US is winning the 5G speed race

Although there is a lot more to 5G than ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ download speeds, the US has bragging rights currently when it comes to the fastest download speeds.

According to the latest analysis from Opensignal, 5G is boosting maximum downloads in all eight markets where the connectivity euphoria has been launched, aside from Australia that is. It’s a very crude measure of success, but it is something which the telcos will want to shout about.

As you can see from the graphic below, there is certainly an increase in speed, though this is hardly a good measure when you consider very few consumers even touch the maximum speeds promised.

Opensignal graphic

Leading the pack is the US with maximum downloads speeds of 1815 Mbps, and by somewhat of a clear margin, though both Switzerland and South Korea have entered into the holy land of gigabit speeds. Perhaps the strangest statistic to make note of is the decrease in maximum speeds in Australia.

The lead which the US has established should come as little surprise when you consider the spectrum being utilised. Telcos in the US are already able to use mmWave spectrum for 5G, whereas European counterparts are utilising the mid-band spectrum, which sacrifices some speed to improve geographical coverage.

Looking at the UK, which currently sits bottom of the rankings, there is perhaps something for Three to shout about. Opensignal suggests speeds here might be impacted by the fact EE only has 40 MHz of relevant spectrum. Three has been shouting about its 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 5G bands, claiming it is best positioned to deliver the 5G experience, and this analysis perhaps supports this claim.

And to address some of the speed differences between Opensignal and the figures which are being quoted by the telcos, this analysis is being done in the real world. Consumers are asked to download the Opensignal app, allowing the team to assess speeds in the real-world, with a range of different devices (manufacturer and condition) and a variety of applications.

But you also have to take into account these speeds are not realistic whatsoever; its nothing but a PR plug for the ‘creatives’ in the marketing department to make use of. Let’s take Australia as an example.

According to this analysis, Australian telcos can achieve a maximum download speed of 950 Mbps for 4G. However, as you can see from the graphic below, reality is far from the maximum achieved in perfect test conditions.

Opensignal 4G graphic

Although we are comparing apples and pears here, the theory is the same. Real-world experience is entirely different from the maximum speeds which the telcos boast about; this has been true for the 4G world and it would be perfectly reasonable to assume the same for the 5G era.

Fundamentally, this means very little for the moment. Coverage is incredibly limited while reality will be very different when more users hit the network. You also have to take into account European operators do not have access to the high-band spectrum which will deliver the monstrous speeds promised.

That said, the variety of speeds perhaps give an indication of the success of deployment strategies. It is certainly early days in the 5G era, but the US has claimed the first accolade when it comes to the dated ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ mentality which has governed the telcos for years.

BT gets personal on speed guarantees

BT has announced a new initiative, Stay Fast Guarantee, which will aim to hyper-personalise speed guarantees for new and re-signing customers.

When a new customer signs-up for BT’s broadband service, or an existing customer renews a contract, they will be given a bespoke speed guarantee for their home based on the estimated capability of the line. Should the service fall below these expectations, the customer will be able to apply for a £20 refund.

The initiative also promises that if it is believed a broadband customer could get a faster line speed, BT will first remotely optimise broadband performance, or an engineer will be dispatched to improve performance.

“With our new Stay Fast Guarantee, we don’t just guarantee customers’ broadband speeds, we constantly check and optimise them, so they’ll get reliable broadband speeds all day every day,” said Kelly Barlow, Marketing Director at BT.

“If a customer’s broadband falls below their personal speed guarantee then we have an expert team of service agents on hand to get things back to normal as soon as possible – ensuring they get the best and most personal broadband experience.”

While it does sound like a promising initiative, as with all these glorious promises the fine print has to be examined.

Firstly, BT is giving itself an exceptionally wide-berth to fix any faults. Customers will only be eligible to receive the £20 refund should BT not be able to fix the fault within 30 days of it being identified. Whether this is considered a reasonable window is open to debate, though for us BT should perhaps hold itself more accountable to deliver the promised performance; 30 days is a long-time for a customer to wait for the service he/she has paid for.

Secondly, customers can only apply for the refund four times a year. If problems persist, customers are left in the lurch until the end of their contract.

Finally, ‘outages, connection faults and home wiring outside of BT’s control’ will be excluded from the refund. Although this is commonplace for all telcos when offering some sort of refund, the generic and all-encompassing nature of the language offers a lot of wiggle room.

Where BT should be congratulated is on the attempt at personalisation. Catch-all statements and promises generally fail to deliver, therefore such a granular approach to performance and customer satisfaction should be applauded.

Slowly the telcos are staggering towards what would be deemed acceptable customer service. This is a good example of such initiatives. More of the same please.

What’s the point of Virgin Media’s latest broadband speed claim?

Virgin Media has claimed it can now deliver 8 Gbps broadband, but you have to ask whether there is any point aside from satisfying executive’s egos as the ‘faster than you’ mentality undermines the industry.

To be clear, Virgin Media is not the only telco that destabilises customer confidence and makes claims which are often twisted and contorted by their spin doctors, resulting in the miseducation trends of recent years, but they are the ones doing it today.

In Cambridgeshire, one of the UK’s technology hubs, Virgin Media is trialling what it describes as the ‘UK’s fastest home broadband’ service, with speeds exceeding 8 Gbps. This might sound fantastic and serves as an excellent means to distract onlookers from shortcomings elsewhere in the Virgin Media business, but why?

Why do customers need an 8 Gbps broadband connection? What services and applications could possibly be satisfied by such lightening speeds? In the future there might well be demand for such services, but right now there are arguably other things Virgin Media should be concentrating on.

This is the current issue with the telco industry on the whole, and why the telcos will struggle over the next couple of years; the obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is unhealthy and is limiting the ambitions of the telcos themselves.

All of this comes back to the relationship with the customer. Every telco is obsessed with being the fastest around, as it is commonly believed this is what the customer wants, and therefore all messaging is geared around this ambition. Advertisements are flooded with imagery and claims which are unrealistic and more often than not, un-needed.

Instead of focusing on a single test which claims PR plaudits for hitting 8 Gbps in a very specific area of the UK, why not concentrate on delivering a more satisfactory service across the board? You correspondent used to be a Virgin Media customer and can assure you promised speeds were never met. The telco industry’s obsession with wowing the world with headline figures is compounding the misery of mistrust.

If Virgin Media wants to succeed in the broadband world and be more than a quirky challenger with a famous brand ambassador, it should aim to create a wonderful experience for all customers, not chase shallow headlines. This is of course a wonderful example of what is possible in the world of tomorrow, but customers are getting screwed today.

Customers don’t care what the maximum speed of a service is, as long as it is more than what is required for a good experience. If a household requires 50 Mbps to make everything work, does it really matter whether the top speed is 55 Mbps or 5 Gbps. All this obsession does is lure the majority of customers into a false promise of performance and create problems for the future.

Looking at the bigger picture, the telcos with a mobile offering are going to have to move away from this obsession with speed before too long. As it stands, customers who have a stable 4G connection can pretty much do anything they want. There are very few (if any) consumer applications which exceed the capabilities of 4G. And if there are, we suspect there are other factors involved.

This leads us onto one of the biggest questions telcos will face at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks’ time; how will they sell 5G to the consumer?

There are of course plenty of reasons to be excited by 5G, but as a consumer why would I be bothered? The applications which will require 100 Mbps or more are not widely available on smartphones, while few connect laptops to the internet outside of wifi. We strongly suspect telcos will market 5G on the grounds of ‘faster is better’, but most will look at the premium and likely decide they have fast enough.

Virgin Media’s 8 Gbps broadband trial is perfectly representative of the industry we work in today. While there is always a need for progress, there are more cogs spinning in the machine than just the speed one.

The unhealthy obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is falsely reinforcing the belief that telcos are going a good job, both across the mobile and broadband segments. At some point, someone is going to have to sit down and realise there is more to the world of telecommunications than speed.

Are telcos being honest with consumers?

The ‘up to’ metric in broadband advertising has been a point of irritation for a notable number of people for a while now, but the Advertising Standards Authority will soon be doing away with it.

While it is certainly positive to see the ASA actually doing something to protect the consumer in the murky world of broadband advertising, it might be worth considering whether such ‘creative’ advertising practises have impacted brand credibility.

Below we’ve got an infographic, thank you Broadband Genie for the data, which outlines how honest they consumers feel broadband providers have been. If you have any thoughts on whether this has had any notable impact on the telcos credibility, feel free to comment below, or drop me an email on jamie.davies@informa.com to discuss.

Are the telcos being honest

Are the telcos being honest