Archive for the ‘Telecom’ Category

The Future Really Is Now!

The exterior of the Spaceship Earth ride at Disney World’s Epcot park is perhaps one of the most recognized landmarks on Earth.  Housed in the giant geodesic sphere that serves as the gateway into the Future World section of the park, the ride is one of Disney’s finest examples of audio-animatronic magic.  Created in 1982, this ride takes the traveler on a journey through the history of communications technology starting with cave drawings and ending with Disney’s vision of 21st century communications.  After 25 years, the ride was updated this past February but its amazing to to consider how accurate the original vision of the future was.

The final scene of the old ride depicts two teenagers talking to each other; not on the telephone, but over an audio/video link using a computer and flat panel display.  The kids are neighbors of sorts, although in this future view, they are part of the same “global neighborhood”.  One is apparently in the US; the other in Asia.  They can see each other and the computer is translating their words into each other’s language.

In 1982 when the ride first opened, this idea must have seemed fantastic, but in the last few years, the technology and bandwidth have become generally available to enable this type of interaction.  The realization of the future really being now hit home this afternoon as my family was sitting outside enjoying a warm October afternoon.  As teens like to do, mine was pretty much ignoring her mom and I, and was instead, having a conversation with three friends.  Of course, teens no longer tie up the landline phone for this activity like they did back in 1982.  Mine prefers to use her computer and social sites like BlogTV which enables video streaming.  The friends she was talking to were neighborhood kids.  Global neighborhood kids to be more accurate; from Norway, Sweden and Austria.

Consider the implications of that for a minute. What was considered part of a fantastic future just a few years ago is now an everyday activity for teenagers. Soon, they will be starting their careers, building families of their own and generally running the place.   How fast will their ideas and trends travel as the distance and barriers between different cultures becomes smaller and smaller?  How much will they begin to see and respect one another for what they have in common instead being fearful of differences?

Spaceship Earth image courtesy of Jeff B

More Thoughts on Sprint

sprintlogo.jpgTo my regular readers, I’m sorry that the blog has gone a little stale over the past week, but I’ve been a bit preoccupied trying to find a new job. Nevertheless, traffic is way, way up on the Sprint post and I have been having lots of great conversations with people who have commented on it. In lieu of a new topic, which I promise to get to this week, I’ll pass on some of those additional thoughts from my conversations. Perhaps if Sprint were a Sense & Respond organization, they would be joining in the conversation or at least be actively listening. My guess is they’re not.

Of all the comments on the post, no one defended Sprint. To the contrary, all but one had negative things to say about them. The other guy just had negative things to say about female cellphone users. Thought certainly not a statistically valid sample, I would wager that few people really love their wireless provider. It’s the nature of the industry in the US. With limited competition due to the high cost of entry, the wireless providers aren’t compelled to differentiate on customer service and in my experience, Sprint is the poor service leader.

You may have noticed that this story has gone mainstream with coverage by the Associated Press, ABC News and Brandweek . The details, if you haven’t seen them are mind-boggling. David Reich wrote a great summary today on his blog, “my 2 cents”, but here’s the big thing to consider:

Out of Sprint’s 52 Million customers, only 1000 received the letter saying they were calling customer support too much. Do the math. That’s less than .002% of their customers. There is no way that that small percentage was adding any material cost to their operation. (update:  As a friend pointed out, the actual cost of these calls could have been material; however, the methodology for counting is unclear.  For example, the ABC story indicates that a single call with 5 internal transfers might have been counted as 5 calls). Sprint says that, on average, these customers were calling in 40-50 times per month. Perhaps that’s true and given my personal experience with trying to get my own Sprint bill fixed, I can appreciate that.

Nevertheless, Sprint made the decision to go after them in a way that became very controversial, very public, very fast. The cost of this action in terms of bad PR is on par with Circuit City’s recent bungle. where they fired 3400 of their most experienced store employees to cut costs. Several months later they are still trying to explain that one, but it’s too late. In both cases, the damage to public perception has been done, although in Sprint’s case, it was pretty low to begin with and their defensive spin machine is just getting fired up. In my opinion, it was a failure of leadership in both of these companies to make such shortsighted decisions without considering how their customers would view them.

One of my conversations this week was with the Conversation Agent herself, Valeria Maltoni. She pointed me to a post she wrote about the wireless business in the US and speculates that Apple may be just the disrupter needed to shake up the industry. It’s a great post and has some David Letterman Top 10 humor to boot.

Sprint Fires Its Customers

I was a Sprint customer for a while.  I hated every minute of it.  The coverage was spotty and their ability to screw up the billing month after month was unprecedented.  Every month, I would call their support line, wait on hold for 30-40 minutes, and then have to explain the problem (usually se same problem as the previous month).  Once the contract was up, I fired them.  Today, Gizmodo is reporting that Sprint is firing some of their customers for, are you ready for this, making too many customer service calls regarding billing and other account info.

I’m not kidding!  Here it is:

sprintletter11.jpg

As outlined in letters to certain customers, Sprint is giving them 30 days notice and then they are shuuing off their phones.  In a rare moment of weakness for cell phone carriers, Sprint is going to let these customers go without having to pay early termination fees of the last month’s bill.

I am amazed by the arrogance of this action.  I’m sure these customers have nothing better to do than to use up Sprint’s valuable customer support resources day in and day out with their silly questions.  I smell an orthodoxy here.  Something along the lines of “these customers are bad because they cost us more than they generate.”

Sprint deserves some seriously bad press over this incredibly stupid approach. 

Here’s my suggestion to Sprint:  Before you start firing your customers, you should take the time to understand the source of the problem.  It’s probably staring back at you when you look in the mirror.

The iPhone Challenge

No sooner had I hit the publish key on my Brand Engagement – Apple Store post, did I see this challenge from Seth Godin:

Steve Ballmer says, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” Predicting the future of the iPhone is perfect bait for marketing pundits everywhere. How about a pool and we’ll see who’s as smart as they pretend to be? So, I invite you to make a prediction, trackback it here and a year from now, we’ll take a look.

I agree with Seth; the iPhone will be big this year and even bigger next year.  Here’s why:

  1. People, especially young teens, are totally engaged with the Apple brand.
  2. The cell phone and the iPod are probably the most important possessions a young teenager has.
  3. It will be the ultimate aspirational gadget for young teens.  Having the coolest iPod and phone are status symbols for them; they get you attention.  If someone else has a RAZR, you will drive your parents crazy begging for one, even if you have a perfectly good phone (voice of experience talking)

What do you think?

Jott This Down

logo130×55.pngJust when Twittering seems to be all the rage, a new player hits the stage. It’s called Jott.com and its one of the coolest innovations I’ve seen in a while. Here is the basic idea:

You call Jott on your mobile phone. You speak the name of the person or group you want to send a message to. You speak for 30 seconds. Those sentences get transcribed and e-mailed. It could be a “note to self”, or a client, or an employee, or your team, or your spouse who never seems to have either of their two cell phones turned on (that’s another story).

Instant speech to text conversion with messaging. Kinda like a 30 second Twitter version of a podcast.

I often judge the coolness of something by using my 13-year old daughter as a barometer. She thinks Twitter is “totally geeky”, but when I showed Jott to her, she was instantly hooked. She immediately started playing with it; not for anything productive mind you, just wanted to see how much abuse it could take (singing, laughing, nonsensical jibberish). She also told her friends about it and they started Jotting each other. The hyper-connected youth have yet another way to communicate.

I have to agree with Drew McLellan who predicts that Jott “is going to be the breakout of 2007”. Drew suggests several ways he is going to use it:

  • Dictate notes from meetings and send them to myself for a record. Jott it.
  • I’m pulling out of a client’s parking lot and send a note to our Project Manager about opening a new job. Jott him.
  • Forget milk? Never again. Jott me.
  • Have a breakthrough idea while waiting to board a plane — jott my entire staff before I forget said idea. Jott the team.
  • Want to remind my daughter to do XYZ but she’s going to get home before I do. Jott her.
  • See someone across the way at Panera and want to remember to call them in a week or so. Jott me.
  • Have forgotten to grab a book from the office 3 times. Jott me.
  • All the stuff that I try to write down before I forget it. Jott me. Jott me. Jott me.

The other reason this may be big is that it is potentially disruptive to the wireless carriers. Think about it. Text Messaging is hot.  Over 80 Million US subscribers sent over 100 Billion text messages last year (Pew Research). Teenagers have made it a routine way to communicate. Most individual subscriber plans charge $.02 per message sent and received. With Jott, you never have to pay to send a message, so you can send more messages under you current plan, or reduce your monthly costs by switching to a plan that allows fewer messages.

Now if someone will just build a simple interface to allow me to Jott to my Twitter account, I’ll be in lifelogging heaven.


Will iPhone Mess Up Cell Phones Upgrade Cycle?

iphone.jpg

Olga Kharif at Business Week believes the Apple iPhone will disrupt the cellphone upgrade model.  That model says that users generally replace their phones every 18 months.  They do this for a number of reasons: Phone is broken or has battle scars, new features, new styling.  The biggest reason, of course, is that the industry enables it by giving free or cheap phones when you agree to a new contract.

In a recent article, Olga’s makes this argument:

“The new iPhone from Apple….brag[s] touch screens instead of buttons. That means that if cell phone makers or carriers decide to add new functionalities to these phone when they are already in use, they could, potentially, do that over the air. Want to enable consumers to shoot, edit and post videos to a mobile site in a new way? Just send them an application with virtual buttons that will appear on their touch screens and allow for this application’s use.

If consumers are able to get new applications this way, I think some of them will stick with their phones longer. After all, today’s phones all feature cameras and Web access. Unless handset makers come out with additional hardware making replacing handsets every 18 months a must, I don’t see why consumers will keep on changing their phones as often, especially since the phones’ prices seem to be on the rise. After all, with a simple software upgrade, users will be able to drastically change their phones’ looks and functionalities anyway. So, why splurge on a new phone?”

She goes on to ask her readers if they agree.  The article is short, but the list of comments is long and each side makes good points. 

Here’s my take.  The upgrade cycle today is controlled by the carriers.   Apple wants to change that.  The iPhone may be the hottest CE product of 2007 and millions of people will pay the premium to get it.  Once that happens, and assuming that the experience lives up to the Apple brand (and the hype), people will not be so eager to upgrade just because their contract is up.   Assuming that the 5 year exclusive deal with Cingular doesn’t change, they won’t really be able to switch anyway.  Being touchscreen based does not make the iPhone an infinitely extendable platform (sorry Olga).  There will be ongoing evolution of the technology, just as there has been a steady stream of product improvements to the iPod.  This is what will drive the upgrade cycle for iPhone users.  The cycle may remain at around 18 months, but it will be the product itself that shifts the control of the cycle to Apple.

What do you think????

Stupid Quote of the Year Alert

It was bad enough that ,when given the first opportunity to be the exclusive carrier for Apple’s new iPhone, Verizon turned it down.  Now, Verizon’s President and COO Denny Strigl has gone on record as saying,

“The iPhone product is something we are happy we aren’t the first to market with.”

Yeah,  that makes a lot of sense.  Wouldn’t want to be first to market with what will be the hottest product of 2007, now would we?  The back story, according to The Register, is as follows:

The problem seems to have been Apple’s insistence in sharing the call revenue as well as controlling distribution channels and customer service.

Verizon vice president Jim Gerace (one of many veeps at the company) said: “We said no. We have nothing bad to say about the Apple iPhone. We just couldn’t reach a deal that was mutually beneficial.”

We can only assume that Cingular did agree to such a deal, and guess to what heights that will drive the cost of the two year contract it is demanding from iPhone purchasers.

Cingular said it inked the deal with Apple more than two years ago, when the iPhone was no more than a couple of sketches and concepts; such was its belief in the Apple brand and abilities.

It never ceases to amaze me how shortsighted companies can be and Verizon appears to be shining example. They are a victim of their Orthodoxies. Cingular, on the other hand apparently saw opportunities in doing business Apple’s way. Apple has mastered the art of delivering a great Customer Experience; from the user interface on the device, to the human interaction in their stores.  Cingular knows that customers are going to want this thing and sees opportunity in increasing their subscriber base even if Apple gets most of the ROI on the phone.  Cingular has been good at Sensing what the next hot device will be and Responding by getting exclusive access to it early in the product cycle when the highest margins can be demanded. They did it with the Motorola RAZR (Verizon was the last major US carrier to get it) and the iPhone looks to be an encore performance.

Cisco vs Apple

When I heard a while back that Cisco owned the trademark for the name “iPhone”, I figured Apple would either negotiate a price for it, or go with a different name.  When they announced the”iPhone” yesterday, I assumed that the price had been paid.  Guess I was wrong as Cisco has filed suit over the trademark infringement.  Read the complaint here.

iPhone……

It’s Cool.  It’s Expensive.  It’s exclusive to Cingular (but should run on other GSM networks with the right SIM card).  Any Questions?

See all the photos here
View an interactive demo here. 

You can read much more just about anywhere 🙂

Is This Your Next Mobile Phone???

SamsungSamsung Electronics presented their new three-way foldable combination of phone, personal computer and music player tailored for an emerging wireless broadband technology the company is pushing as a global standard.

The new device was unveiled at a Samsung-sponsored industry conference on Mobile Wi-Max – a new technology delivering faster remote broadband connections.

Its called MITs, which stands for Mobile Intelligent Terminal by Samsung.   It weights about a pound and contains a fold out keyboard, 5-inch screen, 30GB hard drive, and Windows software. 

It is scheduled to be released in South Korea in early 2007 with Intel, Sprint Nextel and Motorola all looking to commercialize it in the States soon thereafter.

Samsung Electronics unveils new communication device tailored for WiMax

Cingular Integrates XM into it’s Music Service

cingular_xm.jpgCingular announced it’s Music Service yesterday. Gizmodo covered it and conducted a poll to get reader’s perspective on the value of Sprint & Verizon’s music services. I personally don’t understand why people would pay the overly inflated prices that the carriers charge and apparently, Gizmodo’s readers are in my camp. The results (here) say that only 1.2% of responders use the service frequently or all the time. So what makes Cingular thing their service will be more attractive? How about XM Satellite Radio.

Cingular will also be teaming up with XM satellite radio to offer streaming satellite radio content on mobile phones beginning November 6.  Now that’s cool!  I have a Pioneer Inno portable and I love it, but I hate having to carry multiple devices around. Bear in mind that the Cingular service will be a condensed version of XM (no Fred), for $8.99 per month.  Not sure if you can get a lower rate is part of an XM family plan.  The PAD data will be available on the phone, so users will be able to see what songs they are listening to.

<image via Gizmodo>

Motorola Cell Phone Vending Machines

<via thedailyjournal.com

Motorola is installing “Instantmoto” vending machines in nearly two dozen malls and airports nationwide.  According to Bob Many, Motorola’s director of automated retailing, the machines will sell 12 kinds of phones and 18 accessories. 

The products are delivered to consumers by a robotic arm and are run from a central location, similar to the way automated teller machines are operated.  Shoppers will be able to use credit cards to purchase mid- to high-end models, including the Razr and the Q, and can buy with or without a service plan for T-Mobile, Verizon and Cingular service. Using a touch-screen, customers can pick a phone’s style, color and accessories, such as car adapters and chargers.  Shoppers starting a new service plan must go online to sign up for service with their carrier.

Motorola is trying to bring retail closer to the customer through what they call “convenience purchasing” and this is clearly an innovation test that could be rolled out if successful. 

The stores are operated by San Francisco-based Zoom Systems.  You may remember them as the developer of the innovation vending model for iPods, digi-cams, and other CE products.

Because avatars need phones, too

<via Springwise>

In what seems like a weekly occurence, another brand has popped up in Second Life. This time it’s Telus, Canada’s second largest telco, who opened a virtual store last week.  Telus is both the first major Canadian corporation, and the first major telecommunications company to enter SL. Unlike Aloft Hotel and American Apparel‘s store, which are both located on privately owned islands, Telus set up shop in a downtown area on SL’s mainland (visit location).

According to 3pointD, the telco’s foray into Second Life was initiated by a Telus advertising manager. Sparkle Dale, as she’s known in Second Life, has a personal passion for gaming and metaverses and saw an opportunity to extend her employer’s brand into a new realm.

The store was designed along the lines of flagship stores in Toronto and Montreal and features phones that are modelled and named after actual Samsung and Motorola models. While integration with Skype, other voice over IP systems and real life mobile phones would of course be an exciting way to merge virtual and real worlds, Telus’s SL phones currently only let users shoot off busy messages to other citizens. The phones are on sale for a few hundred Linden Dollars, which is the equivalent of a few US dollars.

Website: http://www.telus.ca and http://secondlife.com

Telecom Wars: Sprint Nextel Launches first WiMax salvo

Sprint Nextel Corp will use WiMax technology to build a broadband wireless network in the United States. Sprint will work with Motorola and Samsung according to the announcement (webcast and news release), as well as with chipmaker Intel. The network will be built from 2007 to 2009.

At Monday’s press conference, Sprint said it will invest $1 billion in 2007 and $1.5-$2 billion, in 2008 (not including investments by its partners). The Sprint Nextel 4G mobility network will use the company’s extensive 2.5GHz spectrum holdings, which cover 85 percent of the households in the top 100 U.S. markets.

Implementation of this network will introduce some significant competition markets that are currently dominated by Cable (ISP, Video). Look’s like cable’s free ride may be over.

Many more details on this story at dailywireless.org

T-Mobile kidConnect

 [via Gizmodo]

kidconnect.gif

Following up on the youth cellphone program introduced earlier this year by Disney, looks like T-Mobile is junping on the bandwagon.

To help parents keep their kids’ cellphone bills under control, T-Mobile has released the kidConnect service that’s now available for $19.99. The plan includes 50 minutes of anytime calls plus unlimited calling between parent and child and other T-Mobile subscribers. There’s a also unlimited weekend calling and SMS/MMS, which deducts from the 50 minutes of anytime talk minutes.

Plans like these are pretty neat for parents who don’t want their kids using the phone excessively, but still want to keep track and have their children be able to reach them at any time. We hear Michael Douglas gave one to CZJ. – Jason Chen

T-Mobile KidConnect [T-Mobile via Slashphone]

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