The network is the differentiator
Much of the discussion about mobile broadband services these days is focused around smartphones and tablets, apps, and the increased importance of customer-centricity and the customer experience. But behind all that, the network is the ultimate enabler.
That sounds like an obvious thing to say – after all, there is no service without the network, and mobile operators have always put a premium on network quality as a differentiation tool. But in the past, the network-quality debate was at least partly defined by the competition between the two dominant technology standards: GSM and CDMA. Today, operators have generally unified around LTE and IP-based networks as the next step forward, but that doesn’t mean all networks are the same, or that differentiation based on network performance is unimportant.
Indeed, says Petra Schirren, VP of Ericsson's mobile broadband practice, it matters a great deal because network performance and quality is tied tightly with customer expectations and their idea of an acceptable customer experience.
“There’s a strong correlation between highly satisfied customers and their likelihood to stay with their current service providers – and furthermore to recommend them to others,” she says. “A network with superior performance is a strategic asset that operators must create, proactively monitor and sustain to attract new users and, perhaps more importantly, keep existing users happy.”
The smartphone factor
Operators that want to plan their networks to deliver that level of superior performance – and use it as a differentiator in competitive markets – should start by understanding just what customers expect from them. That means, first and foremost, understanding the impact of the rise of smartphones on customer usage and behavior – and therefore expectations of network performance.
Smartphones have already set the gold standard for the mobile broadband experience, and they're growing more popular worldwide. According to a report from Ericsson, around 40% of total global sales of handsets in 1H 2012 were smartphones. Sales are projected to grow from 1.2 billion units by the end of 2012 to three billion by 2017, with a big push from developing markets as smartphone price points become more affordable.
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