Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Digital Dorothy

Ten years passes very quickly.

Valentine's Day in 2000 was a Monday, and it also marked the launch of what was then a revolutionary new service – unmetered dialup Internet from Telewest priced at £10 per month.

Reading back at some of the news stories about the launch really is a walk down memory lane, such as the quotes from the consumer managing director at the time, Philip Jansen:
"To date, operators have rationed the Internet by charging every minute. We're changing that, so it can now truly be the people's Net.

Freedom from worrying about cost will dramatically change the way people use the Net."
The launch was shortly after BT announced their own product branded 'Surftime' at £35 per month and two years after Freeserve had launched a 'free' dialup service – with them making their money from the telephony revenue instead.

Remember that at the time it was not uncommon for Internet users to be running up phone bills of £80 per month or more, and it was still a month before we launched the UK's first broadband service.

Our service had customers connected to a local dialup point of presence, where calls were routed to across our telephony network based on the customer's caller line ID.

And we were a victim of our own success in our doing things better than BT!

Customer demand was huge for the service and the voice switches just couldn't cope. Some customers were getting engaged or number unobtainable tones when trying to connect as well automated messages saying things like "sorry, there is a fault" and "the other person is cleared".

Some customers even got so familiar with the woman's voice on the automated messages that she was even dubbed 'Digital Dorothy' in our newsgroups!

A virtual team was quickly established and huge amounts of capacity were (at times almost literally) thrown into the voice network as well as on dialup racks (some of which are still in place), authentication platforms and elsewhere such as e-mail platforms.

Very quickly it was learnt who did the best work under pressure, and within 6 weeks the service had been stabilised and many of the team then focused on our broadband rollouts.

We learnt a lot from what happened at the time, such as the importance of detailed and thorough capacity planning and really understanding our customer experience, something that has stood us in good stead ever since. Oh, and we also very quickly created a dedicated service management function in our networks team!

And personally I always keep this on my desk to remind me of the lessons:

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