Saturday, 31 May 2008

Friday, 30 May 2008

Ditch the landline?

If you haven't already seen it, here is this week's post on SMS Text News.

Is it time to go mobile only and cut off your landline?

More and more I think to myself – do I really need a landline phone at home? A landline always feels to me like a hangover from the days when people called a location, not a person. They phoned the home number and asked to speak to the person they wanted to talk to. Today, when someone wants you, they call your mobile – that way they get through to you, wherever you are & if you’re unavailable they leave you a message for which you’ll get an alert. These days, when the landline rings at home I tend to ignore it because it’s rarely for me. In the unlikely event that someone does call me at home; I rarely get passed the message anyway! Mobiles tend to be more convenient for outgoing calls, as well. There’s no fighting the rest of the family for use of the line and with huge bundles of inclusive minutes available, using a mobile is no longer the costly option it once was.

OFCOM’s recent report - The Nations & Regions Communications Market 2008 (May) – highlights an interesting statistic. In the UK, only 87% of homes now have a landline phone (down 3% from 2007). So clearly some people are starting to go mobile only - according to OFCOM 12% of households rely solely on mobile communications.

So what do we need a home landline for? Well, there are a number of issues that always stop me finally cancelling it.

• ADSL broadband – in the UK we don’t yet have Naked DSL, where you can order broadband without the PSTN (calls) bit. I guess it will happen but paying for those under-used PSTN lines is a still a nice revenue stream for the phone companies. If you use cable broadband then it is possible to subscribe to broadband without a landline, provided you live in a cable area. By comparison, in the US 30% of AT&T broadband orders are for naked DSL which shows there is a demand for broadband only phone lines. Mobile broadband is increasingly becoming a viable alternative, now that tariffs are looking sensible; however they are not aimed at multi PC households who want to share a connection.

• 999 or 112 emergency calls – This is the “I’ll probably never need it but can I afford to take a chance” one. In the unlikely event of needing to call 999, I can use my mobile – but supposing the battery is flat or one of the kids or a visitor needs 999, what then? With a landline the operator knows for sure where you are. In these circumstances there really is no alternative to a line powered, ‘you know where it is’ landline phone.

• Flaky mobile coverage – It still amazes me just how variable and flaky in-building coverage can be, even in towns and cities. For many people this still makes going mobile only an unviable option.

• Switch to VoIP – Maybe an option but 999 calls is still an issue here. Even when OFCOM makes VoIP 999 provision mandatory, would I really want to rely on it in an emergency. And however you look at it, VoIP just isn’t quite as convenient as the old landline!

• Power cuts – A line powered landline really scores here. Even my mobile will eventually need a recharge!

• Local phone number – Some people like to have a local phone number and it is cheaper to call – that’s why the kids’ friends use it! However for me that’s not an issue; if someone’s calling me they’re probably doing it using a huge bucket of inclusive minutes anyway!

Once you start to analyse the issues you realise just how much life there is left in landlines! For many households there are still several good reasons for keeping their landline.

However, not having a landline would finally educate the last few remaining callers I have who still call me on the home landline – they’d have to call my mobile to reach me!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

TM Forum Management World 2008

Last week I attended the TM Forum's Management World 2008 event in Nice, to take part in a discussion panel on the future of billing. I focussed on billing convergence and the changing customer experience - convergence will make billing simple & consistent for customers.

The panel provided an opportunity to talk about some of the areas I've been looking at; single bill, subscription services, fixed monthly charge by direct debit, bundled products with a single price point, bill becoming a value statement.

I also touched on the common capability approach as an example of the new approach to delivering new billing functionality, rather than the way it was done historically - built from scratch every time.

Some other interesting themes came up in presentations:
  • Real time service access verification & charging will increasingly replace post pay rating & billing. Customers want to buy content, add services on the fly, so charging needs to be real time.
  • With the commoditisation of voice & broadband, content will be key but how will it be monetised? Will people be prepared to pay when they're used to getting content for free? Relevant advertising will help fund this gap - time, place, interest, context. The freemium model, where for example 90% of customers receive a web service or content for free, supported by 10% of customers who pay for a premium version, is gaining traction online.
  • The challenge of moving from a product centric to a customer centric world.

Friday, 23 May 2008

A look at Twitterfone

My weekly article for SMS Text News. Full text below.

Earlier this month, TwitterFone went live. This is the latest venture from telecoms entrepreneur Pat Phelan and adds a new dimension to Twitter by making it simpler to post messages to Twitter when you’re out and about. So how does TwitterFone work? You call an access number in your own country, leave a short message at the prompt; this is converted from voice to text and appears a few minutes later in your Twitter timeline. Each posted message also contains a unique URL which links to the TwitterFone website and allows anyone to hear the voice message you left. This is a really nice touch; it makes the message more personal and lets people hear what you said if the message didn’t transcribe 100%.

Messages can already be posted to Twitter when you’re out, via the mobile web site or via SMS. However there are times when neither interface is convenient, maybe when driving. Also, whilst texting is a simple and convenient way to communicate, the UK text number for Twitterfone is often excluded from inclusive SMS bundles by UK mobile operators (you know who you are!) because it’s an Isle of Man number sometimes charged at international SMS rates. So a voice call, out of inclusive minutes, is a more cost effective way to Tweet (post a message to Twitter). Using a mobile web interface may be convenient for mobile geeks but for the normobs out there, they need a simple way to post Tweets.

How well does the speech to text conversion work? In common with all speech to text conversion applications, TwitterFone will struggle in some scenarios, particularly with background noise, like traffic or wind. However I’ve been very impressed by the overall accuracy of the messages. In any event, the errors can add an air of ‘mystery’ to the Tweet!

Twitterfone has local numbers in 17 countries for easy and cheap access - UK
USA, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and Germany. Any user can call any local number, so when you’re travelling you just use the access number for the country you’re in – neat!

I think the real significance of TwitterFone is making Twitter simpler and easier for Normobs. Normobs expect mobile services to be simple and just work. And this is where TwitterFone scores. Making a call is the simplest (and oldest!) mobile activity!
Knowing Pat Phelan, TwitterFone won’t stand still and there’ll be lots of new features down the line. What would I like to see TwitterFone do? Have a facility to delete the message if you make a mistake when speaking. Be able to register multiple mobile numbers against a Twitterfone account so you can call in on any device – useful for us mobile geeks! Maybe send direct messages as well.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

TwitterFone - making Twitter available to normobs

I've just been writing about TwitterFone for SMS Text News. It made me realise just how much more accessible Twitter now is, particularly to normobs - the non technical mobile community.

You can read my TwitterFone article on SMS Text News on Thursday.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Mobile billing

This weeks article on SMS Text News looks at mobile billing.

Jonathan Jensen’s Thursday slot – this week he’s taking a look at mobile billing and how it’s now part of the drive for convergence.

Today I’m looking at mobile billing and some of the factors that make it different to billing for landlines. As the market evolves towards a converged future, mobiles are starting to become a part of the convergence mix. Earlier in the week I showed this article to my wife. She read it and commented, “It’s a bit of a dry subject isn’t it?” My response, “Well yes, billing might seem as dry as dust but don’t forget it’s at the heart of the customer experience.” Anyway, another angle on the mobile world …

From a communications provider perspective the optimum model for consumer landline bills is typically quarterly customer bills and collecting regular monthly payments by direct debit. Quarterly billing reduces customer propensity to call in with bill queries because the customer is receiving fewer bills – 12 opportunities to call in, rather than four. It also lowers print and despatch costs. Monthly payment reduces the likelihood of bill shock by smoothing the payment cycle for customers and improves the communication provider’s cash flow. So when mobiles arrived why did the operators opt for monthly not quarterly billing? The potential to run up much larger bills than with landlines meant that operators were concerned about spiralling debt.

Debt management in the mobile arena poses some unique challenges. Mobile phones, unlike landline phones are not linked to a specific location. This increases the risk of fraud and bad debt and highlights the importance of robust credit checking and identity verification processes. In addition, the monthly service charge often includes repayment of a handset subsidy so an unpaid debt is a hardware as well as a usage exposure.

Mobile tariffs are often more complex than landline tariffs. As well as calls they have to contend with SMS, data and roaming and these differences make the billing more complex to manage. Compared to landlines, customers tend to change tariffs more frequently which adds to the billing complexity and the potential for customer confusion on the bill.

The communications market is increasingly focussed on offering the customer bundled propositions around landlines, broadband, mobile and television. These propositions demand a converged bill with all products on a single bill. Some of these bundled propositions are sold as separately priced products but true convergence means offering a bundled proposition at a single price point with cross product incentives and discounts, so requiring the multiple products to be built as a single product for billing purposes. Multiple products on a single bill increases the complexity of the bill for the customer which can easily lead to customer confusion and increases the likelihood of customers calling in with questions. The challenge is to design a bill that clearly conveys the content whether it covers one or four products and tells the customer what he or she wants to know simply and clearly. Layout and consistent terminology are the critical success factors here.

So, a brief glimpse at an often overlooked aspect of the mobile world.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Vodafone billing - again ...

Very helpful lady at Vodafone but apparently they can't fix the incorrect billing until the billing cycle is complete. They have to wait until the bill has been raised before re-crediting the erroneous charges. And I may or may not have to call in again to get this done. Aaaagh!

Nokia BH-604 stereo headset

Nokia WOM World lent me the Nokia BH-604 Bluetooth stereo headset to evaluate. As you'll see from the photo it's a 'serious' pair of headphones! I paired it with my Nokia E51 and was blown away by the sound quality. It completely transformed the music experience. The headset is very comfortable and completely cuts out external noise. It's easy to pair with the handset and very simple to operate.

On a practical level it's a great device to use at home but a bit bulky to take with you when travelling. As you can see it's not very discrete to wear!

Thanks WOM World for a great service.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Nokia N82 - thanks WOM World

I've had the N82 on loan from Nokia WOM World for a couple of weeks and sadly it's got to go back tomorrow. It's been a great handset to try out and certainly deserves it's reputation as a top smartphone. S60, 3.5G data, 5MP camera, large screen and WiFi are all reasons to like it. However, my E51 is still my favourite. Why? The E51 is so slim and compact and for me that's more important than the camera.

Thanks WOM World for the loan - great service!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Just been checking out for posting quick messages to Sevendotzero. Definitely an easy way to do it.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Vodafone - another problem

After my number porting issues with Vodafone I was hoping that everything would run smoothly. However I checked my account online today and discovered that I'm being charged for all text messages, despite them being included in the tariff bundle. I spoke to Customer Services who agreed it was an error and promised to sort it out. But this latest service failure does nothing to help my confidence in Vodafone. I'm glad it's a 30 day rolling contract ...

My mobile day

If you're interested in how I use my mobile handset day to day head on over to SMS Text News for the whole story!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Twitterfone - Twitter by phone!

Another example of the innovation that Twitter drives is Twitterfone. Twitterfone allows you to post tweets by dialling a local number from your mobile. This is an easy way to post when you're out and about and is great for people (like me) who get charged extra for sending to Twitter's SMS number. Twitterphone even provides a URL to listen to the original message.

It's fascinating to see the new and innovative ways that people use the Twitter API to improve usability and add value to the basic service.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Vodafone - a much happier customer

Earlier this morning I posted about the issues I was having with my new Vodafone contract. Since then two things have happened - both positive. The SIM card turned up in the mail - 2nd class as promised! And Tom Rushton from the Vodafone Forum Intervention Team commented on my post offering to help. Fortunately I no longer need his help but I am impressed that Vodafone not only picked up the issue but also sought to address it.

This episode has highlighted process failures in Vodafone that I hope they can now address. I'd be very happy to discuss this further to help them improve the process for other customers.

Thank you Tom for picking this up.

Vodafone - an unhappy customer

I'm not happy with Vodafone at the moment.

Last Sunday I ordered online from Vodafone a Pay Monthly SIM card for my daughter and as part of the order requested a number port for her existing number. I duly received order confirmation and credit check confirmation emails with the assurance that I would be contacted to confirm delivery details. No communication since, however yesterday my daughter's phone would no longer register on the old network, so it was apparent that the port had been completed. Calling her number resulted in Vodafone Voicemail so yes the port was complete. But no SIM card!

I called Vodafone and was advised that they port 2 days after order. However the SIM card is sent 2nd class and to allow 7 days for delivery! I mentioned that perhaps I should have ignored the section where I entered the port details but was told if I had then Vodafone would have rejected a later request to port in a number! The lady I spoke to (who did her best to help) was unable to tell me the status of the SIM card delivery and advised me to call the 'warehouse' today. I'm sure she was doing her best with the information available to her but what a poor customer experience the whole business has been. This is a perfect example of how to ruin a great product with a dismal customer experience.

It's a rolling 30 day contract and with this level of customer service Vodafone will be lucky to see 31 days! Why would a customer want their number ported before they've received the SIM card? What use is a number (and I don't know what the number is) when I can't use it?

If the Vodafone Blogger Relations team would like to pick this one up I'd be very happy to talk to them.

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