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The Gap in Call Quality Performance among US Mobile Networks Narrows

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As the wireless services industry becomes more competitive, the gap in call quality performance between the highest and lowest ranked carriers is smaller compared with previous years, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Wireless Call Quality Performance Study.

The semi-annual study measures wireless call quality based on seven problem areas that impact overall carrier performance: dropped calls; static/interference; failed connection on the first try; voice distortion; echoes; no immediate voicemail notification; and no immediate text message notification. Call quality issues are measured as problems per 100 (PP100) calls, where a lower score reflects fewer problems and higher quality.

The study finds that the differentiation in call quality performance among wireless carriers at the industry level is particularly small in 2009. While call quality performance among carriers still varies at the regional level, the gap between the highest- and lowest-ranked carriers for the overall industry has decreased from 8 PP100 in the 2008 Vol. 2 study to only 5 PP100 in the 2009 Vol. 1 study.

"As carriers continue to invest heavily in infrastructure upgrades and improvements, the differences in their network performance has truly resonated with customers," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. "The expansions in coverage will become increasingly important as carriers continue to roll out next-generation technologies."

For a ninth consecutive reporting period, Verizon Wireless ranks highest in both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and achieves fewer customer-reported problems in dropped calls, initial connections and late text notifications, compared with the regional averages. Verizon Wireless also leads in the Southwest region and ties with Sprint Nextel to rank highest in the West region. Sprint Nextel customers, in particular, report fewer problems regarding echoes compared with the region average.

In the North Central region, U.S. Cellular ranks highest for a seventh consecutive reporting period. U.S. Cellular has fewer customer-reported problems in dropped calls; initial connections; static/interference; voice distortion; and late text message notifications, compared with the region average.

Consumer confidence in wireless phones has increased in 2009, as 27 percent of customers report having replaced their traditional landline phones with wireless phones. This marks an increase from 25 percent in the 2008 Vol. 1 study.

"In an increasingly competitive environment in which customers are growing more and more dependent on their wireless phones, carriers that can provide superior network quality will have a distinct advantage in attracting new customers and in keeping existing customers satisfied," said Parsons. "In fact, improving network quality and expanding coverage translates into potential revenue benefits for wireless carriers, as customers who report recently switching from their previous carrier as a result of poor call quality are likely to spend up to $5 more per month for their new service, compared with the industry average. Essentially, wireless customers are willing to pay a premium for an exceptional network."

The study also finds that wireless customers receive 98 text message notifications per month, compared with just 47 notifications in the 2008 Vol. 1 study. Wireless carriers have handled this boom in text messaging particularly well by increasing the capacity of their networks, and the number of problems associated with late or failed text messages has remained stable over time.

The 2009 Wireless Call Quality Performance Study is based on responses from 27,754 wireless customers. The study was fielded between July and December 2008.

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