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With annual revenues of $2.3bn, China-based D.Phone is one of the largest retailers of cellphones in the world. It serves millions of customers through its 3,000 Digitone retail outlets, including stand-alone stores and Digitone stores within Walmart stores and other well-known retailers. It product portfolio includes phones by Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, HTC, Huawei and other manufacturers.
Digitone stores operate in a fiercely competitive environment, so D.Phone executives understood that to sustain and increase the company’s success, they needed to excel at the same challenges that many other large retailers face: providing the best possible customer experience, differentiating Digitone stores from competitors, adding new product offerings to boost sales, and increasing management insights into thousands of retail outlets.
To distinguish Digitone stores from competitors', D.Phone decided to deploy in-store WiFi to improve the customer experience and boost customer engagement. As part of this goal, they also decided to promote in-store installation of mobile apps and content on purchased devices. This capability would open a new merchandise category for Digitone: selling downloadable apps and content in stores.
For D.Phone Chief Information Officer Wu Huan and his team, speed was of the essence. Shoppers in Digitone stores often try products in-store before they buy. When connectivity in a store is slow, products seem slow, which could hurt retail sales.
D.Phone needed to provide the fastest possible in-store WiFi network, then, not only to improve the in-store customer experience but allow hands-on testing of products at their best, which could directly improve per-store sales.
High-performance WiFi access point hardware and software can be complex and time-consuming to install, and after installation, difficult to manage. Digitone retail employees have limited technical knowledge and no time for complicated set-up procedures.
Sending technicians to stores wasn't feasible for Digitone. Its stores are spread across thousands of miles, so technicians traveling to far-flung locations to install and repair equipment would cost too much to be practical.
D.Phone’s WiFi network needed to be quick and easy to install by retail store employees with little technical knowledge. Its WiFi network would need to scale to support thousands of retail outlets, but provide centralized network management so a technician at headquarters could monitor and manage WiFi use for all the geographically widespread stores.
D.Phone tested wireless networking products from several manufacturers, but all failed either because of low performance or complicated installation and management. Products that provided high performance were complex to install and maintain. Products that were simple to manage provided insufficient performance.
“We tried several WiFi options in the past,” says Wu, “but none met our needs for both simplified management and high performance.”
Unified native-cloud wireless networking
The D.Phone team selected the Relay2 wireless broadband solution after extensive evaluations. During the selection process, they discovered Milpitas, Calif.-based Relay2 offers several advantages for retailers that other companies do not:
Robust Wireless Access
Relay2 access points are designed to provide fast reliable coverage in challenging client-dense environments such as shopping centers, resorts and large venues. Deploying Relay2 access points with dual-band radios supporting up to 3x3 MIMO, D.Phone is able to provide customers with the high-speed connectivity they expect.
Service-Ready Access Points
Relay2 Service-Ready Access Points enable the delivery of value-added applications and content right from the edge of the network, as close as possible to mobile users. Service-Ready Access Points are part of the Relay2 Service Delivery Platform: a single, unified platform that lets businesses leverage the cloud and network edge to build, deliver and manage rich connected apps and experiences over WiFi. The platform provides new ways for retailers to engage customers, motivate employees, and generate rapid growth.
Sales-generating applications and computation-intensive services are able to run locally, allowing business solutions never before possible, all while greatly increasing performance and cost savings at the edge. High capacity connectivity and enterprise-class functionality ensure seamless delivery to connected clients in the most demanding deployment environments.
For D.Phone, on-board storage and associated services are initially being used to cache mobile applications and content directly on the in-store APs. Placing content a single hop away from the user, reduces downloads to mere couple seconds. This seamless over-the-air distribution streamlines the experience of purchasing mobile applications and content in-store. Bandwidth bottlenecks are avoided too.
For the first phase of D.Phone’s implementation, Relay2 was installed in 500 Digitone stores. Even though the retail stores were spread across thousands of miles and staffed with limited on-site technical ability, the networks could be brought online in a matter of minutes. When first plugged in, Relay2 access points automatically discover and connect to the Relay2 Cloud where they download configurations, and join the appropriate network. Access points self-optimize to determine the ideal channel, transmit power, and client connection parameters.
Each Relay2 AP is managed by the feature-rich Relay2 Cloud Manager for simple yet powerful administration of the network and edge applications. An intuitive web browser based management interface allows a single IT team to manage networks across remote sites. Easily managed over the web, Relay2 cloud management is the ideal “zero-IT” solution from deployment to on-going operation for remote D.Phone sites with little to no IT staff.
Cloud-managed WiFi enables simple, rapid growth of multiple networks with no physical hardware connection boundaries or subnetting restrictions. Whether WiFi networks are spread across multiple floors or different countries, Relay2 Cloud Manager lets D.Phone administrators monitor and instantly manage all those networks from anywhere.
D.Phone used Relay2 to quickly enable partners to distribute popular partner apps and content to Digitone shoppers’ smartphones over D.Phone’s in-store WiFi.
“Our ability to distribute third-party mobile apps in our stores,” says Wu, “seamlessly adds tremendous value in the eyes of our partners.”
In Digitone stores, customers purchased applications, games, ring-tones, e-books, and premium content. With Relay2, D.Phone generated millions of dollars in sales of mobile apps and content.
Because Relay2 serves Digitone customers from devices closest to them (at each store’s network edge), shoppers experience digital services that are faster. But speed is not the only improvement Relay2 brought to Digitone customers.
D.Phone used Relay2 to deliver new services to its customers, from app delivery to buying lottery tickets and booking hotel rooms and airline flights. Shoppers learn about merchandise, view information about neighborhood stores, and receive e-coupons to encourage them to make purchases now.
Relay2 helps D.Phone provide a digital customer experience that reinforces its physical in-store experience, as well as ensuring that shoppers receive a consistent experience across stores and regions. Relay2 also helped D.Phone achieve increased uniformity in corporate branding across its entire chain.
Leveraging the centralized cloud-based management, D.Phone management could monitor and control networks across all stores. This provides valuable insights into store traffic as well as partner application downloads -- both are valuable metrics for tracking individual store performance.
Looking ahead, D.Phone plans to leverage the Relay2 platform to offer shoppers both free and paid services that they can only obtain in Digitone stores – offerings such as e-coupons and exclusive digital content. This can be extended to provide an in-store advertising network for neighboring business and ecosystem partners, generating income from advertisers while the advertisements boost retail sales.
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