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Self-Service can help with cellular industry’s service woes

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The country’s cellular industry has a real problem with customer service, and consumers in are crying out for a service champion who will do something about the issues that plague the telecommunications industry. It is for this reason that KEVIN MELTZER, Business Development Director at Consology believes that no matter what reservations one may have about Cell C’s execution of its campaign, the company has recognised the problem and is promising to do something about it.

Inconsistent and even poor customer service is perhaps the single biggest issue that South African telecommunications operators face in a market where it has become difficult to compete on price, network coverage or technology. It’s a problem that isn’t just limited to one of the country’s mobile operators. Indeed, it isn’t a uniquely South African problem.

Across the globe, mobile operators face the same challenge: efficiently servicing a massive customer base as their average revenue per user (ARPU) comes under increasing pressure. Their call centres are struggling to keep pace with the flood of calls they get from customers querying bills, looking for technical support or reporting faulty handsets.

Often, the call centres are understaffed for the call volumes they handle and are backed by legacy systems and fragmented processes. Added to the mix is the complexity of providing standard service levels for complex telecommunications products. Most networks face a stark choice: make unsustainably large investments in call centre infrastructure and staff, or let service levels slip.

As customers keep holding on for an attendant, their anger and resentment towards their providers grows. The problem is compounded by the fact that a customer who is calling into the call centre is generally doing so because he or she already has a problem, be it a dispute about an amount on the bill for the month or a service that is not working as advertised. It’s the one direct, human interaction the customer may have with the operator in a year, and it is seldom a great customer experience.

One of the ways that telecommunications operators and service providers should be looking at solving this problem is by introducing online Self-Service into their mix of channels. Self-Service systems could be used to allow subscribers to pay bills, research product and service offerings, apply for handset upgrades, activate services such as international roaming, check and change account information, initiate and track bill disputes, and more.

A Self-Service system can take a lot of the pressure off the call centre, freeing agents up to deal more efficiently with complex queries that the Self-Service system can’t address or to help customers who don’t have access to the Web. Most customers would love Self‚Service from their Telco providers because it could spare them from visiting a dealer or holding for a call centre agent to carry out a transaction. Instead, they would be able to interact with their providers whenever they want to. And many customers now have direct experience of better service levels and 24/7 access from companies that employ Self-Service such as those in the banking industry.

With Self-Service options, customers wouldn’t need to wait for someone to post or fax them an account ‚ they could pull up invoices online and print them. They could initiate and track a bill dispute or activate international roaming from their desks at home or work. That level of customer empowerment would make for a far happier relationship between subscribers and cellular networks. Self-Service portals are also great for engaging in customer relationship management applications, for example cross‚and‚up‚selling.

Telecommunications operators could use them to inform customers that they are eligible for an upgrade, market new services or advise subscribers to migrate to new contract packages.

Of course, there are massive cost-savings to be achieved by automating customer service processes. But the real potential lies in using Self-Service to take customer intimacy and satisfaction to a whole new level. Self-Service won’t solve all the challenges in the cellular industry but it’s certainly a big step in the right direction and could help to bring about the customer service revolution the industry needs so badly.

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Prepare for Wi-Fi 6

From traffic to healthcare, the applications of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard are set to transform how we connect.

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20 years ago, with the release of 802.11b, Wi-Fi began its conquest of the world networking scene in earnest. Wi-Fi can easily be called out as one of the most popular technologies of the last two decades. Just as mobile telephony and mobile internet, it has become a part of everyday life. And with the advent of IoT and the introduction of 5G, the time has come for the new standard – Wi-Fi 6.

Beyond being significantly faster than the previous generation, Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to four times greater capacity. Latency is vastly improved, allowing for near real-time use cases. Wi-Fi 6 is also easier on connected devices’ batteries.

So what impact will Wi-Fi 6 have on business in the coming years?

Digitisation, mobility and IoT are driving the need for connectivity. By 2022, more IP traffic will cross global networks than in all prior ‘internet years’ combined up to the end of 2016. In other words, more traffic will be created in 2022 than in the 32 years since the internet started. In 3 years, 28 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, many of which (robots, production lines, medical devices) will communicate over a wireless network. Against this background, it is easy to understand why we need a redesigned wireless standard that is more responsive to present and future challenges.

Wi-Fi 6: The business impact

“In the first phase, we expect the new wireless standard to gain a significant foothold in the B2B field, where it brings important innovations,” said Garsen Naidu, Country Manager, Cisco South Africa. “We will see it, together with other technologies, penetrate significantly into manufacturing, into the logistics industry. The technology is also more effective in high-density settings like large lecture halls, stadiums and conference rooms, so we are likely to see significant penetration in these settings too. And, with its extremely low latency, Wi-Fi 6 also promises to open up new opportunities in AR/VR, healthcare, and self-driving vehicles. ”

Ever since the launch of the Internet, every leap in network speed has had a major impact on technological innovation: 4G has brought along the age of smartphones, whilst 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will transform the business world. According to Cisco experts, these two technologies – 5G and Wi-Fi – will be widely adopted at the same time, complementing each other.

A short history of Wi-Fi

In 1999, half a dozen technology companies, including Aironet, which was later acquired by Cisco, formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. The standard announced that year, 802.11b, which gained significant commercial traction, was the first to emerge under the ‘Wi-Fi’ brand. As such, 1999 marks the year in which Wi-Fi really began.

Solutions that carry the official Wi-Fi logo work consistently with the IEEE 802.11 data transfer standard. These solutions are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which guarantees compatibility between various wireless devices. In addition, networking manufacturers have done a lot to improve compatibility. Launched as early as 2002, Cisco Compatible eXtensions is a free licensing program that has enabled other vendors’ Wi-Fi products to be securely deployed on Cisco wireless networks.

Subsequent developments in Wi-Fi technology included managing interference and increasing data stability. Cisco is supporting these with the Cisco Flexible Radio Assignment and Cisco CleanAir technologies. The latter is capable of identifying and graphically displaying radio interference, identifying the source of the problem, and directing users to other, less crowded, channels.

Challenges of the present and opportunities for the future

One of the most widespread business applications of wireless technology is office Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi, employees can move freely and access the network from anywhere where there is a hotspot. Wi-Fi-based analysis and location services are also becoming increasingly popular. And with the spread of IoT, Wi-Fi is becoming ubiquitous, and is today found everywhere from agricultural fields to production lines.

“We see promising business opportunities and a wide range of new applications. At the same time, with hundreds and thousands of new devices connecting to wireless networks, IT teams are facing increasing complexity. So we need to rethink IT architectures from the ground-up,” added Naidu.

Much of this need to rethink network architectures is driven by the enormous growth in wireless connectivity.

Wi-Fi has driven growth in general IT use, which in turn has led to the need to provide and run bigger and more complex networks with a greater variety of endpoint device types on them. This complexity ‘feedback loop’, driven in no small part by Wi-Fi, requires that new solutions are developed to deal with this complexity.

Cisco has pioneered in this area, using AI, machine learning, and machine reasoning, via products such as Cisco DNA Assurance to eliminate manual troubleshooting and reduce the time spent resolving service issues.

The latest Wi-Fi 6 developments introduced earlier this year make a consistent, efficient and seamless wireless connectivity experience a reality.

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Getting London wired

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Ruckus Wireless has been selected by Telefónica UK, which operates the O2 brand, to supply high-capacity small cell products for high-speed wireless services being deployed throughout London.

Already deployed throughout the busiest, iconic areas in central London, such as Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Leicester Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street, Ruckus SmartCell 8800s have initially been deployed to provide free, fast and reliable Wi-Fi to anyone.

Within a single, low-profile design, the SmartCell 8800 is the first carrier-grade, modular multi-radio system to integrate patented adaptive antenna array technology supporting multiple licensed and unlicensed radio technologies including: high-speed dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, small cell 3G/4G radios and 5GHz wireless backhaul. This gives Telefónica UK the flexibility to easily and economically offer high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular services in specific locations when needed.

‚”For O2, it’s all about us providing customers with fast and reliable connectivity where they need it,‚” said Derek McManus, chief operating officer for Telef√≥nica UK. ‚”Our vision is for Wi-Fi to be simply another access layer to our mobile core. Customers don’t really care about the underlying technology: they care about getting connected, fast and reliably. The introduction of small cells helps us to support these requirements and completely complements our mobile strategy by letting us push capacity closer to users in locations where it makes the most sense.‚”

‚”In telecoms there is now a mad race to the lamppost, and the first one there wins,‚” said Selina Lo, president and CEO of Ruckus Wireless. ‚”A big barrier in small cell deployment is simply securing the physical locations with the requisite power and backhaul to support small cells. Once physical assets secured, it becomes important for operators to exploit them with as much technology as they can. This means multi-function, carrier-grade products that are simple deploy, unobtrusive and massively scalable. SmartCell is one of those products and O2 is one of those operators taking a lead in this race.‚”

After extensive evaluations of wireless suppliers, Telef√≥nica UK selected Ruckus and its SmartCell system. ‚”It all really boiled down to who had the best Wi-Fi for carriers and the most forward-thinking strategy to integrate Wi-Fi within existing and future cellular infrastructure,‚” said McManus.

‚”Such partnerships prove that industry players are starting to see the benefits Wi-Fi is bringing to their services,‚” adds Michael Fletcher sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa. ‚”We are likely to continue to see more industry players embracing this transformation globally, and hopefully locally as well as operators look for solutions to cater for their growing customer base.‚”

Beating the Backhaul Dilemma

‚”A major challenge with small cell deployments is how to reliably backhaul traffic from potentially thousands of small cell nodes without breaking the bank,‚” said Robert Joyce, chief radio engineer at Telef√≥nica UK.‚”

Telefónica UK effectively eliminates this problem by meshing traffic over highly reliable 5GHz Wi-Fi mesh links between nodes using Ruckus Smart Mesh technology. Smart Mesh uses advanced self-organising network (SON) principles with Ruckus-patented adaptive antenna arrays (BeamFlex) and predictive channel management techniques (ChannelFly). Combined these technologies create highly resilient, high-speed Wi-Fi mesh backbone links between nodes that automatically adapt to changes in environmental conditions.

Thought by many to not be possible, Smart Mesh has demonstrated to deliver reliable backhaul for licensed cellular and unlicensed Wi-Fi traffic in both line of sight and non-line of site environments.

‚”Ruckus Smart Mesh technology is proving to offer a cost-effective, reliable and flexible alternative to conventional approaches,‚” said Joyce. ‚”With Smart Mesh, we are running fiber to just one of every five nodes. This has proven to be a huge benefit in reducing capital and operational expense with the added bonus of reducing the time to market.‚”

Big Improvements with Small Cells

Small cells represent a new architectural approach for injecting much needed capacity into service provider networks. Small cells are miniature base stations that combine licensed and unlicensed radio technology with wireless backhaul to deliver lower powered wireless signals much closer to mobile users. This results in better signal coverage, improved voice quality and higher data performance.

Small cells enable operators to provide a premium quality mobile signal where it was never previously economic, such as indoor environments and remote outdoor locations. They also enable operators to meet the burgeoning demand for mobile data, by multiplying the data capacity of the macro network at a fraction of the cost.

With the Ruckus SmartCell system, mobile operators gain a capacity boost from LTE small cells, cutting costs and complexity by co-locating and combining them with Wi-Fi access points, sharing site-lease agreements and backhaul. The integration of Wi-Fi and LTE small cells within the cellular core also helps operators optimize network utilization across the radio access network, providing a further improvement in performance, and creating a seamless experience for subscribers.

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