Opinion Articles

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fixed line nightmares vs simple mobile

...and why Mobile Termination Rates need to fall

James Rosewell writes:

Due to growth in staff numbers my business (51Degrees.mobi) is in the process of moving offices. Coincidentally I'm also moving our home broadband. It’s not been a pleasant experience. This got me thinking, because a few weeks ago on thefonecast.com we discussed why Ofcom isn’t treating Mobile Termination Rates (MTR) in the same way as fixed-line termination rates. The mobile industry justifies higher MTRs on the assumption that a mobile network costs more to run than a fixed-line network. It was certainly true when the fixed costs of running a mobile network had to be shared across a relatively small number of customers, even if they did pay a fortune for their contracts and terminals. Intuitively I'd say that’s just not true anymore.

My recent experiences suggest the cost of running a fixed-line business has to be more than a mobile business. Here’s why.

Take Plus.net. Their tag line is “We’ll do you proud”. If by “proud” they mean providing 2 hours' notice of an engineer visiting, then sending an e-mail informing of a new appointment, only to cancel it and move it back within 1 hour, I'd say they were right. If by “proud” they mean having call centre staff that no matter what options you select on the IVR seem incapable of resolving a problem without transferring you to another department, then they’re doing very well.

Beunlimited, who I recently moved a broadband connection to, managed to disconnect the building's security system and then refused to fix it as it was someone else’s line!

Then there’s BT themselves. The Openreach engineer left informing us the broadband was working when it wasn’t. 4 calls to various BT call centres later we discovered that the broadband wasn’t actually connected and another date 2 weeks in the future had been scheduled to do this. What was the Openreach engineer doing for 2 hours, we wondered?

Other friends and business owners tell me similar stories. Just look at BT's own forums.

A common factor is BT Openreach. Plus.net and Beunlimited have marketing campaigns that talk about how wonderful they are. They build excellent initial order-capturing web sites with tempting offers and, in the case of Beunlimited, a call centre that don’t transfer you to other departments. However they all rely on BT. Chris Stening, Managing Director of Beunlimited, blamed BT entirely when he was asked about disconnecting another businesses phone lines. Plus.net blamed BT for changing dates on them. Is there any other industry where businesses distance themselves from a single supplier in this way?  Why these businesses went about building a brand around being different when they can’t get their major supplier to adopt those brand values is beyond me, but that is a subject for another day.

In contrast we recently moved our business mobile phones to 3 UK. The SIM cards arrived in 2 days, the numbers ported across when we expected, and a setup SMS arrived to configure the phone. My only complaint is that they didn’t capture the Mobile Number Portability request with the initial order, instead having a form buried on the web site to complete this final part of the order.

Mobile networks just don’t have the single supplier problems fixed-line operators have. They’re not dependent on a common inefficient company that has no incentive to improve due to its monopoly position. They can control how the people that represent them in front of the customer are trained and behave. They can make their call centres, sales staff and processes efficient. Yes, they can still get it wrong, but they don’t have these inefficiencies to manage.

In conclusion, the fixed-line telecoms industry needs to put more pressure on BT to provide the service their brands demand. Ofcom needs to reduce MTRs faster.

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