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The image of mobile operators is negatively affected by the coverage customers experience with their smartphones
- whose responsibility is it, the operator or the phone manufacturer?

Increasing smartphone penetration is changing the mobile market in many ways. One area is when a customer uses a smartphone and experiences a dropped or discarded connection to the network, the so-called “mobile black holes”.

Maybe you have experienced it yourself. You attempt to make a call and suddenly your connection to the network disappears.  Then after a time, the signal connection comes back, and you make the call.

Most mobile customers who experience mobile black holes believe it to be the operator’s fault.  Customers blame the quality of the network that operators build and operate. 

A recent study by the Danish Telecommunications Industry Association found that:

• 16% of customers when calling from home with smartphones experience mobile black holes at least once a week.  For customers with ordinary mobile phones, the number is 8%.

• 27% of customers when calling away from home with a smartphones experience mobile black holes at least once a week.  For customers of ordinary mobile phones the number is 7%.

• 10% of all smartphone customers find that their mobile coverage has deteriorated in the two years.

In practice the end user’s experience has been the responsibility of the operator.  The historical reason is that mobile operators sold a package of subsidized phone plus traffic.  However today’s complicated smartphone technologies are increasingly the reason for mobile black holes, not the operator’s network.
With increased competition in the smartphone market, we see many phones come to market before they are completed and tested.  Phone manufacturers only correct the errors through software updates once the customer has purchased the phone. This allows phone manufacturers to put part of the onus of product quality to operators and customers and to lessen their development costs. 

A good example is the new iPhone 5 which was launched with a chipset that supposedly supports LTE "4G".  However, as millions of customers have experienced, the software is not ready for LTE, and Apple provided an update one month after the phone hit the market.

In our report How mobile operators can reduce cost for mobile masts and improve mast regulation we look at the challenges that smartphones make for mobile operators and how it damages their image. We look at how politicians, the media and consumers, not knowing any better, blame operators for a growing number of poor smartphone experiences, particularly with mobile black holes.

It is natural the media and consumers should complain about poor experience, but they need to be sure to impugn the correct party.  If our car breaks down, we do not complain to the petrol company.  By the same token, we do not blame the supermarket for making us overweight.  The media and consumers need improved education about how a smartphone interacts with the network.

It’s time for mobile operators to break the silence as to what causes black holes on mobile networks.  In negotiating smartphone subsidies with handset makers, many operators sign “gag orders” that preclude them from talking about the smartphones deficiencies, even when it’s the smartphones that are causing the black holes on the network.

We believe that there is a need to focus on the challenges that modern smartphones create for mobile operators. Operators should share their knowledge on the quality of the various smartphones with the media and consumers.

If mobile operators do not create a more nuanced debate about coverage, they will find their image will continue to degrade.  Further mobile operators will find even worse economic consequences when the political and regulatory system makes them liable for ever new errors on smartphones.

Learn more about good and bad mobile coverage, how to improve it and what it takes to get nuanced debate. The report How mobile operators can reduce cost for mobile masts and improve mast regulation describes Strand Consult how to make the debate more nuanced. 


More information:

REPORT - How mobile operators can reduce cost for mobile masts and improve mast regulation

WORKSHOP - How mobile operators can reduce cost for mobile masts and improve mast regulation 

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