Is the iPhone a poisoned chalice for mobile phone networks?

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iPhoene at&T.jpgThere’s a fascinating feature today at Cnet in the US which asks the question ‘Is the iPhone damaging AT&T’s brand?‘ AT&T is the US network that has exclusivity on the phone until at least early next year.

British iPhone owners should read the feature twice. Once in its original form and then again substituting the words O2 for AT&T.

Put simply the views of American iPhone owners and UK ones about their network are uncannily similar.

Take this quote from Doug Helmreich, program director with CFI Group.

“AT&T has never fared great in customer satisfaction surveys, but they’ve never been last. Now AT&T is coming up last among smartphone users. The iPhone has been a cash cow for AT&T, but that cash comes at a cost in terms of overall satisfaction.”

Compare that with this from TechDigest last week

The Kaizo Advocacy Index, which tracks online reputation via sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google, was published this week and highlights how O2’s online ‘sentiment score’ had plummeted. Apparently it has gone down 20 per cent over the past six months and O2 is by some distance the worst performing brand in the mobile sector.

In some respects it could be even worse for AT&T with a recent survey suggesting that 90s% of iPhone owners would jump ship to another network if they could keep their handset.

Personally I think there are three problems at play here

1 iPhone owners are more demanding than users of other phones.

They use more data and have higher expectations. This is something that AT&T’s spokesperson Mark Siegel acknowledges.

“We carry more iPhones than any other carrier in the world and handle more wireless data traffic than other U.S. carrier. Because of smartphones like the iPhone, among many others, people have dramatically changed the way they use the wireless network with data usage exploding.”
So basically iPhone owners are pushing the network to breaking point.

2 There’s a crowd mentality damaging the networks

In the UK O2 has recently taken a pasting on Twitter and there are some high profile campaigns against the network. This might influence other users who have data problems with their phone who then instantly attribute it to the network. It should be added too that there are many iPhone owners who are happy with O2’s performance.

3 It might be the phone

There have been dark whisperings in the past about the iPhone’s immature 3G chip. Might it be that the hardware simply isn’t good enough to meet users’ expectations?

The interesting part is that we will find out soon enough. If Orange and Vodafone iPhone subscribers have similar problems to AT&T and O2’s users then we will know for sure it is the phone.

Unless of course all UK phone networks are rubbish…

Whatever happens in the coming months you can bet that the US networks will be monitoring what Orange and Vodafone iPhone users say very closely.

Ashley Norris

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