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Fixing Android mobes costs telcos millions

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Keeping up with repairs and returns on Android mobes is costing operators up to £1.25bn ($2bn) a year, according to a new study.

The very factor that's making the platform such a success - its openness - is also what's making its phones so expensive to support, wireless services firm WDS claims (PDF) in a report.

"One thing we must be absolutely clear on is that our analysis does not find any inherent fault with the Android platform," Tim Deluca-Smith, marketing bod at WDS, said in a canned statement. "Its openness has enabled the ecosystem to grow to a phenomenal size, at a phenomenal rate, and it’s this success that is proving challenging."

Because Android is available on so many different manufacturers' devices – from cheap handsets to high-end kit – and in various flavours, there's little consistency for punters, WDS notes. The failure rate is also higher as a result of varying levels of build quality.

Apple and RIM have tighter controls over the electronics and software that goes into their phones – their shiny handsets are built to their specs and tested by them – so iPhones and BlackBerrys are more predictable.

"Android deployments can never compete with the hardware consistency (or software integration) of some of its competitors," the study said.

WDS said Google wasn't doing much to help operators keep their support costs down.

"To broaden its reach to as many manufacturers and budgets as possible, minimum processor and graphics processor speeds (one of the largest single component costs in an Android build) are low; certainly lower than the 1GHz processor speed mandated by Microsoft for all Windows Phone 7 builds," the study said.

"This is the problem that Rovio Mobile ran into; many older devices and low-end entry level devices simply didn’t have the processing power to deliver a quality experience. It’s also a problem that many smartphone consumers experience, many of whom subsequently add cost to their mobile operator by contacting customer care looking for a resolution, or worse, looking for a replacement."

According to WDS, the big problem is that both operators and customers are assuming there's some degree of consistency across Android devices. But often there's not just different hardware in different manufacturers' phones, but also in the same maker's line-up.

"Indeed, because Android Market displays only apps capable of running on a specific build, a number of operators and retailers have experienced product returns from consumers unable to access the same content as their friends, or the same content and apps as their previous device," the research found.

Version headache

On top of that, the length of time it takes the mobe to get through the channel to the end-user can mean that someone who thinks they're getting the latest and greatest ends up with a year-old processor and the previous iteration of the Android OS.

"The only way to truly combat both hardware and software version fragmentation would be to slow down the pace of development and/or mandate tighter deployment requirements," WDS said.

"However, this would be detrimental to Android’s USP and, ultimately, its competitiveness."

In the absence of this fix, the firm reckons customer service is going to have to get better at the point-of-sale to find out exactly what the bright-eyed Google-lover wants from their new phone or upgrade.

"Many operators rely on product matching and selling techniques comprising very generic scenarios and consumer types i.e. the teenager who wants access to their social media or the busy mom who needs to organise her day," the study said.

"These are insufficient in today’s device marketplace and do not show enough consideration for a wealth of secondary factors; including understanding which smartphone platform the consumer is migrating from, their app requirements etc." ®

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