The rise of non-portfolio devices

Tim Deluca-Smith, WDSGlobal
23 Aug 2010

Once was the time that if you wanted a new mobile device you went to your mobile operator. When it came to delivering a consistent user experience this made things relatively simple. Your device had been through your operator’s testing process, it was likely configured for their services and when it came to support, their care agents knew how to resolve any problems.

But times have changed. Although still the biggest retail channel for mobile devices, operators no longer have such a monopoly. WDSGlobal estimates that on some European networks, the percentage of non-portfolio devices (those not official ranged and sold by the operator) is as high as 35%. This includes SIM-unlocked devices migrated from other networks, foreign imports and second-hand devices passed between friends and family or purchased through online auction sites.

It’s a trend that is set to continue with the dramatic rise of connected devices coming to market and the unbundling of the device from a mobile subscription. The wave of new tablet devices, e-readers and netbooks, not to mention connected home appliances such as TVs, fridges and cameras, means that operators will soon see a much wider breadth of devices attaching to their networks. In many cases, the operator won’t have sold the device, just the data access.

This represents something of a dilemma for the mobile operator. Many non-portfolio devices that churn onto a network do so without the settings necessary for them to connect to more advanced data services. Often, these devices are limited to basic voice and messaging because the operator’s network and support systems simply don’t recognize it. In fact, many impose a blanket refusal to support users with non-portfolio handsets, on the basis that it breaches the service contract or internal process.

But shouldn’t operators be welcoming, even encouraging consumers to bring their own equipment onto the network? After all, it’s a device that they haven’t had to subsidize.

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