Not having a hot new smartphone on the day it was promised to customers may look like a major blunder for a carrier. But insiders say the alternative could be much worse. Samsung delayed Sprint Nextel’s planned launch of the Samsung Galaxy III this week, and smartphone logistics experts were not completely surprised. “It is a very bold approach to simultaneously launch multiple operators in the U.S. A lot of stars have to align,” says Larry Paulson, chief marketing officer for BrightPoint, which provides warehousing, packing, shipping and unpacking services for carriers and manufacturers.
Samsung is launching the Galaxy S III this summer with all four major U.S. carriers and with U.S. Cellular. “The phones all look the same but they are very diferent one layer deep,” says Paulson. Configuring the phones for each operators’ network is a separate and distinct project that requires intensive hardware and software testing, particularly when LTE networks are involved. According to one Korean news source, Samsung waited longer than usual to provide the Galaxy S III to operators for testing.
BrightPoint’s Paulson says that manufacturers know when they need to begin building phones in order to meet a launch deadline, and if they do not have all the necessary test results by that date they have tough choices to make. The manufacturer can delay the build, or can undertake what’s known as a “risk build.” That means starting production with the currently available information and shipping the phones. If a subsequent test shows that a change is needed in order for the phones to work on a given network, the phones must be reconfigured once they reach their destination. This can happen in a warehouse or bonded facility owned by a carrier, a manufacturer, or a logistics expert like BrightPoint, but wherever it happens it can delay the launch.
Still, the alternative to a launch delay could be a phone that disappoints consumers and costs the manufacturer and the carrier some of their best customers. “No carrier wants the product to be a problem for their A-list customers,” says Paulson. Manufacturers may decide to replace defective phones, as Nokia did earlier this year when the Lumia 900 hit the shelves with a software bug. Defective phones can be replaced, but damage to the device maker’s reputation can be harder to correct.
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