O2 Self Optimising Network Is Latest Evolution Of ‘Customer-Centric’ Approach

O2 COO Derek McManus explains why its customer-centric approach is making its network better and why you shouldn’t believe RootMetrics’ tests

O2 says its self-optimising network (SON) is the latest evolution of its “customer-centric” approach to engineering, claiming the technology will automatically respond to how customers are accessing its network and adapt accordingly.

Cellwize’s SON technology will anonymously analyse user call, text and data quality in a specific area to see If there are any issues, and remotely make changes, such as titling antennas.

“We’ll take data from how our customers are using our network in Tottenham Court Road [for example] and use that to optimise the experience our customers have [in that area],” said chief operating officer Derek McManus.

Cultural change

Derek McManus O2 COOMcManus said there had been a technological and cultural change at the operator, ensuring all developments were made with the customer in mind and communicated in language they could understand.

“About two years ago we embarked on a modernisation programme when we announced the joint-venture with Vodafone,” he said. “We all knew how it was going to look like when it was finished, but how do we get customers involved in that process?”

He likened the programme to track closures caused by railway engineering works, only that O2 couldn’t put up signs and didn’t have the luxury of shutting down large parts of its network. With customer demand so high, O2 said it needed to make users aware of how the upgrade might impact them. For example, updating a site to 4G might require a base station to be switched off temporarily, affecting coverage.

Network monitoring

The company said the sheer rate of growth in data use and the importance that customer place on their devices meant the “old practices” of network management were inefficient. All technical indicators might suggest the network is operating perfectly, but customers may be experiencing something else.

O2’s network is managed from its headquarters in Slough, where staff monitor developments around the clock. Large displays monitor any anomalies in specific areas, determined by factors such as calls to customer service or queries on its mobile apps.

Olympic ParkNews and weather is also shown on large screens in the management centre, informing staff of any major events that might influence coverage. For example, flooding might mean O2 will experience large demand in affected areas.

Staff also monitored the recent bombing in Bangkok and worked with its roaming partners in Thailand so customers in the country could contact worried friends and family back home and vice versa.

O2 provides services for 300 major events each year, providing additional resources to cope with temporary surges in demand, such as the 2012 London Olympics which it describes as the “ultimate special event” where the network couldn’t drop a single call.

For example, at the end of each summer, O2 sees high demand in many major cities as university students flock to campuses across the country. Again, remote tilting can help boost coverage and ensure more customers can access the network.

RootMetrics quarrell

Each year, O2 travels 700,000 miles, carrying out 20 million customer tests. This it says, is significantly higher than the 1 million tests RootMetrics conduct for all four operators.

O2 is currently rated the worst of all four major mobile operators in the UK by RootMetrics, but O2 does not believe the tests are representative of what customers are experiencing. McManus claims RootMetrics won’t show O2 how its tests are conducted, fail to offer quantifiable scores (instead preferring weighted ‘RootScores’) and do not measure criteria that customers value.

“RootMetrics doesn’t actually do testing that replicates what customers are doing,” said McManus. “I feel RootMetrics has had its day.”

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