Innovative Outcomes Take Years To Launch, part 2
By Steve Portigal at 9:04 am, Thursday October 29 2009

Recently, the New York Times reported

France Télécom has become the first mobile operator to transmit voice calls and audio in high definition, part of an effort by telecommunications companies to improve the quality of cellphone conversations.
France Télécom, whose mobile unit is Orange, rolled out the network in Moldova this month. The country was chosen because it has France Télécom’s newest third-generation network, which can accommodate the technology.
“We need to provide our mobile customers with a better voice experience,” said Yves Tyrode, the head of France Télécom’s Technocenter research division. “That’s why we’ve invested in this technology. Because we think it will differentiate us.”

This is exactly what my colleagues and I (at another agency) recommended to France Télécom in early 2001.

Like many of the opportunities we develop with clients, the why is more important than the what. At the time of our ethnographic research with French mobile phone users, we saw a lot of cultural barriers to the level of adoption France Télécom was planning for. The slides before the one excerpted above outline a long-term strategy for reframing the mobile phone as an advanced device for more than simply voice calling. It’s very gratifying to read the quote from Yves Tyrode who takes into consideration the type of experience they provide to customers. And of course a “better” experience is pretty meaningless; our research and design work led the idea of better sound quality, but the why beneath that and all the other ideas we delivered is really the big thing. Organizations don’t necessarily need us to help them with simple problems (where the problem is known and the solution is known) — if you know that people hate the sound quality, then develop a technology to fix it. And while that’s often something they get anyway, our specialty is working where the problem itself (and thus the solution) isn’t known.

For some other examples of our work reaching the market, check out

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6 Responses to “Innovative Outcomes Take Years To Launch, part 2”

    Do I hear an echo of my wicked problems presentation from years ago (simple/complex/wicked)? :)

    It is interesting though how much voice has continued to lag while all the other capabilities have leaped forward. Voice quality in EU is far better than it is the US, but still it’s low fidelity on an absolute scale – poor frequency range, dynamics, clarity. You’d think with all the 3G goodness they could open up some bandwidth for improving voice quality.

    The question is, do people care? Is it “good enough” that a jump in quality won’t matter that much. Kind of like Blu Ray over DVD – for most people the jump in quality isn’t that big of a deal, whereas the step from VHS to DVD was huge (and had side benefits beyond picture quality).

    If they mate it to some kind of telepresence capability, then high quality voice becomes a lot more compelling.

    Comment by Adam Richardson 10.29.09 @ 6:58 pm

      Adam, you are absolutely right. I actually tried to find a good reference to wicked problems and a quick search brought up a lot of social planning stuff that lacked clarity of your description so I decided to step away from the lingo if I couldn’t cite it. But you were in my thoughts as I wrote it. Nice pickup!

      I absolutely agree that technical improvements are rarely as compelling as engineers and product managers try to convince us they are. My hope is that France Télécom is thinking about the type of strategy we suggested, where a series of decisions about the entire experience – from marketing to advertising to billing models to services to technical improvements all align to create a new story.

      On its own, it isn’t much. On the other hand, it seemed like science fiction when we suggested it, so to see it appear as real is kinda encouraging.

      Comment by Steve Portigal 10.29.09 @ 7:55 pm

    […] at Steve Portigal’s blog there was a discussion of France Telecom which has been introducing high quality audio to cellular voice calls. ¬†(This is #7 on my 10 UI […]

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    The barrier I see to this is not at all a technological or business one, it’s the classic chicken and egg problem.

    In order to get clear call quality, BOTH people talking have to be on a high quality network. Cell phones sound horrible. Land lines sound only marginally better. All the actual devices (phones) are made to barely pass muster with the quality of their speaker and microphone.

    It’s just impossible to roll out something like this and have it get any traction because it takes too long for customers to notice a difference, since all their phones have to be replaced, and they only notice when they are talking to someone else on the same network with a new phone.

    The only way I can think of for this to work would be for a large telcom to ‘quietly’ upgrade all their handsets to be capable of high quality calls, and then two years later switch it on and advertise it. However, shareholders would never stand for that investment because their time horizon is too short. Grrr. It’s getting to the point where I can’t talk to my mother over the phone any more, she never understands me, and I can barely understand her.

    Comment by Eric 11.16.09 @ 10:41 pm

      I don’t know enough about the technology. What if the phones already capture higher quality than the network can deliver but are just dropping that extra data? There are many links in the quality chain – capture, transmission, reception, and presentation (any audio engineers want to correct my lingo or explain better?) – and I guess improving the weakest link should improve the overall experience?

      Comment by Steve Portigal 11.17.09 @ 4:17 am

    […] or product launches from previous projects about IT professionals, safety gear, digital cameras, mobile telephones and saw our client MediaMaster shut down their […]

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