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Service Angst

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Why it’s more hip (and wise) to use your old phone?

[Photo of Cellphone]It was new just last Christmas, but the luster of your new laptop or cellphone has already faded. Like it or not, the pace of technology guarantees that your shiny new toy will be old hat in a very short time. Contrariwise, many of my friends are now using older (classic) phones for a retro look. Others have taken to simpler, entry level models or less popular brands.

The point of carrying a basic phone around is to exude a practical, no-nonsense air of one who is not easily herded into following the fads and fancies du jour. Where today’s object of gadget envy quickly becomes common or even trite, a utilitarian device shouts, well, EFFICIENCY.

The point is it’s the (Internet or mobile) service, not the gadget, you’re really paying for. While the range and availability of services has improved with the deployment of newer technologies, for many of us it seems like service levels are still in the Jurassic age. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Much Hype

Instead of improving infrastructure and support for existing services, telcos will often focus on hyping glitzy gadgets. They seem to forget that they are in the service business. They are not appliance stores! This loss of focus and the resulting poor service has a negative impact on customer loyalty.

Take the case of the hyped rollout of 3G HSDPA services a few years back. There were few subscribers actually using 3G on their phones. I mean, who wants to surf the ‘Net on an itsy-bitsy screen anyway? So much of the costly infrastructure was going to waste.

The telcos subsequently offered HSDPA as an alternative ‘Net connection for computers (using a USB dongle or a “wireless landline.”) So far, so good; you now have a portable device and wireless service that gets you online anywhere. But with the increasing take up of HSDPA services (by computers, not phones), some telcos have failed to maintain service levels resulting in disgruntled and unhappy subscribers. It works, but not all that well.

Instead of fixing the problem, one telco poured energy and resources into the expensive launch of an even more expensive phone. Does this make sense? If your existing subscribers can’t even get a good signal, then your shiny new phone is just a fancy brick!

Caveat Emptor

For another telco group, their wireless Internet services still have more subscribers than their landline DSL. This is not so much a technical issue as it is one of pricing and honesty. When this telco rolled out its DSL services it offered a confusing plethora of “packages.” Some of their sales agents were not upfront about what the packages included and what the subscriber was actually signing up and paying for.

In the US, this bait-and-switch would invite the scrutiny of the BBB if not investigation by the FBI’s bunko squad. The end result of this marketing snafu was disgruntled subscribers and plans that were terminated within a year.

Gadget Lock-in Spiels

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. I’m surprised that a lot of folks still get taken in by “bundled offer” promos. Aside from the fact that you still pay for the cost (amortized over the lock in period) bear in mind that prices for both device and service will fall very quickly. If you wait a few months to buy the device and the service separately, it will come out cheaper. So, resist that impulse-buying urge and wait for a better deal down the road.

While we worry about service woes, what do we have to look forward to? Two things. First, the forward march of technology means that more and better services are continuously being made available. Technology is always getting cheaper too, both to deploy and to use.

The second saving grace is economic rather than technical. If existing service providers continue to do a lousy job, then this opens a window of opportunity for other players to enter the market. So the upcoming entry of yet another player in the telco field—one with both vision and means to implement it—is certainly something to look forward to. As they say, the more the merrier!

Print ed: 02/09


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