O2’s mobile care – in a shop near you (UK)

It is just over five years since Paul Gee, then CEO of the Telecare Services Association (TSA), flagged up to members in a prescient article that the time would come when it would be possible to buy a mobile telecare device in a supermarket [Telecare Soapbox: Tesco Telecare]. The question he posed was ‘How far away?’ Now we know. It took five years, but it arrives today. The telecare suppliers of the time did not respond to the wake-up call and they have now been overtaken by O2, the mobile arm of Telefónica in the UK. At the press conference in London yesterday O2 announced the next stage in the development of its Help at Hand service and several points struck this editor as particularly interesting:

  • The service will now be available not just in O2 stores and online (they have trained their in-store experts – ‘O2 gurus’ – in how to talk people through it) but it will be available in 100 of Sainsbury’s supermarket in-store pharmacies.
  • The service positioning is not older people oriented (see videos below). Although the majority of users will be older and probably in the early stages of developing dementia, the advertising is as likely to stress the benefits to carers as to the people themselves.
  • In contrast to the initial we-are-going-to-start-this-service launch in March 2012 [O2 press release] the word ‘telecare’ has disappeared from the vocabulary. Nor is their any mention of telehealth or the 3millionlives (3ML) campaign despite the Help at Hand service falling under the O2 Health division. Instead, the service is described as ‘mobile care’.
  • An app-based version is in the pipeline for people who already have a smartphone.
[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/o2-hah-handset.jpg” thumb_width=”140″ /]In the eleven months since the original announcement which, at the time was criticised by some commenters for lacking substance, O2 has been working with 200 users in Leeds and Devon and with Telefónica’s R&D department in Granada, Spain, to refine the dedicated Help at Hand device and to make sure the monitoring service is robust and easy for users or their carers to set up. It is now coming to market with a cost of £99 for the handset plus £20 per month monitoring. This is level comparable with many landline-based telecare services and some of the more expensive mobile phone contracts.

As well as the panic alarm function (underplayed as ‘support button’), the device capabilities include falls monitoring and geofencing, both of which trigger an automatic alert, receiving incoming texts and calls and, if pay as you go is purchased in addition, the user can make calls to up to four people from the speed dial buttons. Aware from the trials that the falls monitoring may generate false positive alarms for the call centre to deal with, O2 has decided that this is something they would rather live with in their operating costs than run the risk of missing falls.

O2 expects sales to come through online advertising and word of mouth, particularly through publicity via user and carer organisations and they have no plans at present for a TV campaign. However, as Sainsbury already knows through its loyalty card system which of their customers buy ready meals for one and who also have repeat prescriptions for certain conditions will it be long before some Help at Hand targeted advertising goes out to them?

O2 Help at Hand press release (PDF) and the 20-page Mobile Telecare report referenced in the press release which highlights the need to reduce the burden on carers (PDF)

O2 Help at Hand: Interviews with users (4 minutes)

[This video is no longer available on this site but may be findable via an internet search]

O2 Help at Hand: Helen’s Story (3 minutes)

[imaioVideo v=2]

Other reports

David Brindle in The Guardian: Telecare could be the future of elderly care – if it works 5 March.

O2 flogs new GPS mobile-based telecare to sick and elderly The Register, 6 March.

O2′s Mobile Care in a Shop Near You Commentary from mHealth Insight, 7 March.

Categories: Latest News.


  1. Our products are available off the shelf from a variety of retail outlets but it would appear O2 with their clout have progressed a step further and got into supermarkets, well done O2 we hope to be following you soon!

  2. Donna Cusano--Editor

    Well done, O2/Telefonica! 1) for the design of Help at Hand–simple yet advanced in features, 2) pricing at parity with other PERS and mobile phones (though the UKL20 monthly would be a dream in the US!) and the courage to go not only mass market, but also to support it with staff.

    The position/messaging is very effective because they have selected a young to late middle age group with various medical problems (epilepsy, cardiac, MS) who are easy to identify with. And the executions strike a different tone than the usual. Benefits are low key but could not be clearer or more convincing–the users are free of fear, restrictions and can enjoy everyday life; their families have their life back. They are refreshingly free of strained, fake-feeling feature/demos and ‘horror stories’–alas, I waited in vain for the person down and ambulance vignette. Will the core market identify with this and buy? Definitely carers/families will, but perhaps O2 has uncovered a whole new market here.

  3. Mark

    There is a warning in this to all suppliers and providers of traditional fixed landline “community alarms” or “lifelines”. Do not bury your heads in the sand, this is the future, and it will creep up on you quicker than you think, especially once the sons and daughters of the newly diagnosed long term condition patient, see this amongst their groceries at Sainsburys. What a nice and easy way to sooth some of the guilt about not having time to phone or visit their parent.

    I’ll give it a third “Well done O2” for attempting to shake life into the market, just mind the dinosaur’s falling out of the trees as you do it!

    One final thought: No protocols needed for it to talk to the monitoring centre.

  4. Cathy

    Hardly uncovered a whole new market Donna … several of us have been waffling about how this market is not being addressed for a while now – but they are attempting to address the market which is excellent and I like the way in which they are pitching it at the market.

    However (and you knew there would be an however didn’t you?) there are still significant areas of the UK without adequate mobile signal – and often they are the very communities where a product and service like this could do so much because they are communities more distant from say a Community Alarm service and where a response is not provided as part of that service.

    O2 is a huge player in our telecoms market; I live rurally, I have been an O2 mobile customer for somewhere around 15 years and I would like to have my home broadband with them but our tiny rural exchange is not unbundled and only one telecoms company has sufficient subscriber capacity to join BT in this area. O2 if you are really and truly serious about this product and the valuable services it can offer please take a look at your strategy for rural areas – for investment in better mobile signal and into delivering home broadband service even before small exchanges get unbundled. It is hearts and minds territory and you need to invest in winning those.

    The other interesting question that will contribute to the success or otherwise is will Direct Payments be provided to pay for/contribute to these services; Local Authorities are divided in whether a mobile phone is a suitable investment … it is easy to argue that it improves a person’s quality of life and meets a need but there is great fear of criticism for wasting taxpayers money.

    • Donna Cusano

      The younger market’s been there all along but has anyone gone concertedly at it? Not here inthe US. Alcatel/Lucent took an all too brief stab at it in 2008-9 with the mobile-driven diabetes tracker LifeStat developed jointly with SaskTel (Canada). Verizon’s SureResponse mobile PERS, recently in market, surely ain’t it. So it is a new market and it also rolls over to an older one. Your points are well taken re the mobile coverage though–one of those pesky little operational things that can scupper the program.

      • Cathy

        The lack of application to this younger market in the UK is a consequence of our policy focus being on the increasing older population … which is blinding ‘us’ to the bigger problem closing in behind us of younger people being made increasingly dependent against a backdrop of welfare reform and service cuts; younger more dependent people who the clinicians will be able to support to longer lives until they are older people with multiple Long Term Conditions.

        In my area, and I know it is not unique, we currently have headlines about a Day Centre earmarked for closure because it is no longer viable … but we have a strong group of parents who will fight to keep their adult dependent child’s place in that centre “because it is all they know and they don’t like change”. I have to be honest here and say that when I see those service users being ‘paraded’ at protest meetings to try and shame the Local Authority into backing down I feel very saddened.

        Every time this sort of challenge happens money is spent on arguing and judicial reviews until the local authority are forced to continue running unviable centres … there is no interest on most of the parents part in their child having a mobile phone and being able to come and go; there is little interest in them spending their own money on these products and until the public sector embraces the possibilities and starts to use them positively the battle lines are drawn. I am not sympathetic to the Local Authorities in these situations – they should have done the groundwork and started to provide transitional services and introduce ideas like Telecare several years ago and ow they are reaping their lack of sowing.

        There is a lot of preliminary work needed to make this a commercially viable market … but it has always been there for the taking!

    • Steve Hards

      The matter of coverage was raised, of course, at the press conference. Nikki Flanders (O2) said she recognised that it would be an issue for some people but that there would be a full refund for people who found that the coverage was inadequate. She also pointed out that the network is constantly getting better, with O2 spending £1.5 million a day on improving it.

      • Cathy

        O2 do ask people to confirm they have checked the coverage before they sign up – which is good … but … a full refund is not the answer. If they cannot get O2 coverage they probably cannot get anyone else’s coverage either. Even Ford offer more than any colour as long as it is black these days why does the telecoms industry struggle to understand that if they don’t work on the infrastructure their customer service will be limited by what gets put in place on their behalf?

        Linking that to my ponder on Direct Payments – any supplier who cannot provide an equitable service across the population it serves is much less likely to be considered a suitable resource for public money to be spent on – the public sector gets too much criticism for “Postcode Lotteries” of its own!

      • Coverage is indeed the biggest stumbling block when looking at any form of mobile based Telecare, Telehealth or even lone working. There are two main issues 1. Being tied to a single network although we know that roaming sims are available they will always ‘steer’ to their parent network where possible and 2. Knowing that the sim has is available i.e. has a signal and power. CSL Communications are a M2M (Machine to Machine) service provider who have an answer to this dilemma. Their world sim provides access to all four major mobile networks and will use the one with the strongest signal, even if this changes on a regular basis. In addition all sims are polled by the CSL Gemini network. This means that if a sim is out of signal or does not have power on the associated device we can let someone, such as a monitoring centre know. Mobile coverage has always been perceived as the Achilles heel of any form of mobile Telecare, those days are now behind us.

  5. Jo

    Like Cathy, I remember previous discussions about the mixing of mobile and retail, and the warnings that an irresponsible roll-out could lead to additional (and perhaps inappropriate) demands on the emergency services and A&E departments. If O2 have addressed all these concerns then congratulations to them for disrupting the telecare industry.
    However, I also believe that most potential customers don’t need anything other than a basic mCare service which could, and probably should, be provided by an existing telecare provider that can link in with other local services. O2 are benefitting from the desperately slow drive and ambition of their competitors to join the 21st century. Perhaps they have been told by the Tunstalls, Chubbs and Tynetecs of this world that mobile will never take off for older people, or they believe that they can hide behind the old-fashioned Codes of Practice of the TSA (which remain fixed in the past). Either way, this is the beginning of the end for many of the smaller service providers and equipment providers too.
    A word of warning though on which organisers will be trusted to provide the UK’s remote care services. Since the privatisation (and deregulation) of the UK’s utilities, railways and other nationalised industries, the public have become increasingly aware of their apparent desire to put profit before customer service. I suspect that they may not trust energy companies, telcos nor big multinationals with services relating to care. This might well mean that only the NHS, local authorities and charities would be appropriate providers of m- and tele- care.

  6. I agree this is good news, anything that that raises the mCare market across the UK is welcome.
    However I would like to point out that Jontek in partnership with Age UK and Safelinq (now Oysta Technologies) helped develop and integrate this product into the Jontek Telecare monitoring centres 3 years ago and it has been used since then by a number of our customers for monitoring clients with dementia. Many of our customers also offer “Telecare monitoring” to less vulnerable clients using their own mobile phones, http://www.jontek.co.uk/products-services/m-care/

    • UNATTR

      Hi John,
      What are Age UK doing in partnership with you and is at all the Age UK sites? I am very interested because if they are acting as a point of sale for your products then I will happily point people they appear suitable for that way.

      People like to see, touch, feel and play which is why a presence is invaluable.