O2’s CTO, Derek McManus, is starting to see the benefits of a £30m investment in the network in London before Christmas.
In January, an independent survey, commissioned by O2, found the operator’s network to offer the fastest webpage access experience in London at 1.7 seconds.
The initial work, which included 40 new masts in the London area, has now been completed, McManus tells Mobile.
In the autumn last year, coverage problems forced O2 to implement a Network Performance Improvement Plan, with an extra £100m spend added for 2010.
The network had said the issues resulted from pressure in areas with a ‘high concentration of smartphones’.
‘It was an intense piece of work,’ McManus says. ’But because we have more smartphone users we have been able to see what that means to the network.’
The operator focused on several different areas. McManus adds that train stations posed particular problems – ‘when people are at the stations they use their phones,’ he says.
And the network has plans to increase even more. McManus says: ‘We currently have 1,550 extra 3G sites going in across the country from big cities through to small towns. The challenge with the mobile network is that it keeps growing.’
McManus says that although mobile broadband is challenging because people tend to do more browsing, smartphones are a problem because they are ‘chatty’ and use small bits of data.
He says: ‘People start a conversation every eight seconds – so both are chatty but in different ways. The smartphone has been a problem for the last 12 months because we have so many of these devices.’
Many have blamed Apple’s iPhone for chewing up bandwidth. However, McManus says: ‘The iPhone grabs the headlines as it is so popular, but with all smartphones it is the applications that cause the problems.’
And McManus does not believe that O2 is behind the other networks. He says: ‘Overall, we are better than our competitors and our investments are starting to pay off. Statistically, our customer experience is superior to
‘The capacity problem isn’t going to go away. It’s a positive challenge. How do you ensure you have coverage?’
In 2008, O2 was rapped by Ofcom after it found that the network did not have the minimum of 80% 3G coverage required. At the time, it covered 75.69% of the population – a shortfall of 2.5 million people.
3G coverage is now 84%, says McManus, adding: ‘It’s getting better – as you extend coverage you get less coverage for investments – there is a huge investment there.’
O2 has plans to increase its coverage percentage over the next three years. McManus says: ‘Just painting the map blue or red is slightly misleading, you need to make sure customers get the best experience.’
But for now, O2’s main concern is to be transparent. McManus says: ‘My worry is about misleading the customer; we use terminology that I am not sure customers totally get.’
He adds: ‘We were really honest. We said this is where we are best and where we are not and I am trying to change how we communicate this to customers. We are talking to customers about where we are. We say that in London, if you want to download – we have the fastest network for music downloads.’
The network is still working through exactly what it is going to do and what medium to use to ‘talk to people in a language they understand’, says McManus; however, O2 is likely to use online.
He adds: ‘I’m keen to start a conversation with customers and do stuff to help them locally. Generally for online, we are looking to have a technical interaction. We are also looking to train call centre and shop staff [although O2 already has established Gurus in store and in call centres].’
‘What we have learnt from having a high base of smartphones is that it’s about the customers and not the network,’ says McManus.
O2 has also sat down with network infrastructure manufacturers to make more efficient use of its network following the rise of smartphones. Having had the iPhone for two years and with two million users, it is ahead of the rest, McManus says. He explains: ‘We really challenged the industry. We have now changed the plans of major vendors.'
As part of the ‘chatty’ area, O2 has to re-dimension parts of the network
to be ‘process orientated’ – dealing with the apps process rather than ‘volume orientated’ – dealing with the data process.
McManus says: ‘We have changed some of the ways elements of our network operates. There are certain things with manufacturers and the base stations that need to be smaller and closer to one another. Volume is doubling every four months.
‘I don’t think there are many operators in the world that have done what we have. It’s an O2/Telefónica initiative – it’s challenging the