UK Carriers Get Wake-Up Call

A new survey today revealed the low quality of voice services offered by the U.K.'s five major mobile operators -- bad news for the carriers who want to get wireline customers to spend more time (and money) on their wireless services.

The survey by Psytechnics Ltd. of the country's networks -- those run by Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), mmO2 plc, Orange UK (London: OGE), T-Mobile (UK), and 3G startup Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. -- saw all five players fail to score higher than "poor" or "fair" on the quality of their voice calls.

The U.K.'s four 2G networks were tested in twenty urban locations (compared to Hutchison's ten), and approximately 150 calls were made per operator. Eight different handsets were used throughout the study.

The results revealed that, on average, voice quality is 20 percent lower than that of fixed networks, despite higher charges.

There is also a significant contrast in call quality between each individual network. "In one test there was a 30 percent difference between operator voice quality in the U.K.," says John Winchester, CEO of Psytechnics.

Winchester isn’t prepared to reveal the identity of the worst-performing culprit, but he is convinced the results will provide a sharp wake-up call to operators attempting to boost revenue by encouraging users to reduce dependency on fixed lines.

"There is a real concern here," he states. "Operators are trying to substitute fixed minutes for mobile and boost average revenue, but they don't understand the customer experience of voice quality. They have begun to address the pricing concern of using mobiles, but now they need to address the call-quality concern. They have to solve this problem."

According to telecom regulator Oftel, 310 billion minutes of calls were made from fixed-line phones in 2001/2002, compared to only 46 billion from mobiles. — Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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