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Mobile voice quality issues lead to subscriber churn, audit shows

A recent mobile voice quality audit finds a variety of issues cause customers to change service providers, ranging from network problems to environmental noise to handset voice-level mismatch.

Churn is the word most telecom service providers dread. Operators carefully track when customers go to a competitor,...

usually because service wasn't good enough for whatever reason. While providers can control some quality issues on their networks, many mobile connections have other problems, whether from environmental noise or faulty equipment. The problem for operators is that customers usually don't know who to blame except them.

"One of the only ways customers can differentiate between providers right now is on pricing and on quality of service."
Francis Sideco
Senior Analyst, Wireless ServicesiSupply

To that end, Ditech Networks, a voice quality solutions provider, recently released a 2007 voice quality audit of 630 million mobile calls made in 12 countries via 16 mobile service provider networks. The purpose of the audit was to quantify the impact of mobile devices and environmental factors on subscribers' call experiences. While results varied between countries and continents, the results showed that poor voice quality causes mobile users to churn at a high rate, which means the economic cost to providers is large, and growing.

While Ditech clearly has a business interest in showing operators what drives customers to other providers, most operators understand that they lose subscribers due to quality issues they can't necessarily control, according to Francis Sideco, senior analyst of wireless communications at iSupply.

"As far as most customers are concerned, they pay money to the operator. They couldn't care less where the problem resides. If they feel any end-to-end problem, they hit providers through churn," Sideco said.

Mobile voice audit highlights

The highlights of the Ditech audit show that voice-quality problems originating in the caller's environment or on a mobile handset or headset are high and can be a significant contributor to churn. Ditech's findings include the following:

  • In mature markets like the U.S. and Western Europe, 23% of calls fall below industry minimum;
  • Overall, 39% of all mobile calls fall below the industry minimum standard for voice quality;
  • Ambient noise, or noise originating in caller's environment and entering the device's microphone, was rated "objectionable" on up to 50% of all calls in some regions;
  • Acoustic echo, often caused by handsets and headsets, was rated "objectionable" on up to 11% of all calls in some regions;
  • Voice level mismatch, or when a caller sounds either too loud or too quiet, was rated "objectionable" on up to 28% of calls in some regions.

Customer awareness is at an all-time high, and customers have high expectations, so when an operator adds any new value-added service, it has to be high quality," iSupply's Sideco said. "One of the only ways customers can differentiate between providers right now is on pricing and on quality of service, and that extends to voice, data and customer service. That's a big piece of the churn puzzle." Problems with equipment is one of the reasons operators in the U.S., in particular, won't allow headsets or earpieces on their networks unless they've been tested and approved, Sideco added.

In 2007, Ditech Networks won the Frost & Sullivan Customer Value Enhancement award for excellence in improving voice quality for global VoIP and wireless service providers for its Voice Quality Assurance(TM) product. Ditech's VQA was designed to mitigate networked-induced voice quality and environmental problems on both ends of a call.

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