Improved network performance is vital to ensure subscriber loyalty among smartphone users, and will provide operators with a significant competitive advantage.

These are some of the finding from a new report from Ericsson ConsumerLab, which also shows that current mobile networks don’t always live up to user expectations. Up to 60% of smartphone users say they experience problems at least once a week, and just over 30% encounter problems every day.

The GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory report shows the number of smartphones sold in sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to grow on average 40% per year up to 2017.
By 2017 smartphones are expected to exceed 50% of the subscriber base in South Africa, 29% in Nigeria and 28% in Kenya.

The ConsumerLab research looked into the factors that influence users’ loyalty to operator brands, says Anders Kälvemark, senior advisor: consumer insights at Ericsson ConsumerLab.

“Our analysis shows that network performance is currently the prime driver of consumer loyalty to an operator brand, followed by value for money,” he says. “That is almost three times the impact of the handset/device offering, for example. Consumer satisfaction with these factors has to be improved to affect loyalty in a positive way.
“Generally, consumers expect more from the services than what they receive. When service requirements such as reasonable waiting times and sufficient coverage are not met – especially when people are in transit – it is natural that consumer loyalty suffers.”

To ensure a good user experience, content needs to appear on the screen quickly. Relatively low levels of satisfaction with network performance are often a result of smartphone users becoming tired of waiting.

However, it is not enough for operators simply to improve network performance in the hope that customers will notice. Communication is essential for improving customer perceptions. Users need to be aware that things have changed for there to be an impact on satisfaction levels, and for this to improve their loyalty to the operator.

The report also shows that a satisfied user is generally less likely to switch operator, leading to higher operator revenue over the user’s lifetime.