A new MVNO called Audacious, which targets people with hearing difficulties, will launch in the U.K. in August, the company announced at the MVNO World Congress in Amsterdam last week. Audacious plans a SIM-only service with three plans, using technology from Goshawk Communications, a company supported by Manx Telecom.
Audacious will operate as an independent MNVO, led by CEO Rob Shardlow. The company targets people with hearing loss who need assistance in hearing mobile calls. Its goal is to sign up 600,000 clients by 2023, as well as to look at international expansion, Shardlow said.
Audacious’ service is based on technology embedded in the mobile signal and requires no app on the customer’s own device. After an online hearing test, a profile of the new customer’s hearing characteristics is created and loaded onto the SIM card. The service then works automatically, adjusting the sound of a call to the frequency that is best for the customer’s profile. The profile can be adjusted at any time.
After seven years of testing, the technology achieved Class 1 Medical Certification by the EU. In 2018 Goshawk and Manx Telecom rolled it out on the Isle of Man under the name of MTclearSound, with the result was that 9 out of 10 people reported experiencing clearer mobile phone calls and easier communication.
Audacious said that around 40 percent of people have experienced some hearing loss by the age of 50, opening up a significant potential market. Young people who listen to more and more music over headphones and at festivals and concerts will increase the ranks of the target group over time.
Many are the MVNO launches that target a pre-existing customer base with special marketing but little in the way of special services or features. This one promises to be quite different. Audacious intends to provide mobile services tailored to the needs of a disabled community, and the value-added aspect of this offering lies not in plan features or pricing but in a the very nature of its signal transmission.
Audacious cannot claim credit for having pioneered this hearing-loss-profiling-and-compensating technology; that must go to Manx Telecom on the Isle of Man in the U.K., which developed it in partnership with Goshawk Communications and debuted it in 2018. However, the new company envisioned a wider distribution for it, and the SIM-only, virtual-network model appears to be a good way to achieve that at low cost. CEO Rob Shardlow is likely correct in his belief that there is potential for international expansion.
What we find particularly exciting about this technology is how it is bound up with the very nature of mobile networks. Brian Moore, a professor at Cambridge University and one of the world’s top authorities on auditory perception, worked with Goshawk and Manx Telecom and developed algorithms that measure hearing loss via a mobile phone signal. With these measurements in hand, the operator can then compensate for the losses, on its own end, without needing to make any adjustments to the user’s device. The fact that it is apparently device-agnostic vastly increases the potential reach of this solution.
While the hard of hearing may seem like a small demographic, it is not necessarily so. For one thing, many older users have some degree of hearing loss, and the MT/Audacious system can improve the user experience for them, as well as for those with more severe disability. And as the company points out, hearing loss will only become more prevalent over time, and appear at increasingly young ages, due to the widespread habit of listening to loud music via headphones and speakers and at concerts.