How good are the mobile networks at Mobile World Congress?

It's a common question. Given we're at the world's largest mobile trade show, chatting ourselves into the ground with tales of amazing mobile innovation, how good are the mobile networks themselves at Mobile World Congress?

UPDATE – 28 February: What about the WiFi?
GWS have now sent me some results based on their understanding of the performance of the free WiFi at the event (the one with the mwc_free_wifi id).

Note, this is just a result of one company’s tests. GWS tested the service using its mobile diagnostic application (previewed for the first time at MWC). I’m not sure of the methodology (number of tests, locations, time of day etc) so probably best to take these as indicative rather than anything comprehensive.

The results according to GWS’ testers:
“Overall the received WiFi signal strength levels were strong, typically ranging between -55 dBm and -85 dBm, and averaging approximately -70dBm. This is to be expected given the number of wireless access points deployed at MWC.

“When a network load test was performed, the peak download throughput experienced was approximately 5.5 Mbps – and the average of the load test download throughputs achieved was 1.6 Mbps.

“However, the achievable HTTP browser and download throughputs were limited to average rates of less than 400 kbps. To put this in perspective: it would take 20 seconds to download a 1 MB file at this rate.

“Additionally, for 20 per cent of the time, the achievable download throughputs were less than 100 kbps.”

When you’re walking the show floors, do you have trouble making a call, does it seem to take you ages to load a web page – or in fact have you found the networks have performed OK?

Global Wireless Solutions(GWS) a company that carries out network benchmarking by performing drive and walk tests, set out to find a more scientific answer.

It strapped a back pack containing six Samsung Galaxy SIIIs, hooked up to test equipment from SwissQual, onto the back of a tester and got him to walk the aisles of Hall 7. The phones made calls and set up data sessions, and recorded the service they received.

So what were the results? Well, actually pretty good for the three carriers Movistar (Telefonica), Vodafone and Orange.

GWS’s tester walked Hall 7 for about two 2 hours on Tuesday, 25th, using locally purchased prepaid SIMs on Orange, Vodafone & Movistar.

On the voice side, all (159) call attempts were successfully initiated and terminated. The only difference between the carriers was that all of the 53 calls made over Orange and Movistar’s networks were on UMTS, while Vodafone stepped 15% of its calls down to 2G.

In Hall 7 alone, coverage was provided by six dominant ‘servers’ for Vodafone and Movistar, but only three dominant servers for Orange.

All the devices were 3G devices (not LTE). Vodafone had around 85% Dual-Carrier HSPA (DC-HSPA) usage, with Orange showing nearly 100% DC-HSPA. Movistar showed nearly 100% usage over HSPA+.

Given the technology usage, you might have expected that Orange would have seen the fastest throughput

The fastest (average) HTTP DL throughput was achieved by Movistar (at 4.4Mbps), followed by Vodafone (3.1 Mbps) and Orange (2.3 Mbps). GWS described this as “very respectable throughput performance” without any setup failures or channel drops.

Given the technology usage, you might have expected that Orange would have seen the fastest throughput (i.e. DC-HSPA over HSPA+), but its lower performance was perhaps due to capacity issues (i.e. they have fewer dominant servers in the hall). HTTP Uplink throughput stood at 1.4 Mbps (Vodafone), 0.4 Mbps (Orange) and 1.9 Mbps (Movistar).

Finally, when a network load test was performed across the various operators, the Vodafone network showed the best capability – delivering up to 11 Mbps.

All told, then, a pretty decent snapshot of the efforts of Spain’s three biggest carriers. I wonder if this data matches up to the anecdotal evidence of exhibition attendees?