There’s a big difference between download speed and mobile video experience

Network rating outfit OpenSignal has started measuring ‘video experience’ as well as raw network performance and found they don’t necessarily correlate.

A new report entitled The State of Mobile Video ranks a bunch of countries according to their mobile video experience on an arbitrary scale of 0-100. This takes into account not just download speed but things like ‘traffic management’ (often referred to as throttling) and latency. These can all contribute to things like buffering and slow load times, all of which affect the overall video experience.

As you can see from the scatter graph below, taken from the report, there is a fair bit of variation in the correlation between download speed and video experience. If the correlation was exact then you’d just have a straight diagonal line, but as you can see the country with the fastest raw speed – South Korea – isn’t even in the top ten for mobile video experience.

Conversely the Czech Republic has been found to be top of the pops when it comes to mobile video experience but is also just outside the top ten for download speed. We spoke to OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill and he revealed the main reasons for these discrepancies are traffic management and latency.

Another outlier country is the US, which has a relatively low mobile video score compared to download speed. A major reason for this is probably unmetered tariffs that theoretically allow unlimited video streaming but in practice feature fairly extensive restrictions on bandwidth. This practice is understandable but there is an argument that if those services are being positioned as ‘unlimited’ then there’s some mis-selling going on.

Latency is most pertinent when it comes to shorter video clips typically accessed over social media. If you’re scrolling through your social media feed you’re probably not prepared to wait more than a second or so for a clip to start playing. While this is probably a sad indictment of the modern attention span and certainly qualifies as a first world problem, that’s the environment we’re operating in and apparently US load times aren’t great.

Opensignal mobile video chart

BASE takes the 4G lead in Belgium – OpenSgnal

Network monitor OpenSignal has released its mobile networks update for Belgium and it reveals BASE as made the biggest improvements.

OpenSignal spent 90 days measuring the Belgian market from the start of May. It found that BASE has taken the lead in the key 4G download speed metric, having been level with Orange six months ago. BASE now averages 45 Mbps, up 5Mbps from the last time, while Orange has fallen off to a mere 34 Mbps. Proximus is right in the middle with 39 Mbps.

None of these are bad scores, it should be noted. An OpenSignal test on your correspondent’s phone running the EE network in north Herefordshire yielded 24 Mbps. The overall Belgian speed rankings reflected the 3G scores, as you would expect, while coverage was pretty identical for all three. Here’s some more data.

Opensignal Belgium 1

 

Opensignal Belgium 2

Opensignal Belgium 3

Opensignal Belgium 4

Opensignal Belgium 5

Opensignal Belgium 6

Can we ever hope to eliminate mobile notspots in London?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Roberto Valerio, Brendan Gill, Co-founder and CEO of OpenSignal looks at the state of London’s mobile notspots and what can be done about them.

This summer we’ve seen the launch of the ambitious Connected London programme, which hopes to drive improvement in the UK’s capital through digital technology and data. This includes tackling mobile broadband “notspots” – where a mobile network connection is absent or extremely weak or patchy. But even in the best-served metropolitan regions, can mobile operators ever hope to achieve 100 percent connectivity?

The elimination of notspots is a commendable goal – but unfortunately, it’s not a very realistic one. Notspots will never go away completely as they’re part of the nature of building cellular networks. We believe it’s unlikely any operator will ever achieve this goal, or even reach 99 percent network coverag1e in urban areas. The ‘holy grail’ score of 100 percent connectivity may be just that – a myth.

There are a variety of reasons why notspots occur in mobile network coverage of urban areas. These fall into four broad areas:

  • Places where operators offer no coverage. This is what everyone thinks of as a notspot. For business or logistical reasons operators simply don’t extend their networks to cover particular areas. An urban-focused operator may not offer services in smaller towns and villages, or there may be obstacles to infrastructure rollout such as planning permission.
  • Dead zones created by network interference on the edges of cells. These are especially prevalent in urban areas, where cell towers are crowded closer together and the ‘borders’ are harder to anticipate and mitigate due to high buildings and other obstacles.
  • In-building dead zones where signals can’t penetrate, for instance elevators and basements. This problem is obviously magnified in an urban region, and is increasing as higher-bandwidth spectrum with poorer building-penetration capabilities are sold for mobile use.
  • Temporary notspots generated when the network becomes too congested, and customers are shunted down to 3G or 2G, or disconnected completely. This occurs when data demand simply exceeds network capacity.

Operators can do a lot to mitigate each of these issues, such as deploying small cells or repurposing lower frequency spectrum from 2G, but some problems will always persist. When you consider the number of factors that can cause mobile coverage notspots, added to the increased use of higher bandwidths for mobile (which can help operators increase network capacity, but offer lower propagation) and ramping consumer data demand, notspots can never ever be completely eliminated.

OpenSignal’s 4G availability metric measures the proportion of time users with a 4G device and subscription are able to get an LTE connection. As such we can use this as an indicator of how far an operator has come toward eliminating notspots on their 4G networks. To illustrate how close the U.K.’s operators have come to that goal, we’ve taken a look at how the U.K.’s four national operators performed in London in 4G availability. EE scored the highest in the capital with LTE reach of nearly 89 percent in our measurements, while all four players were over 79 percent. That means London still has plenty of notspots on its 4G networks.

Opensignal London 4GBut London isn’t the only city with 4G notspot problems. South Korea topped our 4G availability metric in our most recent global State of LTE report, and came fourth of 88 countries for 4G download speed, making it arguably the most advanced 4G market in the world. But the global leader in LTE reach scored 97.5 percent in our 4G availability metric, while the capital Seoul reached 97.9 percent –  two percent off the 100 percent mark. As 4G networks mature and operator focus begins to shift to 5G and beyond, it’s probable that we’ll have to continue to contend with notspots, even in the world’s most connected cities.

 

Brendan Gill_OpenSignal CEOBrendan Gill is co-founder and CEO of OpenSignal, a mobile analytics company that measures users’ real-world mobile experience by analyzing billions of measurements from smartphones worldwide. OpenSignal believe seeing how the network performs directly through users’ eyes is the key to building better wireless networks. OpenSignal’s insights are used across the industry by mobile network operators, regulators and analysts. Download the OpenSignal app on Google Play and the App Store.

OpenSignal report reveals relative performance of UK MNOs

The latest State of Mobile Networks: UK report from OpenSignal has EE as the clear leader according to its metrics, with O2 and Three needing to raise their game.

You can see the charts for each of the nationwide 3G and 4G metrics below, but to cut a long story short EE won nearly all of them. It also leads in 4G availability with 86.6%, followed by O2 on 83.4%, Vodafone on 79.5% and Three on 66.6%. However our average 4G speed of 23.1 Mbps apparently lags even Armenia and Mexico. Maybe the extra 4G spectrum O2 just got hold of will help it do better in 4G next time.

Opensignal April 2018 4G speed

Opensignal April 2018 4G latency

Opensignal April 2018 3G speed

Opensignal April 2018 3G latency

Opensignal April 2018 regions

Two tiers very evident in US telco rankings

OpenSignal has released some more granular insight on the performance of the top four telcos in the US and it is very clear there are two tiers; Verizon and T-Mobile US are best-in-breed, AT&T and Sprint are not.

When the firm released its State of Mobile Networks in the US report T-Mobile US was recognised as the leader for pretty much everything, but when you look deeper into the statistics in the individual regions, the competition is a lot closer than top-line figures would suggest. Verizon beats T-Mobile US in some areas, is level in others and not far off the pace in the rest.

While the leader in the race is a lot closer than perhaps it might have been initially presented, what is clear is that AT&T and Sprint are not in the same league. The tables below demonstrate this point quite effectively.

OpenSignal 4G

On the availability side of things, the distinction between first and second tier is very clear. What should be noted is that the last 12 months have seen a great level of improvement from Sprint and the team has said it will continue investments to improve this coverage. Perhaps it will close the gap over the next year, but that is not a promise it will be able to compete on the speeds front.

Interestingly enough, while the US is one of the best in the world for 4G coverage, it doesn’t compete on the global stage when it comes to download speeds. Again, we can see there are two tiers in the operator rankings when it comes to speed with T-Mobile establishing a bit more of a buffer over Verizon in the top tier, but the overall average falls below the 16.9 Mbps global average. Admittedly, many of the countries above the US are smaller and do not face the same challenges when it comes to geographical variety, but this is a pretty poor performance from a country which claims to be at the front of the digital revolution.

A couple of weeks back we noted the companies who are performing best in their individual markets are the ones which are investing in their networks and not getting distracted by other more colourful ventures. This is another story which adds credibility to the theory. With 5G just around the corner, we would hope AT&T doesn’t get drawn into a long and bitter legal battle with the Department of Justice over its acquisition of Time Warner as that could spell disaster for its standing in the 5G world.

Mobile network experience in Scotland – in order to get it right we need to understand what is wrong

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Brendan Gill, CEO of OpenSignal, looks at the complexities of accurately measuring mobile signals.

Scotland has been struggling to keep up with the rest of the UK in terms of digital connectivity for many years. Official figures from Ofcom show that a mere 17% of Scotland has 4G mobile coverage, compared to 60% in England. And although there have been several initiatives launched by the Scottish Government to address this – such as The Mobile Action Plan, or the R100 programme pledging to deliver superfast broadband access to 100% of premises in Scotland by 2021 – the gap remains visible in key connectivity metrics.

In most cases the debate has centred around how Scotland’s consumers are being left behind. But erratic connectivity, especially in mobile services is having an impact and hurting businesses as well.

It’s being measured wrong

“Fixing” Scotland’s connectivity issue can only start once there is a clear understanding of what the problem is. Taking it a step further, if problems are not identified and quantified correctly, they serve merely as a distraction, delaying the process of finding a solution. In the wireless world, the distractors are the measurements used to quantify 4G connectivity.

The way that coverage is currently measured has a lot of limitations. Talking about 99% population coverage paints a very rosy picture of a rather grim tale.  It’s vital that the right metrics are in place to truly assess – and address – the problem. Only then can the discussions begin on how it can be fixed.

So how does the industry get it right?  One approach, from the likes of OpenSignal, is to look at time. Specifically, the percentage of time users are able to connect to an LTE signal. This draws a much more realistic picture of the everyday mobile network experience by collecting and analysing data from smartphones wherever their owners are: indoors or out, in the city or the countryside, day or night. The metric, called 4G availability, shows  Scotland (as well as the UK in general) still has a long way to go before reaching that coveted 99%.

By relying on real-world data, the availability approach eliminates the pitfalls that other coverage metrics so easily fall into: such as disregarding population density (i.e. geographic coverage) or failing to measure coverage indoors or at any location other than your home (i.e. population coverage).

Indoor coverage needs to be part of the equation

In fact, the majority of service fluctuations and black spots occur inside homes and offices. And many operators currently lack the means to track, let alone address the issue.

Population coverage is often talked about, and typically looks at: is there a signal at your doorstep? That would be great if all mobile devices were only used on doorsteps. But the reality is mobile users go inside, and there is a huge differential between the signal received outside and inside homes.

Searching for a signal at home, in the supermarket or in the Palace of Westminster itself should not be a source of frustration.  But as we look at the coverage map below (built based on real-world user data), it’s clear that Parliament’s indoor coverage is close to non-existent, while the surrounding areas all indicate strong signals.

westminster coverage

2 days less connectivity

The reality is that national 4G availability statistics are troubling – UK-wide we are talking about between 58% and 78% – and that is between the different providers. There is a big difference between this and the 99% population coverage figure that so many in the industry like to use.

As for Scotland, we were seeing around 7% less time connected to 4G compared with the UK nationwide average. It might not seem like a lot, yet 7% of the time is potentially two days per month when a mobile user in Scotland is not connected to 4G, but the UK-wide average is.

There is clearly a long list of unique challenges hindering 4G connectivity in Scotland, ranging from population spread to difficult terrain; but before the industry can start working on solving the issue, they first need to make sure that the metrics are right.

 

Brendan Gill_OpenSignal CEOBrendan Gill is the CEO of OpenSignal, a company he co-founded in 2010. He has spent over 10 years providing solutions to help people understand and improve mobile service and experience. Prior to OpenSignal, Brendan was part of the team that launched RepeaterStore in 2007, which provides signal boosting solutions to improve wireless cell and data reception in buildings, homes and vehicles. Brendan is listed in the Global Telecoms Business Power100 2017 as one of the most powerful names behind the telecoms sector. He is an accomplished speaker and has presented at leading industry events including: CTIA, Mobile World Congress, TechCrunch Mobile and the Qualcomm CEO Summit.

Passionate about empowering and supporting entrepreneurship, Brendan founded BetaFoundry, an accelerator programme offering mentors and advisors for students to encourage them to choose an alternative to the standard career path. In addition, he is one of the TechStars London mentors, and has taken the FoundersPledge to encourage tech entrepreneurs to donate to charitable causes. Brendan holds a degree in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

Speeds aren’t getting faster, but 4G is coverage is expanding – OpenSignal

OpenSignal’s most recent State of LTE report claims that while download speeds across the world have started to plateau there is promising work being done to improve coverage.

While this will frustrate urbanites wanting their cat video fix, farmers wanting to surf for images of milk will be thrilled.

The last couple of years have seen global 4G download speeds improve quite considerably, though some nations plodded along (the UK being one of those), but this trend has been slowing recently. While we might point the finger at lazy telcos who might be more interested in collecting profits than improving customer experience, they are generally improving geographical coverage. OpenSignal has said three quarters of the European countries included in the research can provide LTE connections to mobile users in more than 7 out of 10 attempts. Only Armenia, Belarus and Russia had average availability scores below 60%.

Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact the Western European nations have finally pulled their finger out and are now offering better availability, though users in France, Germany, Ireland and the UK don’t average download speeds above 25 Mbps. One possible explanation is the focus on 3G in these countries in years gone. Early and powerful deployment of 3G satisfied the data demands of the population for a significant amount of time meaning the consumer demand for 4G was delayed. This bit the telcos recently, though this negative position does seem to be turning.

Looking specifically at the UK, in November 2016 its availability score was 57.9% though this has increased to 77.3% in the most recent report. There have been a number of projects in the last 18 months to encourage investment in the not-spots, but this is an encouraging statistic to prove it is simply more than telcos and MPs preaching for PR points. Recently the government announced an initiative to use churches to house equipment to improve coverage and such moves will only keep these statistics moving north. There is still work to match the best in the world, and Europe (Norway’s coverage exceeds 90%) but the trends are positive.

It should be worth noting that the slow-down in speed increases is a global trend, but when you look at the European nations they are closing the gap with the leaders out in Asia. OpenSignal believes that if the Asian markets continue to stall while Europe continues to steadily grow, the distortion could be addressed before too long.

While reports such as this are important to measure whether the telcos are actually doing anything notable, we decided to run our own mini survey. Your correspondent asked several friends to conduct a short speed test in a variety of locations, and the results are quite interesting. The tests were taken at 3pm (Tuesday 20 January) from a mix of different environments including working from home, on the road, central London and the Welsh countryside.

Opensignal numbers call into question the future of Sprint

A new report into the performance of the major carriers into the performance of US carriers has given T-Mobile US more fuel to continue squawking, and another reason for Sprint to reach for the aspirin.

Opensignal’s ‘State of Mobile Networks: USA’ has been released for January, and just as the rise of T-Mobile US is becoming more predictable, the decline of Sprint to non-relevance is becoming more worrying. Such statistics will be worrying for the Sprint management team, but they should also be a concern for the consumer. Sprint’s woeful network performance essentially means competition is dwindling; who is going to actively pursue a subscription with such an underperforming product? Is the US becoming a three player market?

Looking specifically at the areas which were judged by Opensignal, using 5,928,296,946 measurements across the country, on 237,213 devices between October 1 and December 30, T-Mobile US leads the rankings. The magenta army took first place in five of the six categories, with only AT&T winning in the 4G Latency category.

Opensignal Awards

Not winning a single award wouldn’t be considered a massive disappointment, there are only six after all, but looking at the breakdown of each one would be a concern for Sprint. Sprint came last in four of the six, only beating Verizon in the 4G and 3G Latency categories. The phrase ‘one legged man in an ar*e kicking content’ comes to mind.

Of course, for every loser there has to be a winner, and T-Mobile US CEO John Legere doesn’t generally need too much encouragement to stick the boot into the ‘duopoly’. In most of the categories, you can see them all at the bottom of the article, T-Mobile US was a convincing winner.

“Wireless customers have spoken again, and it’s time for the Carriers to face facts! Billions of real customer tests prove we’ve built America’s best network!” said Legere. “That’s why T-Mobile customers are the happiest in wireless. We’ve built our whole company – including the network – around delivering the best experience, and we. won’t. stop.”

The report certainly adds fuel to the magenta fire, but it also raises another interesting question; how does Sprint actually have any customers?

EE is A-OK in the UK but oh no O2

EE is top of OpenSignal’s ranking for peak speed tests in the UK, but the rest aren’t too far behind. Well, aside from O2 that is.

This is of course a slightly misleading metric, how often are we going to get the fastest possible speeds on our smartphones, but it will put a bounce in the step of a few people. The results themselves were taken as an average, examining only the fastest LTE tests collected from OpenSignal’s user community. And here are the results:

  1. EE with average peak speeds of 136.1 Mbps
  2. Vodafone at 113.3 Mbps
  3. Three hit 94.1 Mbps
  4. And bringing up the rear, O2 limped across the line at 69.6 Mbps

It might not be great reading for the guys at O2, but there is a glimmer of hope.

“O2 had the lowest peak speed of 69.6 Mbps (nearly half that of EE’s) in our analysis, which is an indication of more limited LTE resources,” said OpenSignal’s Kevin Fitchard.

“The good news is that O2 seems to be managing those resources well. It’s peak speeds were about 4.5 times faster than its average tested 4G speed of 15.1 Mbps. O2 may not have a lot of capacity compared to its competitors, but it’s able to consistently deliver that capacity to its customers, according to our data.”

Talking about peak speed is all well and good, but considering those who live in the city will have to deal with congestion on the network and those in the countryside will have to deal with weaker signal, it is a bit of a pointless exercise. A more accurate measurement would be the average 4G download speed, which OpenSignal has done for us as well.

  1. EE still leads with an average of 29 Mbps, though this is down from 31.8 Mbps during the last OpenSignal report
  2. Three clocked in at 22.3 Mbps
  3. Vodafone at 18.8 Mbps
  4. And bringing up the rear, O2 limped across the line at 15 Mbps

This paints a bit of a more accurate picture, but doesn’t sound anywhere near as attractive. It is perhaps another example of the misleading nature of advertising in the telecommunications space (should providers be forced to state average speeds?), but that is another point for another article.

One final metric which might be worth considering is coverage, and this might save a few blushes in the O2 offices. But bear in mind, this is a measurement of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

  1. EE at 78.46%
  2. O2 at 74.17%
  3. Vodafone at 71.35%
  4. Three at 57.14%

We decided to put the results to the test, using your correspondents Vodafone 4G connection in London Zone 2. Not massively the same, but not a million miles away.

Speed Test