Posts Tagged ‘wireless’

Watch out for the Android

Monday, November 9th, 2009

droidFrom Merriam-Webster’s:

an-droid: noun. a mobile robot usually with a human form

In the case of Google’s Android operating system, the “robot” is morphing into lots of forms. First and foremost, as a mobile phone with now nearly a dozen implementations. And those phones are starting to win acclaim (and not only for the Motorola Droid).

But that’s not all: Barnes & Noble based its Nook e-reader on Android and Creative is building an Android-based iPod Touch competitor.

Which is bad news for Apple, right? I’m not sure about that, but it’s certainly bad news for Blackberry, Palm and Symbian, not to mention Windows Mobile (did you forget Microsoft also supplies micro OSes for phones and the like?).

In fact, as the marketplace begins to settle out, it’s starting to resemble the PC market, circa 1995. Apple is providing a closed, end-to-end experience, while its competitor is supplying its platform to lots of hardware vendors for them to install and sell. One difference: Google (Android’s biggest backer) is not charging a license fee for the platform and offers it open source.

As has been observed with other open-source projects such as Linux, Firefox and MySQL, Android will continue to become more feature-rich, with more apps available, as Android handsets begin to take hold in the market. In comparison, Palm’s, Blackberry’s and even Microsoft’s ability to keep up with the state of the art will suffer. [Gizmodo makes a powerful case for Android's potential in this post.]

My prediction: Apple will rule the smartphone roost for some time. Android will be a strong #2. Who will be #3? Does it matter?

(Photo: Motorola Droid via phandroid.com)

Related post:
Can you make money with free software?

From Mobile Ecosystem’s Mark Lowenstein – the evolution of device-based self-service

Monday, September 28th, 2009

My friend Mark Lowenstein, a longtime wireless industry analyst for Yankee Group and now for his own firm Mobile Ecosystem, wrote a great piece in his recent newsletter on how wireless is changing self-service. He has graciously allowed me to repost it here.

The Evolution of Device-Based Self-Service

With a challenging economy and continued high cost of handset subsidies, advertising, and network capex, wireless operators are continuing to search for ways to save on operational expenditures. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to do some research in the area of customer service, and particularly the implementation of device-based solutions, as one of the ways in which operators are saving cost without compromising the customer experience. This column presents a summary of the key findings of this research. If you would like a complimentary copy of the full White Paper, please email me and we will send it to you.

Self-service – defined as the ability of the customer to activate, manage, and troubleshoot their service without human intervention, is now being used across three broad categories of functions:

  • Service enrollment and activation
  • Account management and maintenance
  • Customer care

More recently, the mobile device – with its ubiquity, improved functionality, and usability – has emerged as an important, and complementary tool in the self-service arsenal.

In addition to successful implementations of Web-based self-service solutions, operators are deploying device-based service solutions as well. Properly implemented, these solutions reduce the number of calls or length of call to customer care, while also reducing fulfillment costs, and optimizing service/feature plan selection. Business cases presented in the report demonstrate cost savings of 40-70% for device-based activation and service enrollment functions, with more than 90% of activations/programming now automated in some implementations. For self-care functions, cost savings of 20-50% have been realized, and we are seeing 50% reduction in calls to care centers.

Positive customer experience and demonstrated ROI with initial self-service implementations, combined with improvements in device interface, memory, and speed are leading to an aggressive roadmap for implementation of new capabilities in the account management area, such as viewing data usage consumption, changing price plans, and replenishing minutes for pre-paid accounts. We also see some potential revenue-enhancing opportunities, such as promotion/up selling of services and the creation of loyalty programs and greater tie-ins to advertising. Device-based self-service will also play a critical role in helping operators work with the growing number of third-party retailers selling wireless devices and services.

We also spend some time in the report discussing a successful go-to-market approach. A good user experience, which includes ease of navigation, simple presentation of information, and completion/confirmation of transactions, is one important element. I have also found that many go-to-market solutions fall apart without proper training in the channel, including retail sales and customer support representatives. We have also found cross-promotion with Web-based account management solutions to be effective.

Over the years, I have written about how wireless is unique in providing free customer care across a breadth of issues, many of which have little to do with the core service operators are providing. As devices and services become more complex, I believe one of the more effective ways to “resource” for high-touch interactions on complex issues is to implement a flexible, and user-friendly suite of self-service solutions for the more commonplace elements of activation, account management, and entry-level care, across the Web and device channels.

Another thing on customer service vs. network at wireless companies

Friday, August 7th, 2009

This was a million years ago in tech terms, but during the mid 1990’s my friend Amy told me that she had given up AT&T long distance for Working Assets, a reseller. Why? I asked her. Cheaper? Its social mission?

Amy told me this: “Working Assets was nice to me on the phone.”

Related post:
Wireless companies are no longer in the network business

Wireless companies are no longer in the network business

Friday, August 7th, 2009

When I first went out on my own, my father-in-law, an attorney who had his own practice for many years, told me: “If you think you’re in the consulting business, you’re wrong. You’re in the sales business.” What that meant to me was, there are lots of consultants. If I can’t articulate and communicate the value I bring, clients will hire someone else–no matter how accomplished my consulting work is.

It’s 2009, and a similar fate has finally overtaken wireless companies. You see, they believe they are in the network business. You see it in their advertising (”More bars in more places,” “The Now Network,” “The nation’s most reliable network“). You hear it when they talk, and you see it when they present at conferences. The network rules.

Except this: there are lots of networks (five or more in many areas). Wireless companies are able to drop calls no matter how many bars they have in how many places. People don’t make decisions anymore based on network–they make it based on handset, or price plan, or maybe what ad they saw most recently.

So the mindset needs to change. Wireless companies are now in the customer service business. How can you provide an attractive product, with good reliability, at a reasonable price point… and make customers feel wanted, valued, and treated fairly?

In other words, AT&T needs to be more like Ritz-Carlton and less like… Southwestern Bell, one of its progenitors.

The changes needed to do this are immense. They are no less than devaluing where the company came from (networks, cell sites, etc.) and empowering fringe groups, such as customer service. It means re-evaluating the entire product portfolio and purging it of things that have become shackles to their customers–contracts, bucket plans, hidden profit centers.

It means radically simplifying your business, removing programs, processes and systems that don’t add value anymore.

It means getting real, and putting corporate commitment behind “our customers are our most important asset.” Because don’t say it if you really believe your most important asset is your IMS infrastructure.

Does any company have the courage to do this? One would wager that Sprint has little to lose. Mr. Dan Hesse, why don’t you have a go at it?

Customers are talking: AT&T/Apple/Google – battle of the giants has begun

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The dustup over Apple’s disabling of the Google Voice app on the iPhone is getting interesting. According to David Pogue, Google is rewriting the Google Voice application so that it will run as an ordinary web page–but be accessed just like the iPhone’s approved apps.

Why does AT&T care? Because Google Voice (like many other, much smaller applications) attacks the carriers’ most vulnerable pockets of profit. Text messaging costs virtually nothing to provide but yields the carriers 25 cents per message or $5 and up for a bundle of texts. International calling is infrequently used but, at 25 cents/minute and up, commands direct margins of somewhere around 92% (by comparison, Skype international calls to landlines average around 2 to 4 cents per minute).

So, at one level this is a technical or commercial dispute between corporate giants. At another, though, it’s a front-line battle for customer transparency. If AT&T, Verizon, etc., by dint of competitive threats, are required to reprice these fat-margined services, they’ll have to forgo profits, or redistribute the costs to other services–ones which are more central to their offering and which can be more easily shopped by customers.

Perhaps then we’ll get a bit closer to wireless service packaging that’s friendly, or at least less forbidding, to the customers paying the bill.

Related post:
David Pogue’s “Take Back the Beep”

Customers are talking: David Pogue’s “Take Back the Beep”

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

There have been expressions of customer outrage in the past, but this one feels different. David Pogue, the widely read tech columnist of The New York Times, wrote a couple of weeks ago about the instructions wireless companies force you to listen to when you leave a voice mail for a cell customer, or retrieve them from your wireless phone.

Pogue asserted that the lengthy instructions were intended to boost usage and thereby carrier ARPU. He followed the initial column with a series of posts (begin here) on a campaign he titled “Take Back the Beep,” in which he asked readers to contact their cellphone carriers to complain about this practice.

The campaign was referenced by bloggers Doc Searls and Umair Haque (creator of the Edge Economy blog and possessing a, say, radical view of the vices and virtues of corporate America).

What’s different this time? Pogue, Haque and Searls enjoy a large, influential audience via the blogosphere and Twitter. This gives them real-time weapons they can deploy without going through editors’ approval. And their voices support each other, and inspire other writers (um, like this one) to further spread the word.

How different this is to one enraged customer browbeating a poor customer service rep! Perhaps this is the first strike in the battle against companies customers hate.

Related posts:
Companies profiting from customers’ mistakes, watch out
Doc Searls runs up against Simply Everything’s limits

Customers are talking: Doc Searls runs up against “Simply Everything”’s limits

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I posted earlier today on Sprint’s progress in customer satisfaction. It’s not all good news, though. Internet sage Doc Searls often posts on his experiences with suppliers (perhaps part of his work on Vendor Relationship Management), such as Apple and Cox Cable. Today, he wrote about Sprint and a $500 bill he got from them when he unwittingly exceeded his usage limit on his EVDO wireless card. (You didn’t think there were usage limits on “unlimited” plans? Think again.)

The problem was “resolved,” kind of:

The Sprint person on the “courtesy call” knocked $350 off the bill. That was because she was ready to “work” with me on the matter. I asked her how she arrived at that number. She said she couldn’t say.

Searls is a great observer of the absurdity of large company bureaucracies and the battle between consumer and supplier. He’s also an artful complainer. I’ll be staying tuned to see if there’s any further fallout from his latest experience.

Sony to (eventually) marry cellphone, PSP handheld

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I almost fell out of my chair when I read this today:

Sony plans to set up a project team as early as July to develop a new product that combines functions of its portable game player and Sony Ericsson’s mobile phones, the Nikkei [Business Daily] said.

“As early as July”! If I have my calculations right, the iPhone has been on the market for two years. Sony & Ericsson should have built a prototype years ago. But now, finally, with tens of millions of iPhones sold, and a million Palm Pre’s, Sony is ready to put that project team together.

Is it any wonder that Sony is in trouble?

Best Buy sees an opportunity in mobile distribution

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Brian Dunn, the new CEO of Best Buy, announced yesterday, in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal, that the US’ largest electronics retailer is seeking a 15% share of mobile activations, up from its current 3%, and will be opening 40 Best Buy Mobile stores in the US. Dunn said this is part of Best Buy’s strategic focus on connected devices.

This is a smart goal for a number of reasons. Wireless distribution is highly fragmented, service is uneven (even at the company-owned stories), and many independent distributors are exclusive to a single carrier. As devices proliferate, the carrier connection will be less important, and guidance & support, a Best Buy hallmark, will become more crucial.

Additionally, building a standalone mobile brand opens the door for Best Buy to take its private label strategy to the mobile marketplace, creating unique bundles of devices, services and applications that they can brand and sell–something difficult for Wal-mart, the electronics retail “elephant in the room” to compete with.

It’s a winning strategy for Best Buy, and a boon to customers.

Related post:
Sprint reveals more on its wholesale strategy

Photo by asmythie via Flickr creative commons

Prepaid ain’t nothing but a payment method

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

In the US wireless marketplace, carriers covet postpaid customers above all, as do their investors. Carriers have focused their businesses on a subscription model comprising subsidized handsets, locked phones and multi-year contracts. They use this approach to limit churn, keep ARPU high, and… well, because they’ve always done it.

Prepaid started in the US as a way to serve credit-challenged customers. A postpaid subscriber needs to have good credit, so the carrier has some assurance that he will pay through the contract term. Many prospects didn’t qualify, so the carriers turned to prepaid as a way to provide service without the risk of default.

And so it is today, fifteen years after the first prepaid customers were brought on line in the US. Carriers consider prepaid a marginal service with an unappealing financial profile targeted at an unimportant niche of customers.

In Europe it’s not this way. And several US MVNOs–Tracfone, Virgin and Boost in particular, have developed prepaid businesses that are more broadly targeted. There’s much more that can be done to mainstream prepaid in the US–if we look at prepaid differently.

Prepaid doesn’t mean you aren’t connected to your customers.
It does mean that you are not connected to customers by default, in the way a postpaid provider is by providing a monthly bill (and, of course, the chains of that 2-year contract). Prepaid customers don’t have to share anything with you–they can buy their phones and recharge cards at the retailer and remain anonymous–but with the right kind of programs and incentives, you can have as robust a customer relationship. Perhaps a better one, since it’s based on the quality of the product and the customer’s choice rather than contracts and penalties.

Prepaid is a more transparent product.
There is little or no subsidy with a prepaid phone, so the costs are more transparent to the subscriber. While prepaid providers, perhaps in imitation of their postpaid competitors, have gotten too creative and confusing with rate plans (per minute, daily fee plus per minute, minutes that expire, etc.), the base service concept–pay for what you use–is highly transparent and in tune with the way people consume lots of products these days.

Prepaid lacks many of the unpleasant aspects of postpaid. The simpler structure of prepaid, especially its lack of contracts and penalties, is a virtue today more than ever. (The Kindle pricing model is a prepaid subscription. Another widespread product, Skype, works on a prepaid model as well.)

Challenging the assumption that postpaid is better is important now because we are on the cusp of a revolution in wireless, always-on connected gadgets. Portable modems, GPS devices, and the aforementioned Kindle are but a sample of what we’ll see in the next few years. I, for one, hope the customer models for these devices show some of the innovation the devices themselves offer.

(Photo: one of those cool new mobile devices, the Novatel MiFi personal hot spot)

Related post:
Examining Kindle pricing