Android Support Costing £1.2bn, Survey Reveals

The support costs of low-end smartphones have been revealed, with Android handsets costing billions

Despite the popularity of shiny new smartphones among users, mobile operators are being warned of the potential hefty support costs associated with those handsets.

So says device management specialist WDS, which analysed over 600,000 technical support calls handled by its teams around the world in the last 12 months.

Its report, “Controlling the Android” found that the return and repair of Android smartphone devices could cost mobile operators as much as £1.2bn ($2bn) a year.

Hardware Failure

But the survey has not just singled out Android; it looked at the performance of the four leading mobile operating systems (Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone).

It found that Android-based devices tend to account for a higher than average propensity for hardware failure, with 14 percent of technical support calls on Android relating to hardware, versus 11 percent for Windows Phone, 7 percent for iOS and 6 percent for BlackBerry OS.

“One thing we must be absolutely clear on, is that our analysis does not find any inherent fault with the Android platform,” said Tim Deluca-Smith, VP of marketing at WDS. “Its openness has enabled the ecosystem to grow to a phenomenal size, at a phenomenal rate, and it’s this success that is proving challenging.”

And it seems that it is the low-end, low cost smartphones that are causing the most problems. WDS said that this low-cost hardware, coupled with software customisations and OS updates, is stretching the operators return and repairs processes.

This is presumably because low-end smartphones, while proving to be attractive to operators because of their low wholesale cost, also make use of low-cost components that can pose a high risk of failure (either from disappointed customer reactions or actual hardware failure.)

Different Experiences

“Many operators are treating Android as a standard implementation with a consistent customer experience. Given its nature, this isn’t the case,” added Deluca-Smith. “The Android customer experience differs enormously between devices and this means that the way in which Android devices are retailed and supported must consider factors such as the hardware build and quality of components.”

WDS pointed out that hardware faults are a major concern for carriers and operators because they are very expensive to fix. This is because software or configuration faults can typically be rectified remotely, either through manual configuration or an over-the-air update. However, hardware faults often mean the device has to be returned and undergo an expensive assessment, and then repair or replacement.

“Android features heavily in almost all operators’ smartphone strategies. It’s clear from the evidence in this study that if they are to maximise their investment they must better manage how they bring Android products into their network, retail them and support them,” said Deluca-Smith.

WDS recommends that in the short term, operator’s can help minimise the impact on their bottom line by improving their device testing and properly assessing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the handset they want to stock. It also suggests analysing the chances of a hardware failure with a handset before it is launched, “to ensure customer support channels are populated with accurate support documentation and returns procedures.”

Meanwhile it also admitted that another element involved better educating customers from the outset.

Android Concerns

As the number of smartphones increases, so too is the possible security risks they pose. It is worth noting that these concerns have also been expressed about other mobile operating systems, but Android’s open nature and customisation does leave it exposed to more scrutiny compared to closed and tightlycontrolled environments such as Apple iOS.

Last month, researchers discovered that HTC’s Android smartphones contain a serious data leak. This flaw was down to the way HTC devices log application data, which meant that any application that requests permission to get Internet access could also read phone data such as calls, Short Message Service logs and a list of all user accounts saved.

In November 2010, an analysis of Android Froyo’s open source kernel uncovered 88 flaws that could expose users’ data, according to security firm Coverity. Prior to that, in July 2010, Google took issue with a report from SMobile Systems that suggested Android apps are leaving users open to identity theft.