Focusing on the Basics and Why Limiting Ourselves to Standards Accelerates the Decline to a Utility Business Model of Internet Access

We all experience it, dropped calls, inability to connect to the network, garbled voice, painfully slow internet access, etc.  Why is the core service still less than completely reliable when its been around for 20 years?  The problem in-part is how operators test their network to capture these issues is based on standards created at the dawn of digital mobile telephony over 20 years ago, that is Probing (using probes in the core of the network) and Drive Test (driving around in a van) for measuring service quality.

I pay my operator for voice, messaging and internet; the rest is over the top, so you’d think keeping me using voice, messaging and internet would be the most important thing they do.  Service quality (after price) is the most important network-related factor.  As an industry we must not take our eye of the ball, service quality is critical. But is there a better way of measuring service quality than the 20 year old options of probing and drive test?

Consider this scenario: a customer calls their operator to complain about the fact that they get no signal either at home or work-place during the day.  The CSR (Customer Service Representative) accesses the operator’s coverage reporting tool and it states that there is plenty of coverage in those locations.  Customer says no, operators says yes.  Who is correct?  Of course the operator assumes they are, implying the customer is a scallywag on a subsidized handset tariff that just wants a new phone.  The phone’s inability to connect to the network (remember, the operators said there is plenty of coverage) is the excuse used to get a replacement phone.  But the limitations of the operator’s coverage reporting tool could mean the customer is correct and there is little or no coverage. The alleged scallywag would not get a new phone based on the ‘evidence’ available to the operator, instead the operator would be able to make better investment decisions regarding network roll-out, customers would have a service that just keeps getting better, and the alleged scallywag wouldn’t be making the call in the first place.

Service monitoring inside the customers’ mobile phones, that is the SIM, is a massive untapped opportunity.  This direct feed of information into the network tells the operator exactly how well or poorly they are performing.  Given the fact that handsets know what they are, where they are, what the time is and the network tells them what’s going on, why not get handsets to reflect all that valuable information.  The test and measurement problem becomes a crowd sourcing of customer experience problems.  Rather than driving a vehicle at particular time along a predefined route, you just let the customers do it.  Rather than capture masses of signal data from core of the network (the haystack) and look for problems (the needles), why not have the handset provide a clear and simple statement such as “At this time, this location, on this handset, my user experienced a dropped call because they were disconnected from the network”.  Aggregate all these reported events and you build a picture of network performance, device performance and how it impacts user’s experience of service quality and by watching the changes in both, maybe proactive remedy problems.

We reviewed Wadaro back in 2008.  They’re still around, and building an impressive business using the SIM to monitor the network.  The statistics they produce are impressive, revealing and shocking.  I don’t understand why every operator is not using this type of monitoring today.  Well I do, its not in the standards!  Don’t get me wrong, air interface standards are fundamental to the existence of the industry, but standardization is a tool that must be applied pragmatically: avoid the “man with a hammer so everything is a nail” syndrome.  We’ve got to break free of stifling innovation because its not in the standards, and start focusing on what does this do for the customer’s experience.  Monitoring in the device enables you to spend more wisely by almost a factor of 10; and most importantly improve the core services so customers keep paying for voice, messaging and internet access.