Buying a femtocell
What retail channels are appropriate for selling femtocells? We'll ignore large/medium sized business customers -in the first instance, operators still seem to be targeting individual customers. These can be:
- existing direct customers, who buy the product as an extra/add-on
- existing customers who may be about to leave (perhaps because of poor coverage at home) and can be offered a femtocell to keep their business. These "sales" would be handled via the customer retention departments, who may be able to offer them free or at discounted prices to those calling up to terminate their contracts.
- new customers, looking for a new phone package and who buy this as a bonus
- existing indirect customers, such as those with a phone from their (large) business employer, who want/need better coverage at home.
Stock Control and Shipping
Vodafone have simplified their launch
- Femtocells are available online only as a standalone sale item
- Femtocells are available to buy in their direct retail shops, including as part of a contract, but are shipped from their central warehouse.
- There are no special calling rates/discounted calls with the Vodafone Access Gateway. This avoids any need to wait for major updates to the prepaid and contract billing systems. There is still a need to add this as a regular monthly fee to existing contracts, with all the associated special cases.
- There's no link with any fixed line/cable broadband service, so sales and support are completely independent.
- Femtocells are not pre-provisioned - a separate process is involved (see below).
- There is no online update to change the white-listed phone numbers which can use the device - you have to call customer care to do so.
- There's not a lot of sales collateral available - no brochure to handout in the stores, and no posters/adverts other than the press releases we've seen to the media generally (some of which have been picked up by mainstream media such as the BBC).
Some Rough Edges with the initial launch
- Stock levels are very low with product being shipped 10 days or more after ordering rather than the 24 hours currently quoted online and in the shops. There should have been more stock available at launch
- You can view and order the product in their shops, but there is no stock to take away on purchase. In the US, Sprint displays their femtocell in their store windows. Whilst this might appear to some as an admission that their coverage isn't as good as the competition, it does provide them with competitive advantage.
- Online sales pages haven't been updated to include the various inclusive offers available, instead (mis)directing you to a generic phone sales page. The only online option is to buy the box outright. This may be due to other pending updates across the website overall.
- The online order process is clunky and uninformative compared with Amazon or many Ebay traders. Unfortunately, I think this is a more general problem with the online store overall.
- The product description states that the Gateway "works with any 3G phone". Although it may be obvious to our regular readers that this means "any 3G phone using a Vodafone UK SIM card", this is potentially misleading - customers might expect it to work with all the 3G phones in their house, even if with other network operators.
- Customer care on their order line is very poor. Customers calling to check on delivery dates are simply told to "watch their email box" after 15 minutes on hold.
- Provisioning is requested through a web form which can only be filled in on receipt of the product (you need its serial number), and can take up to 24 hours. It's unclear if provisioning requests are processed out of normal working hours (e.g. over the weekend).
...and some good points too
The initial product page does include a simple optional broadband test to verify that you have the minimum recommended 1Mbit/s speed. Provided by Epitiro, this test requires your PC to have Java installed and automatically downloads it if you haven't.
There is a link to check about upgrading your phone if you don't have a 3G model.
So don't underestimate the work involved in bringing a femtocell to market
There's a lot involved with any new product launch. Where it crosses boundaries (such as fixed/mobile), many different departments may become involved. Orange learnt a lot about this by offering their Uniq dual mode GSM/WiFi phone service which requires their wireline broadband service.
Those operators about to bring their own femtocell offers to market can learn a lot from those who have already launched, and choose which shortcuts they want (and don't want) to take to ensure success.
Anyone have feedback on their Vodafone Access Gateway yet?
We've not seen any reports from users who have actually bought and installed one yet, suggesting that volume of product shipped is extremely limited and/or is being heavily prioritised to existing high value customers/potential churners.
If you've bought one, please let us know what your "purchase experience" was like and how you've found it in operation.
Read on to find out about my first call using the Vodafone Access Gateway