Forget Free WiFi, FON Wants To Knock Off Mobile Operators

from the wifi-hippies dept

A company called FON grabbed some blog publicity a little while ago with its plan to set up a global network of WiFi hotspots, letting people choose whether they wanted to be a “Linus”, offering free access, or a “Bill”, and charging for access. If you’re a Linus, you also get free access to the rest of the network, if you’re a Bill, you have to pay. Now, the company’s founder is saying how he wants to create a ubiquitous network, and unseat mobile operators by letting people make VoIP calls over it. That sounds great, in theory, but a ubiquitious WiFi network is a vastly different animal than a cellular network when it comes to voice calls. It’s doubtful that FON’s network — assuming it ever got enough coverage — could support handoffs from one access point to another, making the system much more nomadic than mobile. Also, so many of these companies seem to be dramatically underestimating the effort involved in actually providing service to and supporting customers when it comes to voice telephony. Simply throwing up the network and pointing people to VoIP applications isn’t enough. Who do customers call when something goes wrong? What sort of guarantees about service will they get, and from who? It’s a problem that many of these VoIP companies are going to face, particularly ones that charge for service — while keeping operations lean cuts costs, it also limits the customer service they can provide, which will eventually hit their uptake if they want to ever grow beyond early adopters.

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Comments on “Forget Free WiFi, FON Wants To Knock Off Mobile Operators”

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Dave says:

“Also, so many of these companies seem to be dramatically underestimating the effort involved in actually providing service to and supporting customers when it comes to voice telephony.”

Are you serious? Because the three mobile companies I’ve used have some of the worst customer service I’ve ever encountered–much worse than my land lines or cable TV service. If I was getting service for free or cheap, I would be willing to overlook the fact that they didn’t have good customer service, considering I’m paying for crappy customer service now.

AttitudeTalks says:

Re: Re:

While I agree with Dave that most of the customer service reps in the mobile industry are just downright bad, often edging on undecisive, sarcastic and rude (and I can only speak for my network, Cingular), there are a few examples of outstanding and exemplary customer service – some of the best I’ve had ever – across the board.

My guess is that the employee turnover in customer service is very high so the probability of encountering an experienced “tech” rep is remote. However, ask for tech support (where I think turnover is relatively low) and talk to them about it,you should have a friendly voice on the other end of the line. Plus, these guys are techies and empathise with tech problems far more than the regular cust support guys. I had to go thru 4 months and every cust service rep and their dog before I spoke to this one tech support guy who sorted it out for me while I was on the phone in 30 minutes.

He even voluntarily credited my account for the minutes we spent on the call.

Todd Henkel says:

Service at what cost?

What kind of service is expected for free products? Or $.05 per minute long distance? Or $20.00/mo internet service?

People providing the service cost folks. We get what we pay for.

Don’t get me wrong – I go the cheapest route too. But I don’t expect Rolls Royce service and quality when I buy the cheapest car on the market.

AttitudeTalks says:

Re: Service at what cost?

I don’t agree Todd. I think the cost management issue is very distinct and does not determine the service that one could expect for a product. When a product is cheaper, the consumer base is generally exponentially larger. In effect, the company plays the volume game as opposed to the (profit) margin game.

Case in point, Trend Micro Internet Security Suite – cheapest, but half decent customer service IMHO. Best of all, the only one that’s free.

What I’m saying is, the company’s probably making a good buck no matter what they offer. Point is they could offer better for just a few bucks more. And if the consumers of that product see value in improved customer service/offering – someone at some point will do it to gain market share, and therefore higher profits.

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