Heads up to telcos: test devices carefully

12 Oct 2012

The recent case of the iPhone 5 using Verizon Wireless cellular data when connected to a Wi-Fi network was reportedly fixed with a "carrier settings" update issued by Apple early in the month.

This raises an obvious question, it seems no one is asking: is this problem really limited to one carrier and one device? Finding it difficult to believe this is a one-off, I asked a couple of experts for their opinions and got two very different takes on the situation as well as some interesting conclusions.

Phil Marshall, chief research officer at Tolaga Research, told Telecomasia.net that it is hard to know whether other operators have been caught out with this. However, he said, "it certainly is possible, and I don’t think it is necessarily limited to iPhone 5 devices."

Marshall said, "I think that this is indicative of an emerging challenge in the mobile industry as the ecosystems become more open. The problem that Verizon had with its iPhone 5 is really just the tip of the iceberg of what could occur in the future and will drive the need for advancements in service and system management and monitoring."

Meanwhile, Chris Nicoll, principal analyst for wireless networks at Analysys Mason, thinks it is limited to Verizon Wireless and is another technology misstep by the company, but a "relatively minor one at that".

He notes AT&T does not report similar issues (nor apparently does anyone else). "However, AT&T has more extensive experience with programming and integration of the Apple device than Verizon does and is more used to the Wi-Fi/cellular features of iOS than Verizon, so I’m sure they know what to look for."

Marshall agrees carriers do have some influence over the software stack on the device and the way it interacts with the network, "so I don’t see any reason why this couldn't be managed appropriately by the carriers."

Nicoll said AT&T paid the price early, with the signaling issues from the early iPhone -- "Verizon is learning the hard way that Apple is still not a telecommunications company".

"So yes, Verizon is a one-off, but a heads up to the other operators to be on the watch and test carefully," Nicoll warns.

Verizon says customers will not be charged for any unwarranted cellular data usage. Regarding any liability Verizon may have in terms of refunds, Nicoll said it could simply not charge overage fees (if any) for all iPhone 5 users for the month, so any actual out-of-pocket costs are likely minimal.

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