providers. This includes audio shops and opticians, in theory offering a quick path to a strong high-street presence. This is crucial to establishing awareness without making a significant marketing investment, often the biggest challenge to a fledgling mobile service.

The UK launch is far from the extent of Mr Shardlow’s ambitions. The company may look to expand to other countries by licensing the technology to international operators should it perform well in the UK. He hinted that there’s already interest from providers in Europe, North America and Asia.

Audacious brings a refreshingly different approach to targeting a mature and commoditized market. If the service can perform well and gather good awareness, it could prove very successful.