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Engineering discussions tend to focus on how to improve the KPIs in the sense of network quality, reduce drops, improve accessibility, etc. Fixing coverage holes is always noted, but this tends to be fixing coverage the “right” way, which is typically the long term capital improvement. Long term network fixes come through large scale site build, low-band spectrum acquisition, improved hardware deployment, or alternative network types which is typically large capital expenditures. Advertising has its own affect on driving customer demand to the latest and greatest network technology deployed. Regardless, coverage is the primary indicator to the customer in measuring their network. The typical wireless customer has three available ways to judge the network experience:
1. Bars on the Phone (coverage)
2. Network type displayed on the phone (technology)
3. Actual experience (drops, poor voice quality, data throughput, etc)
The means to measure the network for customer are clearly limited, which is one reason advertising has such a great affect. From the means available to consumers, the first two items can be seen by customer at any time except when it’s being held to the ear and the third item is only when the user utilizes a feature of the handset. Amazingly, even when the users are actually experiencing network issues they go back and check the first two items for a benchmark. This brings us to the point that in the eyes of the typical consumer, “coverage is king.”
Engineering organizations need to focus on continually improving coverage or at least the perception of coverage on the advertised networks. There is always a breaking point where network quality can take over for coverage to the consumer (ask AT&T during the initial I-Phone years), but capacity issues get addressed through already available engineering expansion processes. Seeing 2G/GSM with 4 bars doesn’t make consumers pleased about their network experience compared to 1 bar of LTE if that is advertised as available to them. This makes for a divide between sales and engineering. Sales and marketing need bars on the phone with the network they are touting, while engineers want KPIs on each network that keep management satisfied. The two concepts actually differ in implementation even though the sales of phones, contracts, and services is what dictates engineering budgets and needs.
In the end operators need to ensure they are focusing on what the customer is demanding, an upgraded and available network. This may mean skipping a generation of network (GSM straight to LTE) or continuing to expand new technologies and disable old ones. Either way, retaining customers comes from them being satisfied with their network experience and this comes from the tools available to them to measure it.