My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: CLARO and its 3G Data Services - Inform people when they exceed their Overage

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CLARO and its 3G Data Services - Inform people when they exceed their Overage

{11:1} A false balance [is] abomination to the LORD: but a just weight [is] his delight.

Proverbs 11 vs 1

One of my pet peeves with Telecoms Providers is that they have a habit of overcharging people and not telling them when it happens or before it happens so that they can brace for the charges or even cut back to make the impact less harsh. This is because in some cases, it can cause a heart attack and other emotional trauma as was the case with a man who was billed US18000 by Verizon for calls he did not make as shown in the video CNET Buzz Report, aired Thursday May 13 2010, by Brian Cooley, CNET News (CBS) (https://www.youtube.com/cnettv).

This is especially true of Postpaid services in the past here in Jamaica, which C&W gave a bad name, before the Liberalization of the Telecommunications sector via the historic Telecommunications Act of 2000 freeing us from the clutches of their overzealous price gouging as it related to charging for crazy inter-parish calling at higher rates (as if we were Americans living in different States), their petty per-minute billing and their incredibly ridiculous and overpriced ICAS calling system, all of which Telecom Provider Digicel exposed as being the actions of a monopoly.

To this day, Telecom Provider LIME, the reincarnation of C&W, a necessity as the company repositions itself as a Landline, Internet, Mobile and Entertainment company (“Entertainment” referring to their soon to be launched LIME TV) is making the same errors. Granted, it has improved somewhat with the sending of SMS (Short Messaging Service) advising when you bill has arrived and even giving you a code by which you can pay your postpaid bill at any PayMaster or BillExpress, but Telecom Provider LIME still does not alert you when you have exceeded your UltraPak (Postpaid) minutes (On –Net, Cross Network or International) or SMS (On –Net, Cross Network or International).

Telecom Provider LIME has also made strides in terms of Customer Care with it MyLIME Customer Portal as stated in the article “LIME launches MYLIME Customer Portal” published Monday, 08 March 2010 by TechJamaica.com (https://www.techjamaica.com), but their 100 Service Customer Care still needs a more human touch (or maybe a better salaries for the grumpy Customer Care Agents?) and although they have made topping up more convenient with the introduction of Debit and Credit Card Self Top Up as written in the article “Text to top Up - A Caribbean first from LIME”, published Wednesday, 03 March 2010  by TechJamaica.com (https://www.techjamaica.com). It is not the first in the Caribbean, as Telecom Provider Digicel had long ago introduced a Swipe and Go Prepaid Card system, eliminating the need for having a debit card altogether by mimicking a service, which ironically already exists in C&W Plc “home world” – The United Kingdom.

The introduction of more Blackberrys, such as the Blackberry Curve 8900 as stated in the article “LIME launches the Blackberry Curve 8900 Smartphones with Free Service Offer, published February 10 2010 by Blackberry Cool (http://www.blackberycool.com) and the Blackberry Bold as stated in the article “LIME introduces the Blackberry Storm to Customers in Jamaica”, published Friday, 17 April 2009 by TechJamaica (https://www.techjamaica.com) still has not helped their fortunes. Telecom Provider Digicel also introduced the same Blackberrys, such as the Blackberry Curve 8900 and the Blackberry Bold at the same time as stated in the article “Digicel introduces the New Blackberry curve 8900 smartphone in the Caribbean”, published Monday, 09 February 2009 by TechJamaica.com (https://www.techjamaica.com), but with better Customer Care services.

So far, the only thing Telecom Provider LIME has done that is genuinely unique is the introduction of paperless billing, which is part of a globally conscious trending towards companies appearing to be environmental conscious as stated in the article “Why all the requests for paperless billing lately?”, published September 24, 2009 8:16 AM PDT by Candace Lombardi CNET News - Green Tech, (http://www.cnet.com). Apparently Telecom Provider LIME can learn a bit from Telecom Provider Digicel in the Customer Care side of Mobile Telecommunications. Telecom Provider LIME is in effect, being punished for its usage of its “false balances” in the past with Customers and Subscribers.

Telecom Provider LIME, however, despite it failings in the Voice Services arena, seems set to repeat the same mistakes again in the Data Services Arena. Telecom Provider LIME, in it’s newly launched 3G offerings, which has capped wireless offerings, like it Postpaid offerings, does not alert the user when they have exceeded the overage during the subscription period, which is usually thirty (30) days, but instead reverts to charging you for the exceeded megabytes over the overage. To be fair, a call to a 100 LIME Operator revealed that their one (1) day, seven (7) day and thirty (30) day services are uncapped and competitively priced to capture more of the data market from Telecom Provider CLARO.

From a pricing point of view, their overage policy is going to be a serious problem for Telecom Provider LIME, for as soon as they launch island wide, people will be complaining about abnormally high billing from Telecom Provider LIME. This is also interesting from a Network point of view, as Telecom Provider CLARO currently has NO uncapped data offerings as the time of publication of this article and as far as I am concerned, are very lucky that Telecom Provider LIME has not launched island wide as yet, otherwise their Data Services churn rate would be incredible. However, in hindsight it is also a very strange decision from Telecom Provider LIME to have unlimited uncapped 3G, as Customers and Subscribers, on getting wind of the uncapped Prepaid nature of their much faster 3G, like UWI students hearing about free food, will begin using it for unlimited downloading, VoIP video Calling, thereby clogging the Network and resulting in the degradation of their best effort 3G service experience.

This is similar to what is being  experienced by Telecom Provider AT&T iPhone Customers as well as Telecom Provider Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile Customers as stated in the article “Wireless Operators accelerate upgrade plans”, published January 26, 2010 4:00 AM PST by Marguerite Reardon CNET News - Signal Strength, (http://www.cnet.com). Even Telecom Provider AT&T is attempting to curb the excessive data appetite of smart phone users, such as the Apple iPhone, who consume 40% of the Telecoms Providers Bandwidth despite being only 3% of Telecom Provider AT&T Mobile Subscriber Base as stated in the article “AT&T considers incentives to curb heavy data usage” published December 9, 2009 3:08 PM PST by Marguerite Reardon CNET News - Signal Strength, (http://www.cnet.com).

Even Telecom Provider AT&T is playing coy with the introduction of the Apple iPad 3G and the Apple iPad 3G + Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) exclusively on their Network, with CEO Randall Stephenson downplaying subscriptions uptake suspecting that most people will not want to have an additional Data Plan, as stated in the article “AT&T CEO sandbags iPad 3G subscriptions” published March 3, 2010 12:30 PM PST by Erica Ogg CNET News - Circuit Breaker, (http:/www.cnet.com) and later in the month of March 2010, even meting with Apple Engineers with regards to the design of the Apple iPhone and how to optimize it to be as efficient in its bandwidth usage as the Blackberry as stated in the article  Report: AT&T schooled Apple on iPhone issues” published March 30, 2010 10:44 PM PDT by Steven Musil, CNET News – Wireless, (http:/www.cnet.com).

This is going to be a very serious problem for Telecom Provider LIME in the future and Telecom Provider CLARO needs to avoid unlimited uncapped Data Plans, as they do not have the capacity that LIME has and the user backlash from Customers is definitely going to affect LIME’s image. Telecom Provider CLARO seems to be also making the same mistakes, as they are not alerting Customers when they exceed their allotted overage based on the plan that they have purchased, thus resulting in slow growth of the Postpaid Plan market.

A few Telecom Provider CLARO Customers whom I have spoken to prefer buying Telecom Provider CLARO cards and topping up with enough Credit to do what they wish to do on the Internet, having resigned themselves to the fact that apparently they have no means of knowing when they exceed their allotted overage megabytes on their Postpaid Plans and Telecom Provider CLARO has yet to put in place a system to alert them when they have exceeded their megabytes, as most Customers and Subscribers may notice the drop in speed to EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) but not be aware that it is an indication that the have exceeded their overage.

This SMS system would work much in the same way their CLARO’s Voice Calling Prepaid service allows Customers and Subscribers to know how many minutes and credit that you have used up in a call and thus give Customers and Subscribers an idea of how much credit they have left after each call, an annoying but considerate move on the part of Telecom Provider CLARO. Also nice is the SMS alerting you of a coming Double Day as well as when the twenty one (21) day expiry date for their Telecom Provider CLARO Credit has come around advising Customers and Subscribers to top up their phones. This service can be expanded to its Data Services, with which it currently has dominance in the Mobile Market, as Digicel’s Customer and Subscriber Care ad suggests is their strength.

An even better incentive on the part of Telecom Provider CLARO is that Telecom Provider Digicel is taking note of all of these problems being experienced and are thus tailoring their as-yet-to-be-launched ultra fast WiMaX 4G Mobile (IEEE 802.16d) Network slated to launch at the end of the second quarter of 2010 as stated in the article “Digicel to offer mini laptops with 4G service next year”, published Friday September 4th 2009 by Lavern Clarke, The Daily Gleaner, (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com), with ZTE Corp of China as their build out partner of their new WiMaX 4G Mobile (IEEE 802.16d) Network as stated in the article “Digicel Signs ZTE as 4G Mobile WiMaX Internet partner”, published Sunday, September 27, 2009, The Jamaica Observer, (http://www.jamaicaobserver.com) to avoid the pitfall being experienced by its competition in the Mobile Wireless Broadband Market.

A Market still ripe for expansion, especially with the possibility of a “white spaces” auction after RJR Communications Group and CVM Communications Group go DSO (Digital Switch Over) as stated in the article “Slow road to Digital Switch-Over - Cable groups mum; FLOW ahead but Network coverage behind”, published: Saturday  August 15, 2009 by Mark Titus, The Jamaica Gleaner, (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com) as is currently required in the United States of America, as there is a current shortage of wireless broadband capacity and most of the capacity the Broadcasters are underutilizing as stated in the article “Rethinking the wireless spectrum crisis” published May 25, 2010 4:00 AM PDT by Marguerite Reardon CNET News - Signal Strength, (http://www.cnet.com).

Thus Telecom Provider CLARO would do well and steer clear of the problems that Telecom Provider LIME will definitely be experiencing in the future by simply implementing a SMS service which alerts users of their Telecom Provider CLARO modems when they have exceeded the overage on their Data Plans, as Customers and Subscribers may continue to use the service even when it has slowed down to EDGE assuming it to be a slow download or the Network being congested, or worse, that that is the normal download speed. This is the same common courtesy that already it extends to its Customers and Subscribers and which is standard in the EU and now, which am happy to say, on Verizon, which has finally decided to do the right thing and clear the man’s bill and implement this SMS alerting service, avoiding many a heart attack in the future.

There is no need to adopt an “all-you-can-eat” Data Services policy as the Telecom Providers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are moving away from this model as Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg hinted s much, stating that the end is coming for this arrangement, with increase in pricing of Data Plans going forwards as shown in the video CNET Buzz Report, aired Thursday May 13 2010, by Brian Cooley, CNET News (CBS) (https://www.youtube.com/cnettv). The icing on the cake would be the inclusion of an automation of their Social Networking-esque Voice Service offering whereby which one can call two (2) Telecom Provider CLARO Customers for free, and text one (1) Telecom Provider CLARO Customer and Subscriber for free, with the option to have one (1) of your free call number be a USA, UK or Canada landline, via the same SMS, as the service is an obvious VoIP implementation as suggested in Telecom Provider CLARO television advertising.

Telecom Provider CLARO needs to implement an Automated Billing Platform, so that Customers and Subscribers can manage their Postpaid accounts in much the same way Telecom Provider LIME has now done for their UltraPak (Postpaid) Customers and Subscribers via their MyLIME Customer Portal as stated in the article “LIME launches MYLIME Customer Portal” published Monday, 08 March 2010 by TechJamaica.com (https://www.techjamaica.com), so that Customers and Subscribers can see live their billing in a paperless format online as well as make complaints and changes to their account, including disconnections without having to call 100 Customer Care. This would be a development for the future, as an Automated Billing Platform may even led to the elimination of the 100 Customer Care staff altogether in the future with the implementation of AI (Artificial Intelligence) based 100 Customer Care Platforms, for which research and development is ongoing.

This is especially relevant as MRSI (Mandatory Registration of Subscriber Information) as stated in the article “CLARO Backs Cell Phone Tracking Plan; Digicel, LIME in Wait-And-See Mode”, published Sunday May 16, 2010 by Mark Titus, The Sunday Gleaner, (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com) and MNP (Mobile Number Portability) as stated in the article “OUR signals policy shift on portability - Says Jamaica running out of phone numbers”, published Friday November 20, 2009 by Mark Titus, The Friday Gleaner, (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com) and the article as stated in the article “Paulwell calls for number portability” published, Wednesday April 21, 2010, Daraine Luton, The Daily Gleaner, (http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com) as being on the front burner for June 2010 as a means of breaking up the communications Networks developed by criminals using Unregistered Mobile Phones from the Telecoms Providers.

Also, advise Customers and Subscribers to download the Freeware program Networx (http://www.softperfect.com/) that allows Customers and Subscribers the ability to track their upload and downloads megabytes as well as other Freeware or Open Source Software Utilities that users can download to keep their computer’s safe both from hackers as well a from viruses, such as AVG Free Antivirus (https://www.avg.com), Avast Antivirus (https://www.avast.com), Advanced System Care (http://www.iobit.com/) and Spybot Search and Destroy (http://www.spybot.info/), which is a spyware removal tool.

Albeit FreeWare and Open Source endorsing software is not the preserve of a Telecom Provider, it nonetheless makes good sense (not to mention great PR) to do so, as it allows Customers and Subscribers to feel that their concerns are being addressed and that Telecoms Providers are concerned about their personal welfare enough to suggest to them ways by which the should protect their computers. Even better would be giving Customers and Subscribers copies of these software and step-by-step instructions on how to install this software. Telecom Provider CLARO’s failure to implement these simple UI (User Interface) tweaks and Telecom Provider CLARO will soon lose its dominance in the Data Services arena to Telecom Provider Digicel, long the king of Customer and Subscriber Care service delivery. Best of all, it will improve Customer and Subscriber satisfaction as Telecom Provider CLARO gradually improves its Customer and Subscriber Care Services, which would be the usage of a fair balance, a “delight” to Customers and Subscribers and to God or Thoth, the Egyptian God of Justice – making assumptions for their existence, of course.

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