Sharp End: 3 coverage blanks


Tellme something

Anyone else out there remember the Wildfire service that used to run on the Orange network? Wildfire was a replacement service for standard voicemail, but with a few extras.

Its basic premise was that it was totally voice operated. If someone got through to your voicemail, then Wildfire would answer the call for you and advise callers you were busy and then took a message on your behalf.

You would then be notified of a waiting voicemail message and you’d connect to Wildfire. With spoken instructions you could play messages back, delete them, forward them etc.

Wildfire also enabled you to call people by voice recognition, either by saying their name if they were stored in the system or by actually speaking out the telephone number.

Wildfire really was useful – it was like having a virtual personal assistant carrying out your spoken commands whilst you drove. Many people thought the service was impressive and had great potential for when the technology was there to improve on the speech recognition, but for some unknown reason Orange abandoned the project.

Soon though, with the release of Windows Mobile 6.5 a new service will be launched that has the initial promise of Wildfire but promises to be more advanced.

‘Tellme’ is a subsidiary of Microsoft that will be compatible with all handsets running Windows Mobile 6.5 or higher.

With Tellme, users can speak most instructions to the application and the application will interpret the request and act upon it, such as speaking a text message to the Tellme application which sends it to the required contact.

Another impressive example of what Tellme can do is finding and displaying the location of a facility such as a coffee house. Sure enough, Tellme does its thing and displays various matches on a Google-style street map.

If the Tellme service runs half as good as the examples shown on its website, then this could be one of those killer apps that has the potential to change the way we all interact with our phones.

Tellme could also be a very strong offering for the networks in terms of pushing data bundle sales.

3 coverage blanks

Has anyone else noticed more and more customers complaining about 3 coverage? Over the last few weeks I’ve had many people come into my store complaining about 3’s coverage suddenly going very poor in areas where their coverage used to be pretty good.

It used to be a real problem with 3 when you sold a phone to a customer and they would take it home to find out that it doesn’t in fact work at their home or work address. But it is an even bigger nightmare when customers suddenly find their phones not working in areas where their phones used to work perfectly well.

When these complaints first started coming in we put it down to possible faults with the phones – maybe they had suffered a knock or two and were not holding onto the signal as well as they used to. But there are just too many people complaining of late for that to be likely anymore.

I’ve been told that when a customer calls 3 customer services to explain that their phone no longer works properly when it once used to, they get totally ineligible excuses and can never seem to get any proper responses from 3.

I understand networks have to fine tune their systems from time to time but shouldn’t that result in better reception for most customers, not worse? Could it be that the surge in dongle sale is causing 3 to sufer from network congestion?

Who knows the real answer, but it’s certainly becoming an increasingly hard proposition to sell to customers in a reliable way.

Dongles going down

Still on the subject of 3, I used to do reasonably well selling its prepay dongles. I was content making only £10 or so when they retailed for £50 as I saw it as an easy sale and great value for the customer.

However, now I hardly sell any. The reason? After 3 dropped the price to only £30 it dropped the profit on them too.

Now you only make around £6 profit for a sale that can end up as rather time consuming. I used to offer to install the dongles for customers and get them up and running by activating their first top up. You can’t afford to do that anymore as it’s just not worth the time taken for only £6 of profit.

As if 3 dropping the price to £30 wasn’t bad enough, recently I learned that the network, powered by distributor Micro-P had set up a website,, to give the dongles away for free, with the buyer just having to pay £4.95 postage and handling.

It would seem that this offer has since sold out, no surprises there. But one dealer told me that when he ordered one, the website indicated that it still had more than 35,000 dongles available.

I have to question the point of giving everything away for free nowadays. Either 3  is just desperate to get its numbers up at any cost, or it had an ulterior motive that we’re not yet quite sure of.