Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Daiwa Eurotelcoblog No. 18, Thursday, 18th December 2003 - Sample of video shot with Orange SPV E200 and upgrade diary (original email blast 4:11 PM Thursday, 18th December, 2003)

Season's Greetings!

This author last week upgraded to the E200, the latest iteration of the Orange SPV series, which features an embedded camera and shoots video as well as still images - puzzlingly the Orange website excludes the SPV from the category of phones capable of video messaging!(http://shop.orange.co.uk/shop/show/handset/orange_spv_e200/details).

The video clip attached shows a fairly unremarkable street scene around the corner from our offices in London. Subject matter excepted, we are pretty pleased with the image and audio quality. We are talking about a GPRS handset after all, and a video stream of five frames per second. Nevertheless, given this author's reasons for buying the phone (two small children whose grandparents live overseas), this is a low-fi hi-tech dream come true. Video clips are easy to send as e-mail attachments, can be transferred to another device via Bluetooth, or simply stored on the data card for later transfer/viewing. Overall, this handset is a vast improvement over the earlier editions, and we have not suffered a system crash yet in a week of heavy usage, which is a dramatic change indeed.

The upgrade was not entirely painless, however. My poor memory for user names and passwords, coupled with some fairly pronounced training issues at the Orange GPRS support call center, made set-up a lengthy and frustrating process. This experience highlights pretty clearly the dilemma facing operators trying to stimulate growth with more sophisticated services - how to capture a clear revenue opportunity without frustrating/baffling the customer and giving away margin through miscommunication and misinformation. Let's make clear at the outset that we don't believe Orange to be significantly worse than other operators in these areas, but our only direct experience has been with it, so just for the record:

When I upgraded from the old SPV to the new, the very useful Orange Backup system backed up all my contacts and SIM data on to the new device, and when it came time to configure the e-mail account, it asked if I wanted to download my Orange.net account settings from the web automatically, which I did. This seemed to work fine, except that the user name it assigned me was not the one I have used in the past. This may have been the result of a misunderstanding between me and the support desk on my first call for help, but whatever the reason, I had to reset this. The situation was not helped by the fact that the user name I then input was also wrong (which is 100% my fault, but perhaps understandable in light of the seven e-mail accounts I use at different times).

Still unable to use e-mail, I was told by another member of the helpdesk to change my user name to my phone number. (It later emerged that this recent change to the log-in procedure applies to Orange.net users accessing e-mail from a PC, but not to phone users. Even if I had not been confused as to my real user name, this advice would still have sent me further in the wrong direction.) Needless to say, e-mail still did not work.

On my next call to the help desk, one of the help desk staff let slip the fact that apparently there are no E200 handsets on site to help staff diagnose problems. Everyone is working from a troubleshooting script, and apparently it is not uncommon for months to pass between the release of a new handset and its issuance to the help desk. I was advised to visit an Orange shop and see an Orange phone trainer for help.

The following Monday I went back to the shop where I bought the phone, but the very friendly and helpful staff there were unfortunately flummoxed by my problem, and contacted the GPRS support team to do an audit trail. They determined that a SIM card update I had expected to receive the preceding Thursday was never sent, and arranged for another to be sent. This never arrived either.

At this point, I decided to escalate and requested to speak to the GPRS team supervisor. Within a couple of hours I received a call back from a senior member of the team, who supplied me with all I needed to know, including my real user name (again partly my own stupidity, made worse by confusion among call center staff as to the account set-up procedure). After this ten-minute call, I was able to send and receive e-mail at last, four days and five help desk calls later. Then the GPRS service appeared to go down for 24 hours or so, leaving me in some doubt as to whether things were really okay or not. Since yesterday I have had normal service, and I am very pleased and very eager to get out there and consume some data.


The sales channel seems to function well. Staff in the shop were very knowledgable, enthusiastic and candid about the relative merits of the phone versus the SonyEricsson P900, which was my other choice. I was initially inclined to choose the more expensive and sophisticated SonyEricsson, but my exchanges with the sales staff led me towards the SPV being the logical choice for my needs. I assume this must have positive implications for Orange on the margin side, as the SPV is their baby.
It was also clear that Orange is being a lot more aggressive at tailoring retention costs to the user profile. Identified as a "heavy user," the price I paid for an upgrade was half what a more marginal user might have paid.

Support seems somewhat strained. Everyone I spoke with on the GPRS support desk was very patient, friendly and doing their best to be helpful, but there seemed to be a wide variation in knowledge levels, and the confusion over the change in log-in procedure appeared to be a failure in communication higher up in the organization. As phones become more complex, and users inevitably need more troubleshooting support, gaps in training like this risk multiple calls to resolve the same problem, which will be costly. All in all, my problem took two hours of call center time to resolve. It is also puzzling that help desk staff would not have access to samples of new phones, as these inevitably generate the most calls.

This is a good phone, and my ARPU is going to rise as a result of it being available and reasonably affordable. The message attached is a good case in point. The size, at 1.42MB, used nearly half of my basic data bundle in one go, but I have a strong incentive to use the service, so my data ARPU is bound to increase roughly fourfold in the near future.

My situation may be somewhat unique as an ex-pat, but it is easy to imagine that people on vacation or witnessing some spectacular event or sight might want to make liberal use of video messaging, even if it soaks up their inclusive data bundle and takes a long time to send (this message was in excess of 10 minutes). This should also be a killer application for the already well-established "moblog" movement in the US and elsewhere (see http://www.textamerica.com/moblogs.asp for some great examples).

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