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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Operator-specific vs. Vanilla handsets

I just had an interesting chat with the sales guys in my local branch of Carphone Warehouse. I was inquiring about the new SonyEricsson C902 phone, and so asked them which networks it was available on. They replied that it was supplied in with either O2 or Orange contracts. (Interestingly, the CPW website also mentions T-Mobile, and it should be noted that the company no longer resells Vodafone).

Now, I'd recently tried out another phone which had a horribly slow and clunky operator-specific UI on top of the usual slick midrange SonyEricsson menu and app software. So I asked the CPW staff "Which version of the phone [Orange or O2] has the better software?". The reply surprised me "They're the same, we supply the phone with the generic software".

Now the reason for this can't be logistics (ie desire to avoid stocking separate versions of each phone) as I'll bet that each one still has physical modifications like operator logos. So I'm wondering instead if there has been some push-back from customers about operator-specific differences between phones. I've thought for a while that the handset review magazines and sites really ought to compare between operator variants of the same phone. And anecdotally, I'm certainly aware that some UK consumers are certainly aware that devices' capabilities and useability differ.

Obviously in instances where operators have exclusive rights to given handsets - or more-material customisations - such comparisons can't be done. And in markets like the US and Japan, it's quite common for many devices to be very-tightly specified by a single carrier.

But for popular devices like many Nokias and S-Es and Samsungs, do the mobile operators really want to compete on whose version of a given device is best? Obviously the quick answer is "Oh no, we'll compete on the services available on our version of the phones". While there may well be specific custom client software (to access custom services), this ignores the more in-your-face changes to top-level menus and UI that some carriers insist upon. It's minor things like populating the home screen with unchangeable links to stuff you don't want, or locking the browser's home page, that customers will be irked by.

There's also another question here - will the generic versions of phones supplied by CPW work well with all of each operator's existing service portfolios?


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a CPW Employee and thought I'd answer your question. The reason CPW carry generic ranges is simply because it is easier to carry and not sell out of a generic handset also that economies of scale are realised fully when we place massive direct orders with the manufacturers. If I am to be honest, I really don't think the networks like having to give us permission to sell generic kit to their Customers however as the measily quantities that are produced by the manufacturers are to thin to spread across the country and maximise the opportunity, the networks appreciate that by CPW carrying generic it allows them to aquire some extra Customers that would normally lose due to stock availability in their own stores or the other networks stores.

Anonymous said...

I work for an operator.

CPW nearly always sell "generic" hnadsets sourced direct. All the operator asks is that the handset is pre-approved and that it should be able to work on the network. When CarphoneW stock a handset buut its not available on, say, T-Mobile its because somebody in Bonn won't approve the grey market version, for either strategic or technology reasons.

One of the drivers for Vodafone falling out with CarphoneW is beleived to be because Fat Red wanted to keep control of global distribution and ensure EVRY handset was flashed with Vodafone software. Hence Vodafone exclcusives only available through their own stores. Other operators are happier with having multichannel.

Customer preference is nothing to do with the decision- how very uncommon for the mobile industry!