Mobile specialist criticises UK network operators

Actix founder Rob Dobson has criticised his own customers for not being interested in the quality of service delivered to end users

Mobile operators in the UK do not care about the quality of service their subscribers receive, according to the founder of network-optimisation firm Actix.

Rob Dobson, whose company supplies software to most of the major operators — including Orange, 02, Vodafone — told ZDNet UK that network providers are more interested in improving coverage statistics than ensuring users are happy with the service they receive.

Actix commissioned a survey of mobile telephony customers from pollsters YouGov, and found that the majority of those surveyed were sceptical about the quality of mobile broadband services they were receiving from their network provider.

"The perception is that people offering a wireless service are only interested in selling [without quality of service]," said Dobson on Wednesday. "We asked some of our customers' engineers what their view was, and it was surprisingly similar."

The poor design and connection quality of early 3G handsets has put a lot of consumers off the idea of moving to more sophisticated high-speed mobile networks, he added.

"There are lots of reasons why people [end-users] wouldn't have bought into the propositions offered to them up until now. If you try to sell them a more sophisticated service, they are incredibly jaundiced," he explained

Dobson suggested that 3's release of its X-Series line — flat-rate mobile broadband with internet services especially optimised for handset use — could "stir it up", but said the service initially will be "very patchy" until 3 rolls out its HSDPA network (the high-speed evolution of 3G).

"It took 10 years to get GSM to a point where it was optimised, and it still drops one in 20 calls," said Dobson, who pointed out that there was "a chicken and egg problem here — you have to carry the market with you".

Dobson blamed the attitudes of "samey" UK mobile operators for customers' scepticism.

"UK operators spend all their money fielding calls from people who are upset — the UK has some of the largest call-centre-per-subscriber figures of any operators in the world," he claimed, adding: "European operators are saying 'we haven't worked out what we want to achieve' other than a higher stock price."

The approach taken by US operators was far superior, said Dobson, pointing to Sprint's recent decision to invest three billion dollars in overlaying WiMax on top of its EV-DO network (a version of 3G) so it could provide high-bandwidth services such as mobile TV.

"They recognise a need for higher bandwidth, but they are building on a previous network," said Dobson, saying Sprint was demonstrating a "mindset that internet-based services will emerge that will demand these kinds of networks".

In contrast, some UK operators — such as Vodafone and Orange — were taking a "self-fulfilling approach" by not creating an environment where people want to buy their services due to poor quality of service or poor marketing.

Orange UK has not rolled out an HSDPA network and Vodafone has found itself accused of scaling back its push for consumer 3G after poor returns.