Wednesday, July 8, 2009

FOTA, Your Safety Net

David Ginsburg

We like to think of our mobile phones as bug-free, but we all know this isn’t the case. Handset vendors, under pressure to ship the latest and greatest in time for school or in time for Christmas, can’t correct every last problem. Their wireless operator partners accept these phones into their networks with waivers, and as long as any bugs are not network impacting, the vendor is usually given a few months to make corrections. In an industry where every week of development counts, the 6-8 weeks that a handset vendor has to debug the software between shipping the phone into the operator’s inventory and the operator actually delivering it to the customer can do wonders for stability.

If only they could take advantage of that time. If only the phone, when turned on for the first time, could automatically check for an update and download what is probably a more stable and bug-free release. Seems like a simple concept, and in fact when you unbox a PC or Mac, this is exactly what happens, but this wasn’t the case with mobile phones until just recently.

Customers now have a safety net, and in fact one leading North American operator, using a technology called FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), has pushed over a million successful updates over the last year across multiple phone vendors and device models. They’ve recently begun pushing updates even at the time of phone activation if their handset partner informs them of a critical fix. Depending upon the severity of the problems fixed, and whether a particular bug impacts a service that the subscriber needed, this could mean a million avoided calls to the helpdesk or a million avoided trips to the phone shop. The financial benefits to the operator are obvious, not to mention the impact on customer satisfaction and even the environment.

In the great scheme of things, over-the-air updates are still the exception vs the norm. This will change. Smartphones, texting phones, integrated devices, or whatever you want to call them are just little PCs. Their hardware and software is subject to the same defects as their larger brethren. With the deployment of 3G, and in the future LTE, and with the availability of stable and interoperable update clients on the phones, operators have at their disposal not only the technology but the network infrastructure to push updates on a regular basis. And they will.

FOTA is one net you want to be caught up in.

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