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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fudging the numbers, part 2

Last summer I wrote a post called "Fudging the numbers", which looked through some of the statistical dirty laundry of the mobile industry. Time for a follow-up, methinks....

11. "X% of handset owners use feature Y or service Z"
Fudge: How often do they use it? Hourly? Monthly? Once? What do they use it for?

12. X million musicphones were sold
Fudge: What's a musicphone? One which can play long audio files? One with a dedicated music player & library software suite? One optimised for music, or one which just happens to have a software client buried down in the entertainment menu somewhere? One with dedicated buttons (play/stop etc)? Or maybe just one with an FM Radio, not an MP3 capability?

13. 3G phone shipments vs. 3G users
Fudge: Some 3G phones are sold into markets without a 3G network and just work in 2G mode. Others are shipped without a 3G SIM (this happened personally to me "Oh, your old SIM should be fine"), or people switch them manually to 2G when they find it doubles the battery life.

14. "X% of customers would switch broadband subcribers to sign up to Operator Z's fixed-mobile service or Carrier Y's quad-play"
Fudge: did your survey mention they'd also have to change their email address (and their family's) if the change ISPs?

15. "Lots of people are willing to 'cut the cord' and go mobile-only"
Fudge: Ah, so that'll be the segment of the population that can't afford a PC & so doesn't want fast uncapped broadband then? ... and no, they wouldn't want IPTV on a big plasma screen, or other services in the future. And, er, do they own a fax machine or an online home security system by any chance?

16. Heavily subsidise data-oriented devices, then charge a higher tariff
Fudge: If you tie your BlackBerry or 3G data card customers into an 18/24-month contract, you can increase your data ARPU by implicitly including the device purchase cost in the revenue stream

17. Classification of "miscellaneous" billed revenue
Fudge: On the revenue breakdown, where do you put things like handset insurance? Or an extra fee for itemised bills? Or per-minute charges to call a customer care line on an 0870 or other premium-rate number? I bet these don't go under "voice"......

18. Mobile Internet use are/will be more important than PC-based use
Fudge: Not everyone who clicks on the WAP/web browser icon on their handset is "using the Internet". And there's a huge difference between users and usage - lots of people may have tried the web icon on their handset when they first got it, or even used the number-pad keys to Google something ultra-important after a few drinks. But looking at actual ongoing use measured by pages / bytes / pixels consumed / time online / online purchases is still 99% PC-based (& yes, I know, Japan & Korea are exceptions). [99% - rough guess. Can anyone show me website logs which breakdown page hits by browser with >1% identifiable mobile browsers? Look at this analysis]

19. "We're a next-gen content / VoIP services / social networking / managed services provider"
Fudge: So why don't you tell us just how much of your revenue stream is actually made up of mundane stuff like interconnect/termination revenues or SMS gateways?

20. Use of 3G / smartphones increases ARPU
Fudge: Cause & effect - can you prove that using 3G or a smartphone increases a given individual's spend against their previous usage... or do existing high-spending users just tend to migrate faster to 3G/smartphones & skew the averaged figures? (do you actually offer 3G or smartphones to prepay customers, for example? or is the measured user base actually self-selected contract users?)


Anonymous said...

On 19, the answer would be zero if the provider making the statement is an MVNO.

Anonymous said...


MNC telcos won't give analyst the figures he wants. What's next week? "my job really is really very hard no really". I answer to shareholders and customers. The data you list is irrelevant to someone who doesn't even put together a decent reason of why he wants its. In all my time working in telecoms (quite a long time too...) neither you nor any other "independent" analyst has come up to me with a good business case for handing over this kind of dataset, other than s/he will put in into a spreadsheet which he can sell to my competitors.

Get with the program and stop whining.

Dean Bubley said...

What an ignorant, irrelevant & unnecessarily vitriolic comment. While I know that there are analysts that badger operators & vendors for highly-granular datasets that are clearly confidential, firstly I don't myself, and secondly that's not the point of this or my previous post.

Now, let's see, Mr/Ms Anonymous. I can be patronising too, and without the coward's cloak of anonymity too. I'll spell it out for you. Read carefully.

Many of my comments are aimed at countering spurious and skewed survey results championed in vendors' & operators' PR.

Some others are aimed at highlighting misleading or obfuscating financial results & KPIs, where definitions are deliberately left poor in the implicit hope that valuation metrics (and hence short-to-medium term share price) will be applied to not-quite-crystal-clear input data. Data ARPU is the obvious one here. I'm sure the shareholders you answer to are happy with the transparency your firm provides, but that's certainly not true universally.

Next, some datasets are used internally by people pitching projects to their management. I imagine an awful lot of wasted spend in operators content businesses could have been avoided if some of the more spurious numerical claims had been analysed a bit more forensically in advance.

Finally, as I frequently and unembarassedly mention, I write the blog mostly for reasons of commercial self-promotion. Assorted companies ask me to look at their business plans & assess their quantitative and qualitative assumptions. Posts like this are partly intended to give "a ha!" moments that indirectly lead to me getting revenue.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Anonymous said...

Well said Dean, while one can argue with your points, it is pointless to post a diatribe about access to specific data sets. I'm in management for a nationwide cellular carrier as well, and it is just standard operating procedure to not release data sets to any analyst, industry or financial.

To get back to the discussion, it would be more interesting to hear your views on whether you think that your opinions are the same for MNOs vs MVNOs.