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Device availability has always been a major draw for customers selecting an operator. It soon became apparent however that the traditional model of exclusivity was neither beneficial to the OEMs, or to the vast majority of the global operator community.
August 15, 2016
From time to time Telecoms.com invites third party experts to discuss some of the biggest challenges in the industry today. In this piece, Hemant Minoca, General Manager of TEOCO explains the Open Market Device initiative and what it means for operator lock-in on handset.
Global OEMs have always enjoyed valued partnerships with the mobile operator community. But it is a relationship that has changed over the years, most notably with the advent of the open market device initiative that began in 2008. Before this, the process of activating devices saw operators ‘locking’ devices so they only worked on their specific network. OEMs then negotiated periods of exclusivity with each operator that saw certain devices only available on one particular network. This was most notable when the iPhone was first launched. Typically one operator in most major smartphone markets had the exclusive right to offer this highly desirable device before the competition. This became an aggressive means for the operator in question to acquire new customers – and it worked.
The Open Market Device initiative
Device availability has always been a major draw for customers selecting an operator. It soon became apparent however that the traditional model of exclusivity was neither beneficial to the OEMs, or to the vast majority of the global operator community. The Open Market Device initiative was therefore set up in recognition of changing times to enable all devices to be ‘unlocked’ and made available to the mass market. All devices could be purchased through any operator of their choosing or entirely independently through a SIM-only model. The result was better economies of scale for the OEMs and more diversity of device choice for the operators (and more importantly their customers).
Despite the rise of open market devices, the close relationship between OEMs and operators has remained largely unaffected. This is especially true in relation to the stringent testing of all devices that are activated on the network. Both parties have a clear interest in maintaining good relations to preserve the best possible mobile user experience and protect the network from poorly functioning devices. After all, the reputations of both OEM and operator would suffer if customers have a poor experience. Operators and leading OEMs have therefore always maintained their longstanding agreements and commitment to device testing best-practice. Both parties invest heavily to ensure that all devices, where possible, perform well under live network conditions.
The few that get away
While this status quo remains between the world’s most recognised OEMs and mobile operators, the global device market continues to innovate and evolve. New manufacturers from India, China and other parts of Asia Pacific are now introducing a range of new smartphones and other devices that fall outside of these established testing agreements. These ‘bring your own devices’ or ‘BYODs’ are not subjected to the same stringent testing procedures and have the potential to have a detrimental impact on the network and its users. These effects can include supporting rogue bandwidth-hungry devices that can sap valuable capacity intended for other users, or devices that are plagued with malware that can leave the network vulnerable.
With the influx of these devices onto the network, a major tier one operator can reasonably expect to have several million of these BYODs live on its network today – a number that could easily reach the tens of millions for the larger carriers.
Furthermore, there are up to 10,000 different models of BYODs that global operators must guard against – and this number is set to rise.
Test once, launch globally
Up until now, operators have acted indifferently towards these BYODs. They have weighed the risk of the unknown versus the reward of having more active devices consuming data services on their networks. But as these devices become more and more common, so too do the associated risks. This is especially true with devices roaming onto operator home networks from abroad where there is only very limited visibility of device functionality – the first sign of a problem will be the negative impact on the network.
A key selling point of the open market device initiative when it was launched was the ability to unite behind a common set of device testing standards so each handset need only be tested once, against multiple criteria. Providing the required standards were met, all devices, BYOD or otherwise, could be launched to the mass market safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t be detrimental to any customer’s experience.
This remains a fine ambition, but at this present time, no mandate exists to force OEMs to comply with these testing standards. Some are put off by the associated costs, others by the impact the testing process might have on time-to-market, especially if issues are discovered that require remedying.
The need for gradual steps in the same direction
It is time for the industry to acknowledge that OEMs need only take small gradual steps towards achieving uniform testing procedures for all new devices. It is unrealistic to expect all devices to meet all standards immediately – to attempt this, especially for new entrants to the market, could have too negative an effect on their business operations.
Most device testing procedures focus on speech quality, call processing, data throughput validation, web browsing, file transfer performance and battery performance. Operators and OEMs must prioritise those aspects of BYOD device performance that have the biggest impact and focus on achieving a series of small victories on the road to absolute verification: devices that are known to meet the most important standards will be more reassuring to operators than if they remain completely untested.
Hemant Minocha leads TEOCO’s Device and IoT line of business and also serves as Executive Vice President for Corporate and Organizational Development. He joined TEOCO in 2013 and brings more than 30 years’ experience gained in various leadership positions, including as a partner in Price Waterhouse Coopers’ (PwC) management consulting practice. More recently he held a global leadership position at IBM, in its global Strategy and Transformation practice.
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