back to article Fixing Android mobes costs telcos millions

Keeping up with repairs and returns on Android mobes is costing operators up to £1.25bn ($2bn) a year, according to a new study. The very factor that's making the platform such a success - its openness - is also what's making its phones so expensive to support, wireless services firm WDS claims (PDF) in a report. "One thing …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    In short form

    Android has brought cheap smartphones to the masses, and some of the thicker masses are too dumb to use it...

    The same would apply to any Apple or RIM product too, but their pricing put them out of reach of idiots.

    I'm guessing that the high-end, high quality Android smartphones don't have these problems, as they are bought by people that buy them because they know they needs them, and thus know how to use them.

    1. Pete B

      @Barry Shitpeas

      Yeah right - because only highly intelligent people buy BB and iDevices.

      It's sad but there is a large % of the population who simply shouldn't be allowed any choice in things - they're not capable of the thought processes required.

    2. Kevin Gurney

      You could also argue that the higher end models - which generally sit in the same price bracket as Apple and Blackberry handsets - don't have these issues because they tend to have faster processors, more memory, etc and therefore don't exhibit any of the problems that users of lower end hardware see.

      Truth is that you will never get the same performance from a £50 handset as you do from one costing ten times as much running the same OS and applications.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: In short form

      Equating financial capacity to buy a phone to knowledge in how to use it really must take first, second and third prize for most enlightened post of the century. The century might be young but I'm guessing you won't be deposed.

      Let's take this further and state doctors, lawyers, policemen and politicians never commit crimes, you know, those pillars of society whom you need to sign the back of your passport photo to vouch for you. I bet they can affford to buy the top range smartphones as well so they are doubly incapable of criminal activity.

      I'd suggest going back to the days when the ability to read and write was proof that your were innocent of any accusation levelled at you but that would create too high a barrier for those wishing to join the police force.

      1. robin thakur 1


        Typical Androider. Looks down his nose at anybody that doesn't know (or want to ) root their phone and install a Cyanogen mod just so that you can install your latest OS updates. Don't know how to do it? Well, you must just be thick and have no business using the device. You can see why Apple have been so successful with the arrogant likes of him about.

        1. Canonymous Howard

          "Typical Androider"

          I disagree, I'd say "Typical Geek"... ie, someone who gets something, takes it apart, and rebuilds it to better suit their needs.

          A "TYPICAL" android user takes their phone with whatever revision of Android it comes bundled with, whichever apps their manufacturer or network throw on it. A "geek" with an iPhone may well try to hack it to jailbreak their phone. People who do this on either platform are well in the minority.

          Besides, modifying something to fiy your needs is hardly "arrogant". Ford sell millions of Fiestas every year - I'd say no more than a small minority install flamethrowers and spiked hub cabs. Does it make them either better or more arrogant people? Probably not, but they have a vehicle which suits them more than a bog-standard Fiesta.

    4. nichomach


      ...the number of numpties I've seen hanging off an iPhone, I doubt the presumed relationship between handset cost and IQ in your post. Frankly, the problem is the operators' insistence on not merely locking but branding their phones. My San Fran got a LOT nicer to use after I rooted, unlocked and FroYo-ed it.

    5. Ru

      "Complexphone" is a little more honest than "Smartphone"

      But doesn't sound as sexy.

    6. Ted Dannington

      News/Screen/Games-wipe reference spotted :D

  2. petur

    Not an operator problem

    It is only an operator problem because the operators want it locked down and under their control. This means also doing the support, so I'd say it's their own damn fault. Let it cost them millions!

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      But they can't continue as normal...

      Ship a phone with version 1.0 software hacked up and locked down so the user can't update it (without hacking the phone) and then ship a different phone in 6 months and never update the software for the old phone.

      I've had to hack dumb phones so I could install the factory version of the software because the operator had no interest in providing a working version of the software for a phone they don't sell anymore.

    2. admiraljkb


      Agreed. Particularly for the lowest cost handsets where they've thrown all sorts of crap into it that just won't work properly due to lacking the horsepower or memory and reduces the customer satisfaction to nil... Instead they should just donate some engineering time (or send money) to the CyanogenMod team and use that instead of all the proprietary junk that is causing all the problems. A properly modular ROM works nicely on nearly anything in minimalist mode, and can easily be scaled up.

      Operators and manufacturers keep basically hardcoding solutions which don't scale development wise, lead to customer disappointment and are expensive to boot. Very old world telecom thinking which doesn't work on modern low cost handsets at all.

  3. cloudgazer

    Ultimately telcos will price this into Android by reducing the subsidy on the handsets involved. I doubt it will amount to more than a few dollars per handset though.

  4. dotdavid

    Fair enough

    Fair enough report. The operators (and manufacturers) are basically trying to apply dumbphone "you can't change anything so there's nothing to break" support techniques to modern smartphones, and suffering higher costs as a result.

    I must admit even I, as a techie user, have been disappointed with my wife's Wildfire, and can't imagine what a non-techie user who doesn't understand the various tradeoffs made in cheap smartphones would think of the handset.

    Not sure what anyone can do about it though. Android development will continue at a breakneck pace, updates will continue to be problematic, operators will continue to provide substandard customer support and manufacturers will continue to try and use as cheap hardware as possible to maximise profit leading to inferior user experiences.

  5. Peter 48

    not seeing the whole picture

    The biggest problem is that google and their hardware partners allowed the operators to take control of firmware distribution and customisation of the handset. As a result a large handset range is further significantly fragmented and complicated. This isn't a problem with the openness of android, this is a problem that can be laid squarely at the feet of the operators. Stop using custom roms and let the hardware vendors do the legwork. That way, if there is a problem, the hardware vendor can't get away with it by blaming the network and the network has a simplified support system.

    1. admiraljkb

      @Peter 48

      <<Stop using custom roms and let the hardware vendors do the legwork. >>

      Yeah, I can see your point, and you *should* be correct in an ideal world. However, the carriers have not been responsive for the last 10 years, so I doubt they'll be responsive now since they're the ones that are spec'ing the hardware. I use CyanogenMod myself after getting way too angry with Sprint over it's Nascar and other bloat apps sucking down valuable storage space on my phone. The carriers are definitely wrecking the phones with their crap...

      At this point CyanogenMod is basically the standard ROM. I personally wish the mfg's would standardize on it and put some engineering resources towards it, rather than continue to blow money on proprietary solutions that ultimately cost me money on my phone and my phone plan.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      its not clear to me though

      whether new android releases are installable on older hardware, and whether new releases can be de-featured enough to run ok.

      Eg, if I pick the right distribution, I can (& do) run a current Linux distro easily on 12 year hardware, mainly by avoiding running pointless stuff that's too bloated.

      But can I do that on an android phone a couple of years old? Does android remove support for older hardware in an effort to be new & shiny? OK, I'm not expecting a 12 year lifetime, but a guarantee of 5 would be nice. Are there any such guarantees?

  6. admiraljkb

    Good article, title misleading though

    Well, at the end of the day, the carriers dictate the hardware and software that the mfg's provide. They also dictate a crapload of bloatware to tank the performance and or usability ultimately.. Most bloatware in the Android marketplace has been one starred to oblivion, but that doesn't stop the carriers from putting it on there anyway with no option to get rid of it. This has been the case since day one, and one that tanked Windows Mobile back in the day because the operators kept jacking with it. (Stripped down, it generally ran fine for that era - as long as you were on a hacked version, thanks XDA). Currently bean counters at the carriers are doing the same thing with Android. In order to save a couple of beans in manufacturing, they'll reduce customer satisfaction and increase sustaining costs via their help desk. It is different budgets, so what does the manufacturing side care. They met their requirements. :) I've been in one of those meetings before on the MFG side of it with a different product. Cost millions to fix the damage afterwards... I think the carriers will find if they spent just a *little* more on hardware, they'd be able to reduce their costs *overall*.

    Love him, or hate him, Steve Jobs understood this, and dictated to the carriers instead, and released HIS phone to them and ensured success or failure on its own merits rather than any meddling from the carrier. I personally am not a fan of the closed up brick wall garden, but I appreciate the battle with the carriers and the approach taken. iPhone would have been an abject failure if the bean counters at ATT and other carriers worldwide had their way with it. I think HTC and other manufacturers would be wise to follow suit.

    1. Craigness

      ICS helps

      ICS lets you block carrier apps from running. They still can't be uninstalled though, because of the type/sector of memory they're installed in or something. That's what I heard.

  7. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    But if your Apple phone malfunctions,

    then they tell you that the warranty is invalid because it has been exposed to water. Such as makes up 70 per cent of the human body, losers!

    1. admiraljkb

      re: But if your Apple phone malfunctions, → #


      Yeah, I live in a reasonably humid climate that has turned the moisture tab red, even without the device being near water proper before. I don't know how the folks in even more humid areas near the ocean deal with it.

  8. jonoMT

    What about developers?

    I wonder what kind of headaches they get to deal with, hearing from customers that apps they were used to on their old mobes don't run on the new.

  9. BatCat

    Expectation management failure...

    ... is how I'd describe it.

    I have an entry-level android phone that can be bought sim-free for about £150 - although I got it free from my employer. Yes it's disappointing that it doesn't support flash or TV streaming services, it runs out of memory with less than a handful of apps installed and it even struggles to run Angry Birds smoothly sometimes let alone any games with 3D graphics. But, it's like 1/4 the cost of an iPhone and half the cost of a decent spec Android phone - so what should you expect? It's still perfectly capable of web browsing, mapping, taking pics, playing music, social networking, email & making phone calls, so in that respect it's great value for money.

  10. gujiguju

    32-month lifecycle & free

    It will be interesting to see if/when everyday, untech-y users start noticing that iOS devices have 32-month iOS update lifespans w/o carrier blocking.

    Also, given 3GS is free on-contract, and iPhone 4 half at $99, many price-conscious buyers switch away from Android or Nokia.

    Whatever you feel about SJ & Apple, they singlehandedly disintermediated the carriers from foisting their atrocious h/w & s/w design on us...

  11. G C M Roberts

    Blackberries, predictable?

    I've supported those infernal things since 2003 and the only predictable thing about them is that they break, often and weirdly.

  12. Dave 15

    Tough luck

    The operators have pushed the technology without understanding it, the punters have splashed money out without any more knowledge - all compounded by a seriously uninformative media. So operators are going to cough up a lot of money and punters a lot of grief for their decisions - and it looks like the media who have touted this as wonderful will end up wearing a lot of egg (though they will collectively forget they had anything at fault).

    One interesting comparison would be how much per handset each platform costs to support - S60, Blackberry, Microsoft, Android and iPhone... that would be much more useful knowledge

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Unknown company named after wireless standard tries to make name out of nothingness

    There fixed the title for you.

    Seriously symbian phones had varied levels of costs/models and as such *shock* horror...functionality. This is why you had cheap phone that did things the more expensive ones could do better and they could also do other things. This is not news, this is scaled products for a scaled user market.

    Just becasue it says Android it don't mean it can run everything every Android phone could run. Not all have the sensors, not all have the processing power, not all have the screen size/hdmi output etc etc. Indeed even iPhones have this gotcha and they are made by one company. There are applications that only run on the iPhone 4s, and IOS5 dont run on the older early iPhones. Same with Android and it's applications. Also statements like "Apple and RIM have tighter controls over the electronics and software that goes into their phones" - seriously that is called a monoply, you have no choice at all as only RIM make RIM phones and only Apple make Apple phones. That is why it is a pointless statement, bit like saying "Unknown companies try to tailcoat themselfs into existence by making obvoius claims that are twisted to make a headline", see what I did there. As for "According to WDS, the big problem is that both operators and customers are assuming there's some degree of consistency across Android devices.", Well as for that I think Benny Hill explains that one best here: (Work Safe FYI)

    So when some pissant of a company who nobody has heard of gets onto a platform and cries about something that aint milk then you should just ignore them as they are wasting your time, indeed even my comment is a waste of time as it is in response to anothers waste of time.

    Small summary: Nothing too see here.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solution...

    Google has basically been too 'free' with the Android name.

    They should have set Hardware limits, ideally a few bands like Android Lite, Android Standard, and Android Pro.

    Then Apps can say what level of hardware they require, users know what level of hardware they are buying, and the confusion is gone.

    That and they should have required Hardware manufacturers to submit hardware drivers/patches back into the main kernel/android source so 'unsupported' devices at least have a hope of running the new versions of android.

  15. ThomH Silver badge

    So what would be expected?

    Surely people buying handsets and finding them not to be equivalent to other handsets from the same manufacturer is par for the course and if Android's percentages are higher than those of Apple and RIM it's just because Android handsets are cheaper or free and therefore more likely to end in the hands of people who aren't really paying attention? That's not a derogatory comment about the handsets or the users, it's just that anybody is going to pay more attention if you get to the end of signing up for a new contract and the salesperson suddenly wants to take £150 from you.

  16. mraak
    Thumb Down

    Use consulting companies

    And pay 100x dev price than with small and smart internal team. I know how much Accenture, Deloitte and similar company price man days, how much middle management overhead they have and how unproductive they can be. If you pay 20k to replace an icon, then 2Bn doesn't sound like much.

  17. Chris Glen-smith
    Paris Hilton


    I've held off buying an Android phone for my wife for this very reason - she might not understand why it wouldn't do some of the stuff my Incredible S does. She uses PAYG - so it would have to be paid for up front, my HTC is contract (and pretty good value at £100 plus $15 a month with enough calls and "unlimited" data) - I'm working on converting her to go contract...

    Paris because my wife looks like her - well not really! - only in my eyes :-)

  18. P. Lee


    It sounds from the article that they are being mis-sold due to dumbed-down sales analysis.

    It's easy to fix - select the handsets you want to support rather than everything under the sun and only sell those. Know what to sell to whom, too.

    Make it simple:

    Phone lite - makes calls, browses web, but don't rely on it because it doesn't do flash, no angry-birds

    Phone standard - Does everything you would expect, but you may not like the screen or case.

    Phone pro - does everything fast, is pretty too.

    There's too much focus on the OS, which most people don't care about. Sell the capabilities instead.

  19. Toastan Buttar

    Just like video games consoles vs PC

    You buy a Wii disk, you know it'll run on your Wii. Buy a PC game - you'd better know your system spec intimately before buying!

    1. mraak

      Unless your PC is MacBook Pro, then all the games work fine. At least the ones I tried.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      This sums the situation most aptly.

  20. 2cent

    Wrong title for article

    Shouldn't the title be "Telcos make bad hardware that hurts Android"?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @barry shitpeas

    "I'm guessing that the high-end, high quality Android smartphones don't have these problems,"

    I bought the mrs a Samsung Galaxy S and the very first week the wireless packed up due to a software fault. It basically kept disconnecting and then trying to reconnect every few seconds. Turns out it was a known issue (only found out via forums of course). The fix was to root the phone and delete some cache file somewhere. I downloaded some app which claimed to root the phone and was recommended on various forums, but it just didn't work for me. So I end up having to do a factory reset. Since then it has been ok.

    But it doesn't surprise me that android is a tech support nightmare. It's buggy, hard to use, the app store doesn't work (kept saying I don't have any registered devices, apparently another known bug that seemed to be affecting thousands of others too, judging by google forums). Add to that the fact that Google doesn't provide any support other than shitty forums, and Samsung provides no support at all (no patches yet for the bug and their own app store doesn't work on the phone).

    Oh, and before anyone says that Android is open - I suggest you buy an HTC android phone in the middle east (I am in Dubai). Getting woken up before dawn by the 'call to prayer' which HTC thoughtfully blasts onto the ROM of all android phones in the mid-east, and app which you cannot turn off or delete will convince you otherwise. HTC's sympathetic support guy told me to take it back for a refund and buy one in Europe instead.

    Maybe I've just been unlucky, but my experience of iOS (on pad and touch) has been rather good while my experience of Android has been that it's a bag-o-shite.

    Hope MS get their o/s together so iOS has a bit of decent competition.

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