Ericsson calls BS on its full-stack BSS

Kit vendor Ericsson has started the year by writing down almost $700 million to account for the fact that its latest BSS efforts have turned out to be a non-starter.

Its Q4 numbers will feature costs of around SEK 6.1 billion related to the ‘reshaping’ of its BSS (Business Support System) business, half of which will be customer compensations and write-downs, and half of which will be restructuring charges. It looks like Ericsson has concluded this is the only way to get its struggling Digital Services division back on track.

“The company’s past BSS strategy included pursuing large transformation projects based on pre-integrated solutions, including development of a next generation BSS platform, the full-stack Revenue Manager,” said the announcement. “The strategy has not been successful and to date the full-stack Revenue Manager has not generated any revenues.

“The anticipated customer demand for a full-stack pre-integrated BSS solution has not materialized. Delays in product and feature development has also made the full-stack Revenue Manager less competitive. R&D resources in BSS have been focused on full-stack Revenue Manager, causing further delays in product releases of the established platform. In addition, certain complex transformation projects experienced delays and cost overruns.”

No revenues at all? Damn! You have to question the due diligence that ‘anticipated customer demand for a full-stack pre-integrated BSS solution,’ when none whatsoever materialised. Furthermore another SEK 1.5 billion will need to be accounted for over the course of this year, taking the total bill to around $860 billion. Ericsson does still see value in its established platform, Ericsson Digital BSS, which apparently has a decent installed base, so it’s not pulling out of BSS entirely.

A big part of Börje Ekholm’s strategy since he took over has been to dial back some of the over-reach that characterised the Vestberg era. “Ericsson is applying a selective approach to large transformation projects focusing on projects based on available products,” said the latest announcement, and it’s clear that Revenue Manager was just such a project. Ekholm deserves some credit for continuing to look facts in the face and take decisive action.

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

CMA backs super complaint against loyalty penalties

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has backed a ‘super complaint’ raised by Citizens Advice which suggests UK consumers are being ripped off by loyalty penalties on services such as broadband.

The super complaint was raised by in September by Citizens Advice, asking the CMA to investigate whether customers were effectively being punished by service providers, so called stealth price rises for example. The areas being called into question were cash savings, mortgages, household insurance, mobile phone contracts and broadband.

The CMA agrees with the points raised by Citizens Advice, suggesting the segments in question gain £4 billion a year through ripping off loyal customers.

“Our work has uncovered a range of problems which leave people feeling ripped off, let down and frustrated,” said Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA. “They shouldn’t have to be constantly ‘on guard’, spending hours searching for or negotiating a good deal, to avoid being trapped into bad value contracts or falling victim to stealth price rises.”

Looking specifically at the telcos, this is a frustrating point for many consumers. UK telcos show very little desire to reward customers, setting in processes and systems which make it impossible to leave. Many will give up on trying to navigate the red-tape maze as the poor experience proves to be favourable to the frustrations of trying to leave. By making this process as difficult as possible, the telcos don’t have to worry that much about retention and can instead focus on luring new customers.

The CMA has pointed this out during its own investigation, ensuring that one of the recommendations made to government and regulators will be to simplify the exiting process. This will intend to tackle the process, systems and the fees which customers face when attempting to secure a better deal.

It appears the telcos are much better at scaring customers away from exiting than enticing them to stay with positive customer service. Your correspondent can confirm this is the case after trying to end a Vodafone contract last year. It took a ridiculous amount of time, engagement with several staff who had no idea what they were doing (or was this trained in to make the process as painful as possible?) but the mission was stubbornly completed.

“We know that the better deals are often found by switching provider,” said Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com. “But many companies make this more difficult by not being transparent enough about the options available or how to take your custom elsewhere. We are pleased to see the CMA identify this as an area for improvement, to ensure the power to get better deals is placed firmly in the hands of consumers.”

One specific complaints which has been firmly aimed at the telcos concerns subsidized handsets. The CMA highlights telcos should not be allowed to charge the same amount per month once the handset has been fully paid for. This will be a frustration from the consumer, but like the ridiculous nature of roaming fees, because the industry has stuck together little progress has been made.

Above all else, the CMA opinion adds to the already well-known position that telcos are not at all customer-centric organizations and have a lot to do if they want to be considered relevant for the digital economy.

The pre-paid market needs to learn how to say yes

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Steve Polsky, CEO and Founder of Juvo, examines some of the things pre-paid operators can do to reduce churn.

Since the dawn of pre-paid time, churn has been problematic. Customers switch from carrier to carrier chasing the best deal, which the industry has not done the best job of slowing by using one simple word: yes, instead of no.

Trusting their customers, and in turn, establishing a relationship with them based on mutual respect. Instead it has paid, over and over again, to attract and retain the same customer offering ever increasing discounts and incentives. Talk about a race to the bottom.

Now more than ever, in every market around the world, mobile network operators are struggling to keep up with declining average revenues per user (ARPUs), increasing costs, and saturating markets.

As PwC points out, no region is immune. Customer churn is a major contributing factor. Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, approximately two billion prepaid customers rely on cash rather than credit to make purchases. Consumers pursue this means of transacting due to lack of access to banking systems and credit, fraud and corruption. Because they don’t have access to credit, 78% of the mobile users have only one option – prepaid mobile service, purchasing SIMs and top-off minutes on an as needed basis.

Here’s the problem. When a user is out of minutes, he or she faces choices. Is there time to head out of his or her way to top-up? If they do, is there any reason to remain on the carrier they are on at the moment? Do they feel any loyalty at the very moment that that carrier has just turned off his or her phone?

The answer to all of these questions is generally a resounding no. If a carrier has just said a big fat no to a customer, the chances that the customer says yes to them is almost non-existent.

Mobile minutes, a basic service that has become wildly commoditized, have telecommunications companies fighting over subscribers in markets that are becoming more saturated. It’s not enough for companies to compete on price, PwC explains:

“This process can be tracked by looking at two key metrics: changes in the spread between the wireless operators with the largest and smallest shares of each market’s subscribers, and changes in the spread between the one with the highest average revenue per user and the one with the lowest.”

To counteract churn, telcos need to invest in new technologies and think outside of the box. Which is why Juvo has decided to build an entire economy around the concept of saying yes, and earning loyalty in a new and exciting way that goes well beyond just airtime lending.

Changing market dynamics

For decades, telco leaders have recognized the importance of the emerging markets as a viable revenue stream. Just ten years ago, phones were brand new to the developing world. Prepaid SIMs were the most economical and efficient path for user acquisition in cash-based societies. Since then, this push has resulted in high mobile adoption but low carrier retention outside of the western world.

Today, prepaid subscribers represent a lost opportunity to MNOs, with up to 60% of new users turning over within the first 30 days, every 30 days. In hyper-competitive markets, where access to mobile phones is growing, some MNOs lose up to 80% of their prepaid customers within 90 days, and telcos are paying to acquire the same customers, over and over. The economics haven’t made sense for MNOs to build loyalty programs. With churn as a given, the path to building a successful loyalty program wasn’t clear.

But what if churn wasn’t a given, and loyalty was proven to drive revenue? What’s getting in the way?

Those operators who have tried to introduce customer loyalty programs have been ineffective because market incentives have pushed operators to compete with each other. On the ground, agents selling mobile services encourage users to switch SIMs to take advantage of a better deal. These same agents may be ill-equipped to explain the benefits of one carrier over another. When a person needs to top-up his or her minutes, he or she is going to rely on an agent to them find the best deal.

What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that this market dynamic is changing because the way people engage with technology is changing. Take Ghana, where mobile money adoption is on the rise. There, mobile money transactions have doubled to $35B. Throughout the region, the number of banks has been failing, and people are relying on their mobile phones for transactions that power their everyday lives more and more.

The mobile phone is taking on a new role in developing nations beyond Ghana, where the way banking gets done, is changing, and that is making the role of how customers choose to top-up move well beyond the agent relationship. This is an opportunity to re-write the rules of the relationship of the pre-paid customer and the carrier.

Responding to this market opportunity

It’s time for telcos to start tackling the core reason for churn, which is the lack of loyalty. But customers in developing markets have new incentives to stay on with mobile carriers—to access financial services.

Customer satisfaction is an under-represented metric that telcos in developing nations need to optimize. A shift in emphasis is needed in order to eliminate prepaid churn. This focus will result in higher ARPUs and more efficient cost-models for user acquisition. Telcos should also be looking at the relationship between net promoter score (NPS) and customer lifetime value. There’s revenue in that number, and it’s a lot more efficient than spending to earn the same customer over and over. Saying yes to customers that can be trusted, based on their good behaviour, provable by data science, is a win-win for both parties. Loyalty goes up, churn goes down.

If operators want to remove the influence of the agent, they must meet their customers at their exact moment of need, before they head down to visit the agent. Operators should leverage today’s cloud technology to understand the value of every single, individual subscriber relationship and enable consumers to graduate up to higher value, more loyal post-paid like relationships.

To continue to consumer regardless of their in the moment core balance – to break down the hard line between prepaid and postpaid behaviour to enable deeper more trusting, higher value relationships. And this is usually starts as soon as, or when they are close to, reaching zero balance. Keeping subscribers connected, recognizing the value of their relationship and giving each and every subscriber the chance to graduate to higher value plans helps them remain engaged. Operators need to reach subscribers with deals and offers before they have a chance to set foot near an agent if they are to truly mitigate the risk of churn.
A framework and pathway
The way to do this is understand the subscriber’s behaviour – much like an operator would understand the behaviour of a postpaid user. MNOs operate on the assumption that prepaid users are completely anonymous to them. The truth is, MNOs do have data about their prepaid subscribers that could prevent them from churning. But, there is a lack of infrastructure in place to manipulate this data into something meaningful that can be used to drive engagement and loyalty. But data science can provide a solution.

In fact, many telecommunications companies in emerging markets including the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America have seen notable metrics so far. In one implementation, we’ve seen new prepaid user churn drop from 62% to 11% between SIM registration and first top up and from 85% to 34% in the first 90 days.

By implementing the top-up process directly with the consumer through their mobile device, operators meet the consumer at their time of need. And the moment of truth is brought forward. Operators are able to engage with a customer early and take the power away from the agent and place it firmly back in their hands.

This type of early interaction and focus on customer engagement, rather than a preoccupation with “churn”, can assist in stopping the bucket from leaking.

The result of this framework is the ability to pre-empt churn within the first 30 days of a customer receiving a SIM card. Through an identity scoring model, it’s possible to unlock significant value in prepaid markets, through a model that emphasizes customer satisfaction while working more constructively with agents.

Rather than saying no, sorry you’re out of airtime, what if at their very moment of need, carriers had a way to say yes? What if instead of saying no and turning away a consumer, operators said yes, we value you as a customer – in fact, we value you so much that we’d like to offer you the opportunity, a pathway to gain access to higher value services? It all starts with a simple yes. Need a smart phone? Yes, we’ll finance that. Need a scooter to get to work? Yes, we can help with that. Small business loan? Here you go, you’ve proven you’re good for it.

The more we start treating people as if they deserve more yesses based on a credit profile built on their actual behaviour, the faster we get to a world of financial opportunity. Who’s going to say no to that?

 

Steve Polsky Hi ResSteve Polsky is the CEO and Founder of Juvo. Steve founded Juvo with an overarching mission: to establish financial identities for the billions of people worldwide who are creditworthy, yet financially excluded. With over 20 years’ experience, Steve’s career has centred on founding, launching and managing early stage technology ventures across the mobile and consumer internet sectors where, prior to Juvo, he was most recently President and COO at Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes.

Trufone and Redtea among the first to exploit the Apple eSIM opportunity

Apple’s support of eSIM in its latest iPhones promised to kick-start that market and a couple of specialist companies are leading the way.

UK outfit Truphone, which recently raised £18 million in funding, valuing the company at £386 million, has just launched what it claims is the first eSIM app for the new iPhones. The app exploits the ease and flexibility promised by eSIM to allow users to purchase instant local connectivity for their devices in 80 countries.

“eSIM technology represents a step-change in users’ relationship with their network operator,” said Trufone CEO Ralph Steffens. “By letting people run multiple plans and change operators without having to wait for a traditional SIM card to be delivered, the eSIM is swinging the power balance back in favour of the consumer. By offering our ready-to-go SIM provisioning platform to other mobile operators, we are facilitating a new era of consumer-first mobile plans.”

But Chinese company Redtea Mobile has been doing this stuff for a while too and has a service called eSIM+. It’s a fairly straightforward web platform that allows you to buy connectivity in over 60 countries and requires you to scan a QR code to activate it. Redtea has apparently already activated 100 million eSIMs in China and is now looking further afield.

Possessing only and antiquated Samsung Galaxy S7, we have been unable to put either service to the test, but they both seem pretty straightforward. Trufone’s app seems easier and more intuitive than Redtea’s web platform/QR code combo , but then again you can get 1GB in the UK on eSIM+ for $13, while the deal will cost you £15 with the Trufone app. Both seem worth a look if you have a new iPhone.

Telarix and Starhome Mach merge to offer global wholesale telecoms portfolio

A couple of companies involved in the areas of operator interconnectivity, roaming and general wholesale action have decided to merge.

The combination of Telarix and Starhome Mach inevitably claims to offer a full end-to-end set of wholesale solutions for operators, covering voice, SMS, clearing, settlement and fraud prevention. The new company has 450 customers in 130 countries. All this mucking about with telecoms plumbing also creates business opportunities in BSS, subscriber analytics and that sort of thing.

“CSPs must manage their complex partner ecosystem from negotiation to traffic management, to billing and settlement, while at the same time, providing differentiated services to consumers, businesses and IoT.,” said Telarix CEO Marco Limena. “This merger will enable the development of new  innovative solutions overcoming the complex challenges of today’s digital transformation era to drive desired business performance.”

“Our success in launching SaaS versions of our leading roaming and clearing platforms introduced a variety of other innovative solutions in real-time anti-fraud, Network Function Virtualization and the Internet of Things,” said Starhome Mach CEO, Itai Margalit. “Bringing our offerings together with Telarix’s solutions will bring new solutions to the market and we see a huge opportunity to accelerate company growth.”

“Telarix and Starhome Mach have been very successful in their respective markets,” said Steve Pusey, former Group CTO and Senior Board Advisor to Telarix. “The joining together of this expertise creates a unique opportunity to address the market demand for full spectrum solutions.”

While positioned as a merger this looks more like the acquisition of Starhome Mach by Telarix. Private equity is involved one both sides but only Vista Equity Partners, which is behand Telarix, will remain involved, it will be based in Telarix’s home of Vienna, Virginia, and Limena will be the CEO of the new company, with Margalit becoming President of the roaming silo. You can read further analysis of this move at Light Reading here.

Churn is breaking the telecoms market: here’s how to fix it

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Brendan O’Rouke, Head of Design at BriteBill, attempts to tackle the perennial telecoms problem of churn.

We’re operating in an experience economy where success is not just determined by the best brands in the communications and media industry, but by the best across all industries. So how do you stack up?

Low levels of satisfaction in telecoms fuels churn

According to the latest UK Satisfaction Index , published in July 2018 by the Institute of Customer Service, UK satisfaction with businesses across all verticals stands at 77.9/100. The score for telecoms is 74.3, making it the lowest scoring – apart from transport (72.5). Industries that achieve higher scores are doing so by delivering a consistent experience throughout the entire customer journey.

The low level of satisfaction in telecoms translates into an industry with high levels of churn, which are exceptionally high in prepaid, and significant even in the lucrative postpaid sector. According to a new TM Forum Quick Insight Report sponsored by BriteBill, An Amdocs Company, postpaid churn currently ranges from 5% to 32% per year.

The report analyses the links between a consistent customer experience and churn rates in 36 service providers across 24 countries. This revealed an enormous 27-point gap between the best performing and worst performing service providers. The reasons for this gap might not just be due to variations in customer satisfaction, but also to the service provider’s attitude to churn. Any service provider can reduce their churn rate almost overnight if they are willing to invest enough money into customer retention efforts. But therein lies the problem: if they are already losing money, can they really afford to spend such significant sums?

The cost of churn is substantial

Calculating how much to spend on acquisition and retention is something of a black art. If too many customers are lost, revenues will plummet. If too much is spent, margins will suffer unduly. But big money is at stake. Research by Tefficient  shows that the average service provider in a mature market typically spends 15-20% of service revenues on acquisition and retention activities. That’s pretty staggering. To put it into context, McKinsey says average CAPEX spending on infrastructure (networks and IT) is 15% of revenues.

What makes the situation even more challenging is that since there are few new customers in mature markets, service providers must acquire them from their rivals. And, with more service providers chasing the same group of out-of-contract customers, the Subscriber Acquisition Cost (SAC) of recruiting new customers is rising. With SAC a key metric for shareholders to measure the health of their investment, this can be daunting for service providers.

Deutsche Telekom, for example, revealed that its SAC increased by 8% across five of the markets it operates in – Germany, Greece, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia – between FY2016 and FY2017. If Deutsche Telekom is spending an industry average proportion of revenues on acquisition and retention, an 8% rise equates to an extra 1-1.5% of revenue being swallowed up, simply to maintain their customer base – wiping out a substantial proportion of any revenue growth they manage to achieve. In a double-edged blow, Deutsche Telekom also revealed that its retention costs fell by 34% over the same period.

Deutsche Telekom’s figures exemplify that service providers need to focus on retention, not acquisition. An acquisition focus fuels churn by only focusing on the customer until the contract is signed. A retention focus ensures customers receive a consistent experience and are nurtured throughout their journey, paying dividends in terms of far higher customer lifecycle values.

There can be huge differences between the cost of retention and acquisition. Take Canada’s BCE and Telus, for example. They revealed in 2017 that it cost almost 50 times less for them to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one, with retention costs of C$11.04 and C$11.74 respectively, while average SAC in Canada weighed in at a whopping C$521.

Billing should be a retention tool, rather than a churn agent

It seems like a no-brainer. Retaining and nurturing existing customers should be our priority, with SAC fueling net additions and not just replacing churning customers. Of course, the $64,000 question, as always, is how can service providers retain more of their customers?

This is a complex question that doesn’t have a simple answer, but often the reason for churn lies in the most obvious, simple and prosaic of things.

Take the humble bill, for example. Currently, it’s more of a churn agent than a retention tool. The change in tone from the warm messaging of sales to the harsh, impersonal tone of billing can create a jarring effect on customers. Customers often find bills boring, hard to understand and stressful. According to a study by the   in June 2018, one in six mobile users haven’t even checked their bill in the last six months. When asked why, 18% or 1.3 million mobile users said they couldn’t be bothered.

It’s hardly surprising. Even if charges are correct, they are often confusing and unclear because of factors such as device leases, proration (billing for part of a month), billing in advance for some services and in arrears for others, overages, confusing and vague descriptions of charges and so on. And while we may have spent many millions upgrading IT systems to support the digital customer experience, outputs such as the bill are frequently overlooked. Too often, the bill remains old-fashioned, poorly designed and unengaging, creating an inconsistent digital experience for customers.

Taking a fresh approach to bills, however, can pay measurable dividends. Cricket Wireless, for example, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AT&T, rolled out a campaign called ‘Let’s Look Inside Your Bucket’. They used a video-based approach to communicate information, offers and a good dose of humor. It was incredibly successful, leading to a massive 37% reduction in early customer churn.

Three has taken a different approach. They focused on using bills to demonstrate the value delivered to individual customers by revealing how much they’ve saved using its Feel At Home roaming offer.

Sprint’s Mark Edwards, Director Applications Development, says that his company recognizes how important the first ten days of the customer relationship are, and has been working to ensure consistency between what’s promised in the sales cycle versus what’s delivered and what’s billed for. This means working to ensure the customer understands their charges, which in turn reduces enquiries and increases satisfaction.

So, what can service providers do to transform their bill from a source of stress, dissatisfaction and churn into a retention tool? The TM Forum says it boils down to three things:

  • Communicating billing information accurately, clearly and concisely – the aim of the bill is to provide answers, not generate questions.
  • Demonstrating value – rather than being a source of negative information (a demand for payment), bills should be a way of demonstrating value and savings.
  • Communicating new information – with customers increasingly unreceptive to promotional material, the bill provides a regular opportunity to make them aware of new products and services that are relevant to them.

The challenge is to remove inconsistencies in the customer experience by changing the bill from a 1990s paper artefact into a digital era asset, thereby transforming it from a churn agent into a valuable retention tool.

The TM Forum notes that service providers who can do this will have customers that “have a lasting positive impression that takes them beyond contract renewal time and sees them advocate their service provider”. And I’m sure we can agree, that’s a win-win for everyone concerned.

UK MNOs accused of using handset subsidies to rip off their customers

Research from Citizens Advice reckons four million people in the UK are still paying back their phone subsidies after the end of their contracts.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has reached the end of a postpaid contract that came with a subsidised handset. It’s universally understood that such things are part service contract and part financing on the device, but MNOs are generally deficient in contacting their customers when the contract period is over.

They do get in touch, but usually with misleading offers such as ‘free’ new handsets, when in fact they’re merely calling for the customer to initiate a fresh postpaid contract, complete with a subsidised handset. An honest exchange would also offer a SIM-only deal that would offer far more data for far less money in the absence of a new device.

Citizens Advice specifically calls out EE, Vodafone and Three, implying O2 does a better job on this matter. It reckons these four million mugs are being overcharged, on average, by £22 per month, which seems about right. It also found that most of the time we’re paying more for the handset by getting it subsidised by the operator than if we just bought it on the open market, but there’s no surprise there.

“It is unacceptable that mobile providers are knowingly overcharging customers for phones they already own,” said Gillian Guy, Chief Exec of Citizens Advice. “We’ve heard a lot of talk from government and the regulator but now we need action. Other companies have already stopped doing this so we’re looking for these three major providers to follow suit. In the meantime, consumers should check their phone bills to see if they can save money with a SIM-only contract or upgrade to a new phone.”

Like most studies accusing utilities of ripping off their customers this ultimately comes down to telling them not to be lazy and check their contract every now and then. It’s not difficult to give yourself a reminder to renegotiate your contract when it expires so those who don’t should receive limited sympathy. On the other hand, from an industry that constantly wrings its hands about churn, this is hardly an example of customer service best practice.

Ericsson lands $3.5 billion T-Mobile US 5G contract

Kit vendor Ericsson has announced a major deal win in the form of a $3.5 billion contract to bring TMUS into the 5G era.

Not much detail has been offered up, but it involves Ericsson hardware such as ERS and plenty of involvement from the Digital Services silo, including dynamic orchestration, BSS and Ericsson Cloud Core. The chances are a spot of managed services may well be chucked in for good measure.

“We have recently decided to increase our investments in the US to be closer to our leading customers and better support them with their accelerated 5G deployments; thereby bringing 5G to life for consumers and enterprises across the country,” said Niklas Heuveldop, Head of Ericsson North America. “This agreement marks a major milestone for both companies. We are excited about our partnership with T-Mobile, supporting them to strengthen, expand and speed up the deployment of their nationwide 5G network.”

“While the other guys just make promises, we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” blurted TMUS CTO Neville Ray in the approved corporate style. “With this new Ericsson agreement we’re laying the groundwork for 5G – and with Sprint we can supercharge the 5G revolution.”

That’s the long and short of it, but Ericsson couldn’t resist another plug of its main USP, stressing that T-Mobile’s installed base of ERS radios will be able to run 5G NR technology with just a software upgrade. There is likely to be a bit of a PR arms race over big 5G deal wins among the kit vendors, but we won’t be seeing any of that action from Huawei in the US. Or Australia.

Ciena strengthens its software suite with DonRiver acquisition

Optical and IP transport company Ciena acquired software and service company DonRiver to shore up its Blue Planet portfolio.

One week after its CEO explicitly said it was on the lookout for new software M&A, Ciena announced that it has entered a definitive agreement to acquire DonRiver, a privately-owned software and service company specialised in federated network and service inventory management solution.

Ciena reported a strong quarter, but its software business suffered a 3% year-on-year dip. Although the SDN-based network management suit Blue Planet only accounted for a minor share of the total software sales, high hopes have been banked on it. When talking to analysts at the quarterly result call Ciena’s CEO Gary Smith said, “With Blue Planet, we’ve done a lot of learning over the last two to three years, …the bookings were very encouraging. And we should be able to come into the year — next year with a backlog for 2019.”

Similar to Ciena’s recent acquisition of Packet Design, DonRiver has been a partner to Ciena, so its technology knowhow is well known to the latter. Despite that it has a couple of A-list clients including Telstra, Comcast, and Rogers, it is not DonRiver’s clients or the revenues that was driving the acquisition, Ciena told Telecoms.com.

“The combination of Blue Planet and DonRiver will enhance our ability to deliver closed loop automation of network services and the underlying operational processes across IT/operations and the network,” said Rick Hamilton, senior vice president of Global Software and Services at Ciena about the latest acquisition. “With this new set of technology and expertise, we can help customers realize the full benefits of network automation by helping them move away from highly complex and fragmented OSS environments to those that accurately reflect the real-time state and utilization of network resources.”

Specifically, what DonRiver could bring to the Blue Planet portfolio, especially the Analytics & Intelligence component, is its capability to bring a holistic view of the network inventory. With networks getting more complex, stacks of OSS are being added to the architecture, making it increasing difficult for the operators to know what exactly is happening in the layers of networks. The vastly improved visibility and accuracy enabled by DonRiver’s expertise will strengthen Ciena’s value proposition to help operators optimise the OSS environments. As Ciena executives said to Telecoms.com, DonRiver’s engineers can do much more than network inventory, they are OSS experts.

The terms of the acquisition were not made public.