A New Year’s resolution for Verizon and AT&T


It’s a simple one, really: Spend a few zillion less on attack ads against each other and more on building out and resolving issues in your networks and with your handsets. That way the vast majority of the U.S. that uses one of the two services, AT&T and Verizon top executives and their multimillion-dollar Madison Avenue pitchmen and women included, can endure fewer dropped calls and enjoy more actual coverage in more areas, not just on those cute little red/orange/blue-splotched “coverage maps” in the TV spots but in real life. I’ve long contended that the bespectacled field tester Verizon still features in some of its advertising, the one who keeps asking, “Can you hear me now,” is not really a tester at all but a Verizon customer. The bottom line for my good friends in the wireless world: Whichever mobile operator it is who actually, finally transcends the “best efforts” mobile service most of us receive now and delivers the industry’s Holy Grail–a level of mobile service that truly provides what can be called with a straight face a landline replacement–will lock up the vast majority of the U.S. mobile services market without having to run even one more smarmy, nyah-nyah-they’re-worse-than-us ad.

Here’s the funny part: It might not even be one of the U.S. wireless Big Two who takes us to the promised land first. Sprint (which has now assimilated Nextel); T-Mobile; up-and-comers such as Clearwire and Cellular South; the various companies that compete as Cellular One; or even one of the Latin American operators such as Grupo Carso’s Claro, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), or one of the myriad of Telmex or Telefonica properties might show AT&T and Verizon the way.

The AT&T-Verizon clash reminds me of the long-running, overhyped “cola wars” between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, but at least those battling bottlers never fail to deliver the goods. When’s the last time you tipped up a cool, refreshing container of either one and got a “beverage outage” message?

Upon further review, maybe using mobile services in the U.S. today is like drinking out of a can when what we really need is a bottle or a glass: At least with a clear container you can see whether the service [beverage] is available before you try to use your mobile device [have a drink]. When is the last time your handset and that of the person on the other end both showed “full bars” right as your call dropped? Probably not long ago. Not that I am bitter.

OK, so let’s just say the mobile advertising onslaught works on some level and you decide to switch from one of the mobile giants to the other, bringing your mobile number with you? Well, as we head into the 2009-10 holiday season here’s hoping you and yours have an easier time trying to make it across the mobile divide than our household did a year ago [“Verizon (and AT&T), We’ve Got a Problem”].

Maybe the answer to this question of ad-fueled style vs. service delivery substance lies with a company like Keynote that provides user-specific web and mobile testing to assess actual user experience with apps and ads and downloads, and yes, basic wireless connectivity and performance, at various locations around the globe. As it says on Keynote’s website, “Connected companies will know precisely how their Web sites, content, and applications will perform on actual browsers, networks, and mobile devices long before their customers and business are impacted.” I’d love to be able to make Keynote’s service performance test results publicly available to everyone, not just to the service providers who are its main customers, because what Keynote does gets to the heart of the buying decision that faces every residential or corporate mobile purchaser: If I commit to this contract, what is the service going to be like? I don’t want to hear that it “covers 97% of all residents;” will it work specifically for me, and/or my company?

Or maybe Sprint will offer answers by looking outward. In July 2009 it agreed to pay up to $5 billion over the next seven years to Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson, turning over day-to-day operations of its network to the Swedish telecom company as Sprint focuses on new products and customer retention. It is the first time one of the major U.S. carriers, who are infamous for exercising tight control over assets, has fully outsourced core network functions to a third-party vendor. Maybe Ericsson (er, Sprint) will lead the charge that guides U.S. mobile operators from best efforts to best practices.

Pour more money into delivering the service. Pour less (with all apologies to Luke Wilson) into ads trying to convince everyone the other mobile telecom titan is worse than you are. It’s a crazy (holiday) dream…

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