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Mobile service outages: Do brands matter?

April 25, 2008 12:30 IST

What's common to sections of Pedder Road, Western Express Highway, Dr E Moses Road, JJ Flyover, all in central Mumbai? Well these are all zones where your mobile phone signal is guaranteed to fail and your call will 'drop' if you are in the middle of a conversation. That is the case with my service provider for sure.

The amazing thing is it has been like this for years now and everyone knows about it, including presumably the telecom company. So, maybe the problem just can't be fixed for reasons beyond the scope of this writer. People I speak to on the phone say, "Oh, are you on Peddar Road," when I come back after a dropped call.

Much as I would like to rant a little more on dropped calls, this is about something else. I have been watching the Virgin Mobile campaign unfold, with some interest.

The campaign, the pitch and its youthful positioning are engaging and would generate some interest among potential consumers. I do think some of the campaign promises will be hard to meet, like having a network that works all the time or call service executives who respond promptly.

Virgin Mobile is a different kind of a network. Actually technically it's not even one, because it's a brand franchise agreement with Tata Teleservices.

So, I would assume that if your Virgin phone gives up on Peddar Road, then Tata Teleservices is responsible for it. And there is very little Virgin can do about it except to scream at Tata Tele -- not that Virgin is concealing Tata's involvement in the overall plot.

That brings me to the question I wanted to ask. Are we now a more mature telecom services market where brand will be the biggest or at least a strong differentiator?

Now this is not to say that a brand is not the aggregation of good quality customer service, reliable network and all the facets that make me decide which service provider I want to settle with.

But like I argued earlier, there seems to be a certain acceptance on the part of both mature and not so mature cell phone users that the quality of the network is roughly the same for any service provider, allowing for some differences between the CDMA players and the GSM ones.

At least I have concluded that though I expect many will disagree. If that is the case then, does a Virgin Mobile have a fairly good chance since its promises are based considerably on the brand itself and its cool, 'with it' approach. Quite possible, since many consumers are looking for more powerful brand offerings or exciting, depending on which way you look at it.

There are other subtle factors which could come into play such as downloads and data-driven products. Virgin or not, I would like to see what the Indian iPhone brings since the iPhone offers software-hardware integration of a like not seen before.

Which is not to say the freebies will not help. A proposition that says "Earn 10 paise per minute for every incoming call" would sound exciting to any wallet conscious youngster. Maybe if someone paid me, I wouldn't curse the Peddar Road call drops so much either.

Govindraj Ethiraj