Femtocells. An inspector calls.

Femtocell inspector Self-installation is all the rage now. Broadband internet, TV, cordless phones, computers...... all "plug and play". Instead of sending a technician round to your home to install, setup and configure the equipment, its simply delivered to your door or collected from the shop. This has enabled dramatically reduced prices and rapid growth in these markets.

The cable industry is still somewhat different, sending a technician out to install your set-top box even when you've just taken moved in and are reconnecting to the same cable service.

Femtocells are very much in the former category, being designed for self installation to keep costs down and we can expect this approach to work in at least 90% of cases.

When self installation goes well, and there are no problems, it is a quick and easy solution. But there are always exceptions. For example, on a DSL line is it quite easy to overlook fitting a microfilter to one of the extension points. Security alarm systems may be hardwired in, and these are a very common reason for poor line performance or dropouts.

I was shocked to discover that BT, the UK fixed telecoms group, charge a standard fee of £99+VAT (approx $200) to "ring the doorbell" at the start of a site visit. Charges continue at a rate of £85+VAT per hour for any work undertaken after they enter the premises. They are clearly not interested in dealing with telephone wiring work onsite and price this to encourage use of alternative providers.

This self-install approach has created a large support industry, most visible in the form of call centres, who will answer and walk through issues directly with customers. But we are also seeing a growing number of organisations offer home visits and more proactive support. The Geek Squad emphasise and celebrate the wide range of technical knowledge often required to fix computer problems. Their £99 visit fee actually includes time spent fixing the problem.

I came across a fixed price service from BT, the UK fixed telecoms group, called BT Broadband Accelerator. For a one-off £90 fee (approx $160) they will visit your home, inspect and upgrade the wiring and check the broadband modem settings (including those at the exchang). If they don't improve your download speed by 500kbit/s, they'll refund the fee. This offer doesn't apply where BT broadband is resold through a wholesale ISP. This excludes fixing your IT equipment or computer problems.

Computer dealers (in the UK at least) are also promoting home visits to design, install and enhance the IT equipment in your home. PC World launched its Connected Home offering as a full service Digital Lifestyle and Home Automation provider. This can include everything from installing a Windows Home Server, streaming media to your TV, wireless networking, firewalls and anti-virus software.

We've also seen a similar move in the mobile phone market, where Vodafone, Orange and other mobile network operators have downsized their HQ staff whilst increasing retail shop staff who are trained to configure and teach customers how to use the growing range of mobile phone services available.

Its strikes me that a market around onsite customer service may be envisaged for femtocells. This would either be incorporated into the domestic IT services being offered by telcos and computer retailers, with even some domestic electricians offering a wider range of hardwiring and "intelligent" home systems for the higher end of the market. They would need to be able to call on a wide range of skills to address issues from hard wiring, modem setup and choice of  ISP.

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