J.D. Power, that well known arbiter of human opinion in the United States, has just released its latest study on customer satisfaction with wireless carriers. It addresses such things as (the lack of) dropped calls, failures to connect, voice distortion, echoes, static, and late-arriving text messages, and ultimately churns out a rating out of five stars relative to the regional average and other carriers. In testing done between July and December last year, Verizon had the best or tied for the best satisfaction ratings in five of the six studied areas, while AT&T and Sprint traded blows for second and T-Mobile had to admit defeat as the laggard of the top four. US Cellular managed to score highest in the North Central region, but J.D. Power's overall assessment isn't very rosy for any of the carriers -- the stats collector says growing smartphone usage, heavy texting and more indoor calls are collectively causing call quality to stagnate, and even warns that "increased adoption of smartphones and wireless tablets may continue to compromise the quality of network service."
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J.D. Power and Associates Reports:

Overall Wireless Call Quality Momentum Halts Due to Shifts in Wireless Call and Data Usage Patterns

Verizon Wireless Ranks Highest in Wireless Call Quality Performance in Five Regions1

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.: 3 March 2011 – Shifts in wireless phone usage, including smartphone and texting use, as well as an increase in the percentage of wireless calls being made and received inside buildings, has led to a halt in overall call quality improvement, according to the J.D. Power and Associates U.S. 2011 Wireless Call Quality Performance StudySM-Volume 1 released today.

The semiannual study measures wireless call quality based on seven problem areas that impact overall carrier performance: dropped calls; static/interference; failed call 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 call quality. Call quality performance is examined in six regions: Northeast; Mid-Atlantic; Southeast; North Central; Southwest; and West.

The study finds the percentage of wireless calls made indoors has increased considerably during the past eight years-to an average of 56 percent in 2011 from 40 percent in 2003. During this time frame, the proportion of wireless calls made from homes increased most notably, averaging 35 percent in 2011, compared with 25 percent in 2003. Among wireless calls made outside of buildings, the greatest decrease has occurred among calls made in vehicles, which has declined to 20 percent in 2011 from 37 percent in 2003. Typically, wireless calls placed indoors result in slightly more problems, on average, than calls placed outdoors.

However, among wireless customers who use data-intensive devices such as smartphones or who have high texting activity, problem rates are higher than the industry average. Problem rates among users of smartphones average 13 PP100, while problem rates average 14 PP100 among heavy texters. These shifts in usage patterns have slowed the historic improvement in call quality, which steadily improved between 2003 and 2009. However, during the past two years, there has not been a significant change in overall call quality performance across the industry.

"The performance gap has definitely lessened between indoor and outdoor calls, and the increase in frequency of calls placed indoors suggests that many customers today are quite confident in their carrier's wireless network," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates.

According to Parsons, as this trend continues, it will be critical for wireless carriers to improve coverage for indoor locations. Additionally, increased adoption of smartphones and wireless tablets may continue to compromise the quality of network service, with connection issues holding particularly high potential for problems.

For a 13th consecutive reporting period, Verizon Wireless ranks highest in the Northeast region. Verizon Wireless achieves fewer customer-reported problems with dropped calls, initial connections and interference, compared with the regional averages. Verizon Wireless also ranks highest in the Southeast, Southwest and West regions, and ranks highest in the Mid-Atlantic region, in a tie with AT&T.

In the North Central region, U.S. Cellular ranks highest for a 11th consecutive reporting period. Compared with the regional average, U.S. Cellular has fewer customer-reported problems with dropped calls, failed initial connections, interference and delayed notification of text messages.

Additional study findings include:

* Wireless usage patterns continue to evolve, as fewer calls are being made or received and customers are using their devices more often for text messaging, which increasingly is the preferred method for communication. The study finds that wireless customers receive 161 text message notifications per month, on average-17 more than six months ago (144) and nearly 65 percent more than just two years ago (98).
* PP100 scores continue to be higher among smartphone customers than among traditional handset customers-13PP100 vs. 11PP100. However, problem rates for traditional handsets have risen, compared with those reported six months ago (an increase of 9 PP100, on average).
* Among the top 27 U.S. markets, average PP100 scores are lowest among wireless customers in the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh metro areas (6 PP100), and highest among wireless customers in the Washington, D.C. metro area (18 PP100).

The 2011 Wireless Call Quality Performance Study-Volume 1 is based on responses from 26,019 wireless customers. The study was fielded between July and December 2010.

For more information on customer satisfaction with wireless service, wireless retail sales, cell phone handsets, customer care, prepaid wireless service and business wireless service, please visit JDPower.com.

1Verizon Wireless ranks highest in the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and West regions, and also ranks highest in the Mid-Atlantic region, in a tie with AT&T.

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