Data is good, but not without voice

RANT: The U.S. wireless industry’s annual fiesta, CTIA 2007, is finally wrapping up. By all means it looks like a successful show, capped by a news release from CTIA that boasts that data revenues of the industry jumped 77% in 2006 to $15.2 billion, representing about 13% of the total wireless industry revenues, currently pegged at about $125 billion.

Thanks to all those newfangled services – music, videos, television and even the web – the mobile data revenues will increase next year. But that is not a reason for the industry dons to forget what puts gas in their Cadillacs: Voice.

In 2006, voice brought in about $110 billion, and that is such a large amount of money that the U.S. wireless providers should cringe at the fact that they have to use advertising tag lines such as “fewest dropped calls” or ask people to come and try their service for 30 days or switch back for free.

No self-respecting descendant of Ma Bell should be able to sleep at night till they fix the voice network. After all Europeans have managed to lick the dropped call problem, by putting decent enough quality in place. Even the Chinese and Indian carriers with their microscopic ARPU manage to complete calls pretty much everywhere.

What brings on the rant today? How about the for past three days I have been unable to retrieve voicemails, or calls have dropped in mid-sentence, leading to a string of profanities and hence dirty looks from nice old ladies.

Frankly we all suffer this ignominy on a daily basis.

Ask anyone in America – and I do mean anyone – and they will be quick to express their dissatisfaction with their wireless phone company – regardless of carrier. Despite the presence of four large national mobile carriers, the voice network problems are almost universal.

Even those endorsed by industry ranking services are not exactly paragons of quality for there have been instances when their own phones don’t work in their company stores.

Voice is more critical to these mobile carriers than they realize. If the phone doesn’t work, we switch to another one with fewer headaches and buy our data plans from them instead … and the music and the TV and the videos! It’s that basic.

The problem is that FCC and others who are supposed to watch out for the consumer don’t really do their job and make voice call coverage mandatory. Just like they made wireless e911 mandatory! How about a QoS guarantee for the consumers?

Don’t the big phone and telecom operators sign service level agreements with big customers? Why not a similar agreement with the consumers – who frankly spend more money on their telecom services, at least in aggregate. So before they try and bring down Google, it is time for wireless carriers to tend to their own yard. Can you hear me now? Probably not, if I’m calling on a wireless phone.