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May 2014

Device Testing Partnership to Lure OEMs and Lower Rural Wireless Churn

Device Testing Partnership to Lure OEMs and Lower Rural Wireless Churn

Large mobile operators seem to have all the advantages, don‘t they?  Big TV advertising budgets, huge customer bases, and the purchasing clout to earn price breaks and preferential treatment from suppliers.

Even still, small- to mid-sized wireless carriers can effectively compete because business success today hinges less on financial power or size and more on great ideas and the ability to crowd source and cooperate with partners.

Case in point is Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), a group of more than 100 U.S. rural and regional wireless carriers who have banded together to promote their common interests.

Carrier associations are known as Washington lobbyists, but the CCA has distinguished itself by something more: an ability to help its members gain greater economies of scale through cooperative programs like its Handset Buying Alliance and its Data Services Roaming Hub.

Now the CCA is working with Apkudo, a mobile device and app testing company, to deliver a unique Device Hub testing program that promises big churn reduction benefits for CCA members.  Akpuko’s CMO, Melissa Blanken, is here to explain.

Dan Baker: Melissa, how are the small- to mid-sized operators in the U.S. managing their devices today?  What problems do they face?

Melissa Blanken: Dan, operators in the CCA membership generally lack the volumes needed to get their handsets and other devices directly from OEMs.

Take carriers like Cincinnati Bell, or GCI and ACS in Alaska.  They very rarely get devices directly from a Samsung or Motorola.  Instead, they get them through a distributor who maybe sources through Mexico or South America, and the distributor completely rips out the OEM software before customizing it for the service provider.

The maintenance of the device becomes problematic too, because when a new software release for the device comes out, it again requires customization for each small service provider.

While Apple’s iOS 7 works pretty much the same across all carriers, different versions of a Samsung Galaxy S4, for example, will launch for the Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizons of the world.  So the device could actually work quite differently by operator, even though the hardware looks the same.

This means device testing is critical, yet most of these small and regional operators don‘t have proper lab facilities for certification and limited resources to manage everything in their device portfolio — from sourcing, to forecasting, testing and post-launch trouble shooting.  That creates a big gap: they just don’t have the resources in terms of time, money, or people to do a complete job of testing.

And what’s the financial impact for operators if those devices contain glitches?

The biggest hit carriers take is in the first week or so after a subscriber purchases the device and starts using them.

When the user first gets their brand new phone, they expect it to work perfectly.  If it doesn‘t, if it crashes or the apps don’t run properly, they’ll want to return the device then buy one from a competitor.  One of our customers estimated they saved $1 million annually in device returns for just one device by identifying pre-launch issues.  Over the course of a year, one operator reduced their device returns from 15 percent to 7 percent.

How does your service work?

Our customer is the carrier, and they ask us to analyze devices before they launch.  After our analysis, we provide reports to the handset manufacturer, distributor, and carrier so they can resolve issues or know about issues and proactively fix them before a customer finds them.

One of the categories of analysis is around stability of the device under a huge workload of applications.  Does the device crash?  If so, in what context does it crash — and what could be causing that?  Is it a device or an application issue?

We use our proprietary software to actually learn and run applications just like a real person would.

All OEMs have issues with their phones that can be addressed to provide a better customer experience.  For instance, we recently identified an issue with Temple Run, a very popular game that crashed on three quarters of the sample devices we tested.  We traced the problem to a library on the device that ran out of memory.

We check other features, too, like the camera and keyboard.  We also test latency on the touch screen and battery consumption with typical use.

How are you working with the Competitive Cellular Association?

We recently launched CCA’s Device Hub initiative, and its first priority is to build what we call a SmartSpec or common device requirements across carrier members.  OEMs love this becuase they can get common requirements that apply to many operators in the Association.  And that’s the issue: it’s a challenge building devices that work for these carriers because generic requirements don‘t exist today.  Instead, the device manufacturers need to gather them from each of the carriers — and there are over 100 in the CCA.

So Device Hub is an idea that’s long overdue: very few of the rural and regional operators in the CCA compete with each other.  The Device Hub lets them collaborate to get more leverage with the OEMs both from a technology and pricing perspective.

A very recent and exciting development is that SoftBank CEO and Chairman Masayoshi Son announced he wants to make LTE build outs easier for the small carriers.  CCA is working on a number of initiatives to make this easier for its members through the Device Hub.

Once the SmartSpec is in place, a lot of behind the scenes work needs to happen to make sure those devices are ready for deployment on a member’s network.  That’s Apkudo’s forte.

And please tell us a little about Apkudo, the company.

Dan, our first product was Apkudo for Developers, an online testing solution for Android app developers where they can upload and test their application across 300 plus devices simultaneously.  We soon discovered that helping carriers and manufacturers launch new devices under a huge workload of applications was another natural fit.  In a sense, we are treating a mobile device as another application platform.

Our first customers were Metro PCS and Cricket.  Today, we also have a nice model serving all tiers of carriers, and we also work with device manufacturers to improve their devices before they launch.

Sounds like this service and your work for CCA is going to be a winner.  Good luck with it.

Copyright 2014 Telexchange Journal

 

About the Expert

Melissa Blanken

Melissa Blanken

Melissa Blanken is the chief marketing officer at Apkudo, where she oversees all aspects of marketing.  A seasoned wireless-industry veteran, Melissa has more than 19 years of experience developing and managing marketing of new and innovative products and services at Nextel, Sprint, Clearwire, and Constellation.

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