Getting real about network performance

When it comes to building better mobile networks: experience matters, says OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill.

This is a guest post. 

The wireless industry experienced a sea change just before the year ended: EE, one of the largest mobile operators in the United Kingdom, announced a new way of measuring mobile network performance: from the perspective of actual mobile users. They are calling it time on 4G. At OpenSignal, we call it 4G availability and we have been measuring it for years. Although the approaches are different, the end results are the same: business insights derived from user-centric data.

Tracking the user experience

OpenSignal tracks six key metrics based on measurements collected from tens of millions of smartphones: LTE availability, showing the proportion of time our users have an LTE connection available to them; download speed (for 3G, 4G and a combination of the two called overall speed) showing the average download speed for each operator and connection. Overall speed doesn’t just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Finally, we measure the latency of a network (i.e. the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network) on both a 3G and a 4G connection.

Understanding what customers actually experience when using mobile networks gives operators unprecedented insight to deliver a superior customer experience. In an age when consumers have massive buying power and the ability to switch providers in a heartbeat, customer-centric analytics are critical to driving competitive advantage and business value. As the industry enters a period of rapid innovation driven by IoT and 5G, understanding users’ real-world network experience will play a critical role in shaping operators’ business roadmaps and investment decisions.

The best actionable insights come from the source that matters most, real users: subscriber data collected 24/7 in all the indoor and outdoor places they actually live, work and travel.

Operators benefit from understanding users’ true network experience
As competition heats up across the globe, mobile operators with the deepest understanding of their customers’ true mobile network experience are the ones best positioned to prioritise their investments. After all, the best actionable insights come from the source that matters most, real users: subscriber data collected 24/7 in all the indoor and outdoor places they actually live, work and travel.

Operators looking for a competitive edge can no longer afford to hinge network testing on approximated models and simulations when unprecedented levels of insight are so readily available from real user measurements, thanks to smartphone technology and big data advancements.

Understanding users’ real-world network experiences enables operators to identify coverage blackspots, detect regions with fluctuating service quality, pinpoint areas with frequent congestion, and locate high-demand locations with poor network speed and availability.

Continuous data collection also means operators can better plan, manage and respond to a sudden rise of demand on their networks that can be impacting service quality. Peak or off-peak variations, seasonal conditions or periodical blackouts can be dealt with faster, smoother and more efficiently.

By acting on insights obtained from users’ on-device measurements, operators are able to deliver superior network performance and enhanced quality of service, which increases customer satisfaction and lowers churn rates. This is a case where common-sense business principles prevail. It is far less expensive to keep a customer than to find a new one.

Operators need to prepare for the 5G experience
Amid the hype surrounding the roll-out of 5G, it’s important to remember that the 4G infrastructure operators use today will serve as the backbone for the 5G services implemented in the coming years.

No wonder mobile operators across the globe have opted for investing in building far-reaching 4G networks (rather than more powerful ones), a trend we’ve seen clearly in our latest global LTE report released in November 2017.

By focusing on delivering the best 4G experience to users today, operators are also laying the groundwork to deliver a superior 5G experience in the coming years. The math is simple, unhappy customers leave and happy customers stay. Low churn rates create the kind of bottom line stability that helps fund future investments, including 5G. Moreover, offering reliable and superior 4G networks today will pay off when the time comes for customers to choose a 5G provider.

Using real-world measurements to analyse network experience gives operators the kind of precise insights needed to make investment commitments

Experience matters
The final judge on who has the best network is not the operator, a single test device or a handful of brand ambassadors. As analyst firm tefficient recently concluded in its analysis of the Nordic operator landscape, what matters is who has the best network for its customers.

Using real-world measurements to analyse network experience gives operators the kind of precise insights needed to make investment commitments that best serve their subscribers needs today, while solidifying their position in the race to future technologies such as IoT and 5G. In a rapidly changing technology landscape where real customer data is so readily available, operators who continue to rely on test simulations as a proxy for customer experience will be left behind.

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