How “advanced” is your LTE network?

As the mobile industry gears up for the next big technological shift in mobile communications, 5G, an interim technology has been emerging to help fill in the generational gap. That technology is called LTE-Advanced, and while it’s not a term the general public is familiar with, if you’ve been paying attention to mobile carriers in Europe and Asia, you’ve likely noticed them bragging about these new “Advanced” 4G capabilities.

EE calls it 4G+, while Vodafone is describing it as 4.5G, but no matter what moniker carriers apply to LTE-Advanced, they’re all promising it will herald a big boost in network performance. But what is LTE-Advanced exactly, and how will it improve your mobile experience?

Defining LTE-A is a bit difficult because it’s not a single technology. It’s really more a grab bag of different techniques and upgrades designed to improve coverage, capacity and resiliency on mobile networks. The LTE-A standard includes new advanced antenna technologies designed to send more signals to your phone; interference mitigation techniques, allowing carriers to pile new small cells into their networks; and higher orders of modulation that can boost the efficiency of your connection. But the big-ticket item in LTE-Advanced is a technology called carrier aggregation, which provides an advantage that’s much easier to market to their customers: faster speeds.

Carrier aggregation essentially lets a mobile operator combine two or more downlink transmissions (each known as a carrier) into a single super-connection. Operators are deploying LTE all over the spectrum map, but in most cases those frequencies aren’t contiguous. With carrier aggregation, an operator like EE is taking the 20 MHz of 1.8 GHz spectrum from its original LTE network and combining it with 20 MHz it owns way up in the 2.6 GHz band. The result is a connection that will support up to 300 Mbps, double that of what each individual carrier could support on its own.

That’s a tremendous benefit to consumers, especially those with a craving for speed, but keep in mind some LTE-Advanced networks are more advanced than others. Operators can only bond together the 4G spectrum they have at their disposal. For instance, Vodafone is combining a 10 MHz carrier with 20 MHz carrier, creating a network with a theoretical limit of 225 Mbps. Depending on their spectrum situation, some operators are gluing together two 10 MHz carriers or a 10 MHz and a 5 MHz carrier. The result is a lot of different LTE-Advanced network with different top speeds.

Regardless, any LTE-Advanced network is going to provide an improvement over its predecessor, so if your service provider has performed the upgrade, it’s worth your while to take advantage of it. To do that you’ll need a newer smartphone, tablet or modem. There are a number of devices that can support carrier aggregation today, but only a handful that can handle the high speeds of the more powerful LTE-A networks coming out this year. Among them are the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and Note 4; the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus; the HTC One M9; the LG G Flex 2; and Huawei Ascend Mate 7 and Honor 6. Multiple smartphone chipsets with LTE-A support are now in the market, and in the coming year, we’ll see a lot more devices boasting 300 Mbps speeds out of the box.

And don’t forget those other items on the LTE-Advanced menu. It will be much harder for operators to explain the benefits of a technology like enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC) to their customers, but it will benefit those customers just the same. SK Telecom is using eICIC to deploy dense clusters of small cells in the places where data demand is highest, ensuring customers can get a connection even when the network is most congested. Deutsche Telekom is testing an antenna technology called 4×4 MIMO, which will double the number of data streams sent from the tower to the device. That feature not only will boost speeds even further (DT is boasting speeds up to 580 Mbps), but an additional benefit of multiple antennas will be improved performance at the edges of cells — those areas of the network where calls drop and our data speeds suffer the most.

So, yes, we’re seeing the first LTE-Advanced networks today, but it’s safe to say they’re going to advance much further in the future.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Fitchard who is a journalist covering the mobile industry and wireless technology. He most recently wrote for Gigaom.

Posted in LTE, Mobile Trends | Leave a comment

Wi-Fi calling: What it is and when to use it

U.K. and U.S. mobile consumers have probably noticed a lot of buzz from their carriers about Wi-Fi calling, which, simply put, lets you route phone calls over your phone’s Wi-Fi data connection using voice over IP rather than use the usual 2G network. It’s worth taking a look at some of these new services and how they differ from the regular voice services your carrier offers.

T-Mobile US and Sprint both offer support for Wi-Fi calling out of the box on newer Android handsets, the last two generations of iPhone and even a Windows Phone device here and there. Verizon and AT&T have both announced plans to offer voice over Wi-Fi this year. On the other side of the Atlantic, O2 and Three for some time have offered a form of Wi-Fi calling through their downloadable smartphone apps, Tu Go and InTouch, but we’re starting to see new services emerge from EE and Vodafone that will support Wi-Fi calling directly from the smartphone dialer. We’ve even seen U.S. cable companies like Cablevision use Wi-Fi calling to bypass the cellular network entirely offering a “mobile” service that operates entirely on public and private hotspots.

To be honest, the carriers are a bit late to the party. In the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of any number of apps that utilize the internet, and by extension Wi-Fi, to bypass traditional telecom voice networks, from Skype to Google Voice to Viber to Tango. These apps made peer-to-peer communications — even across the globe – largely free, and they’re largely responsible for the big decline in traditional voice and messaging prices.

So what advantages are there to using a carriers’ Wi-Fi calling service? Savings-wise there really aren’t many reasons – in fact, some carriers still deduct Wi-Fi calls from you’re regular minute plan, making a service like Skype cheaper. But there are a lot of more subtle benefits.

  • You use your existing phone number. Instead of downloading new software, creating a new ID for calling purposes or getting a new phone number, you use the same number and same smartphone dialer to make your calls. In fact, when working properly, you shouldn’t know the difference between a Wi-Fi and cellular call – your phone just switches between networks depending on which has the stronger signal.
  • Strong signals are also a big plus because where Wi-Fi is the most abundant is often where cellular signals are the weakest. Think of your basement or that conference room in the guts of an office building: You may have trouble finding 2G bars on your phone, but your home or a building’s Wi-Fi network is pumping out strong signals.
  • International roaming doesn’t carry a huge price tag. When a call is shunted off to Wi-Fi it’s taken off the cellular network, no matter where the cellular network happens to be. So when in a country where you’d normally have to pay a high roaming tariff, you’re Wi-Fi calls are either free or cost the same as they would at home, so long so long as your making a call within your carrier’s home network. Some carriers like T-Mobile US are even exempting international fees if you use Wi-Fi to place an international call to other countries.

So the proper way to look at Wi-Fi calling isn’t as a new type of mobile service. Rather it’s an extension of your existing mobile service making it more useful and sometimes cheaper, while keeping the convenience of a single phone number. And there are still plenty of kinks carriers need to work out. Wi-Fi calls aren’t truly mobile in the sense of a cellular call. If you move out of range of your Wi-Fi access point, there is no hand-off to a nearby tower – the call just drops.

As for quality, voice over Wi-Fi is still a toss up. Some carriers are upgrading Wi-Fi calls to high-definition (HD) voice, which dramatically increases the frequency range and amount of audio information sent over a phone call. But there’s a lot more than phone calls traversing the typical Wi-Fi network, and VoIP traffic has to compete with bandwidth just like any other application. That means a voice over Wi-Fi call on your home Wi-Fi network might have some of the best audio quality you’ve ever experienced on a mobile phone, but on a congested public hotspot, that same call might be unintelligible.

So my advice is to use Wi-Fi calling judiciously, using wireless networks you know will have the ample bandwidth to support a high-quality Wi-Fi call. For instance: your home and office WLAN or a trusted public hotspots (OpenSignal just launched a handy tool, WiFi Mapper, for finding them). But when you travel overseas, where the cost of making a phone call shoots up astronomically, use Wi-Fi calling wherever possible. In such cases, poor quality is a good trade-off for roaming fees.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Fitchard who is a journalist covering the mobile industry and wireless technology. He most recently wrote for Gigaom.

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WifiMapper is Born

For the last few months we have been building an app that will take away the pain of finding free Wi-Fi. WifiMapper is based on our crowdsourced library of over 500 million global hotspots and can therefore recommend you a nearby hotspot in nearly every city in the world.

Whether you are running low on data for the month, in a foreign city and don’t want to ring up a roaming bill worth thousands or just want to find somewhere nice to settle down with your laptop for the afternoon, WifiMapper can help you get connected. We’ve integrated Foursquare comments to give you better contextual information about the hotspot you are considering (it’s all very well knowing you can get Wifi in two different cafes, but which has the better coffee?). By including Foursquare comments we are able to give a more rounded perspective on the hotspot venue than just the binary ‘does this location have WiFi? Y/N?’

1. Main List_Map View

The app works by using data collected since 2010 from the OpenSignal app, which has been logging the location and performance of mobile hotspots to build a crowdsourced database of over 500 million hotspots worldwide. We then proceeded to build an algorithm that recommends hotspots based on a number of heuristics (including whether we can map the hotspot to a specific foursquare location, how many OpenSignal users have connected etc.) that are used to determine the likelihood of whether the hotspot is likely to be freely accessible to the public. For more information about how we do this see Brendan Gill’s comment on Hacker news.

Overall we have been able to recommend around 2 million hotspots worldwide, a huge number that means you never have to be without Wi-Fi again. Click here to download directly on iOS  or to sign up for the Android app (which we will launch within the month) go to the WifiMapper website.

 

Posted in WifiMapper | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Smartphones in the classroom 2: Teaching Physics

Do you remember the time when cellphones’ only use was to make and receive calls while out and about?

Martin Cooper's cellphone

Martin Cooper’s cellphone

Mobile phones were originally created to do that, no more, no less. Similarly, sensors in smartphones were first put there to fulfil very specific roles. The accelerometer allows to re-orient your screen when you move your device, the lux meter is responsible of adjusting the brightness of your screen according to the light level of your environment, and so on.

While cellphones do nowadays much more than enabling calls on the go, sensors in smartphones are being repurposed for means entirely different to their primary functions. Our WeatherSignal app crowdsources meteorological data from mobile sensors such as the barometer and the battery temperature sensor. mHealth applications Instant Heart Rate and Sleep Time by Azumio use the camera and the accelerometer respectively to track heart rate and sleeping patterns. As for the  uses of the microphone, some of which we discussed in a previous blogpost, a recent paper describes low-cost interfaces that attach to the smartphone’s microphone and speaker and are commanded by sound with 99% accuracy.

Sensing the world with WeatherSignal

Sensing the world with WeatherSignal

These sensing capabilities make the smartphone a powerful data collection device to probe physical phenomena, and as such, an attractive tool for physics teachers. To get an idea of the possibilities and the challenges in welcoming the smartphone to the Physics classroom, let’s meet some of the teachers who have already done so.

  • Jochen Kuhn and Patrik Vogt

Jochen Kuhn from Kaiserlautern University of Technology and Patrik Vogt from the University of Education Freiburg are among the first advocates of the use of the smartphone to teach physics. They are the creators and curators, since 2012, of iPhysicsLabs, a column in The Physics Teacher magazine dedicated to mobile devices and their implementation as experimental tools in the classroom. Jochen and Patrik have themselves authored about a dozen papers describing a range of experiments where cellphones act as data-collecting, sensing devices. They propose, for example, studying acoustic phenomena with a smartphone microphone, analysing free fall with the accelerometer and using the camera to make infrared radiation visible.

  • Arturo Marti and Martín Monteiro

Two other frequent collaborators of iPhysicsLabs are Uruguayan physics teachers Martín Monteiro (ORT) and Arturo Marti (University of the Republic). A list of their publications can be found on Martín’s website. My personal favourite, co-authored with Fernando Tornaría, shows how smartphones can explain the physics at work behind the SpillNot®, a seemingly “magical” device to avoid spills while carrying a mug of hot coffee. To further encourage the adoption of the smartphone by high school physics teachers, Arturo and Martín, together with colleagues Cecilia Cabeza and Cecilia Stari, have also given a series of workshops. These have been met with a lot of interest, as you can judge by the pictures below.

Smartphones, physics...

Smartphones, physics…

 

and mate!

and mate!

  • Philippe Jeanjacquot

Remember that amazing brochure on Smartphones in Science Teaching we mentioned in the first article of this series? Well, Philippe Jeanjacquot is one of the creative minds that came up with ideas such as using smartphones to understand the parallax effect, estimate astronomical distances and measure speeds. Philippe works both as a high school physics teacher and a researcher at Lyon’s ACCES, the instructional design team of the Institut Français de l’Education. If you have a fair understanding of French you should definitely have a look at his ACCES’s webpage, where you’ll find detailed description of activities, useful app recommendations and programs for his latest workshops. Philippe’s own experiences using smartphones with his high school students were, as he told me, extremely positive. The kids were delighted to use their phones and realised what a powerful tool these are to make science.

  • Rebecca Vieyra

Although now an Albert Einstein Distinguished Fellow placed at NASA Aeronautics, Rebecca Vieyra has taught high school physics for seven years, and it’s not hard to tell when you talk to her that it is her passion. She’s busy as a bee and regularly updates her Google+ page on Mobile Sensor Apps with the latest news and ideas in the field. Herself and her husband Chrystian have created a series of really cool apps, the Physics Toolbox, that allow to collect data from all the phone’s sensors. Oh, and somehow she’s also found time to write a monumental book with her dad (also a physics teacher), recently released on the Kindle store.

Rebecca was using mobile devices a lot in her teaching: for general internet access, practice quizzes, homework submission… and of course, for their sensing capabilities. A very interesting activity was conducted on the occasion of the annual field trip to the Six Flags amusement park : students used their phones to gather data from the accelerometer while on a ride, then analysed it relating it to their physical sensations. The kids experienced some frustrations – the data wasn’t always clean, there were some calibration issues – but overall they enjoyed themselves while collecting meaningful data and learned to use their phones in completely new ways.

Measuring forces outdoors

Measuring forces outdoors with mobile devices

Sensors in smartphones are growing steadily – so why not make of them a source of information on the world around us? At OpenSignal we’re currently working on a Mobile Sensors Database and always keeping an eye out for new developments, such as the gas sensor to be released by Sensirion next year. There are lots of apps that allow to harness the power of smartphones’ sensors. One I came across recently is the very promising Lab4Physics. Created by young scientists from Chile, it aims to enable students to perform hands-on physics experiments, particularly in schools lacking lab equipment.

Cellphones started as tools to help us communicate. They still are nowadays, but they’re also much more: incredible sensing devices, a small lab in your pocket. The work of teachers like Jochen, Patrik, Martín, Philippe and Rebecca, among others, shows that smartphones in the classroom can be as little or as much as we make of them.

Posted in Education, Sensors, WeatherSignal | Leave a comment

New OpenSignal live wallpaper: know your signal strength

Your phone signal is important, so why is it that the signal strength bars are tiny?

The Nexus 6 has a screen of 1440×2560 pixels, the signal bars and technology indicator (that text that says “4G”, if you’re lucky) take up about 64×64 pixels, around 0.1% of your screen. 1/10th of 1 percent – that’s a doghouse size of screen real estate, surely it should be more like a helipad.

To fix this we’ve added live wallpaper to our Android app, here’s how to get it:

  • 1. Download or update OpenSignal, long click on your home screen, select live wallpaper and then locate OpenSignal. This is how you add any kind of live wallpaper.
  • 2. The screen will change colour according to signal strength in technology.
  • 3. Done.
Red = Alert = No signal

Red = Alert = No signal

Blue = Brilliant = LTE

Blue = Brilliant = LTE

The signal changes colour as below:

  • Blue – Best – 4G, the brighter & bluer the better
  • Green – Good – 3G, again the brighter the green, the better
  • Orange/yellow – OK – 2G, yellow means better, stronger signal than orange, because orange
    is close to red
  • Red – Alert! you’re out of service



Green = Good = 3G

Green = Good = 3G

Orange - yellow = OK = 2G

Orange – yellow = OK = 2G

We love it and we’re not alone – since starting roll out 2 days ago, it’s already in the top 100 live wallpaper apps in 96 countries. So try it out!

But … I can’t get rid off my wallpaper of my wife/husband/cat/favourite 16th century philosopher. If wallpaper doesn’t work, don’t forget OpenSignal provides a signal widget and lost signal notifications.

Posted in Android Development, LTE, Understanding signal | Leave a comment

Not Lost in Translation! Our Spring Translation Challenge

First things first, a big thank you goes to all of our translators who having been helping us translate the OpenSignal apps and website over the last three months. To recap, we ran the Spring 2015 iPad Translation Challenge from 22 January to 22 April, and the goal was to translate 41,454 words. That meant that we needed to collectively write a novel (often defined as greater than 40,000 words*)!

How did we do? We wrote a novel, and even added appendices, a glossary, an index, and a selected bibliography! The total translated in the last three months was …..(drumroll, please)……

54490 words!

In total, the OpenSignal translation community (that means YOU!) worked on 36 languages. 18 languages had submissions of over 500 words – these languages are:

Brazilian Portuguese
Bulgarian
Croatian
Czech
French
German
Greek
Hungarian
Indonesian
Polish
Portuguese
Russian
Serbian
Spanish
Swedish
Turkish
Ukrainian
Urdu

Imagine how many places people will understand OpenSignal better, just from this challenge!

Now for the iPad lottery announcements!

Out of 24 translators, there were 14 entrants in the iPad lottery, with 100 tickets between them. The winner of the iPad lottery is:

Vladimir Gubar
Vladimir, from Ukraine, has singlehandedly translated the equivalent of a novella (defined as more than 20,000 words*) in the last three months. He has primarily worked on Ukrainian, Russian, Slovak, Czech and Polish, although he has contributed to many other languages as well. Congratulations to Vladimir for winning the iPad, and thank you for your contribution!

As is our tradition, after each translation challenge we thank all of our contributors by name. Here are our “short story writers” and our “essayists” – thank you so much! (Some translators chose to remain anonymous).

Short Story Writers (1,000 to 8,000 words)

Ferhad Fidan
Turkish
Thomas Lautenschlager
German
Francisco Palaio
Portuguese
Maikel Simões
Brazilian Portuguese
Nikola Stojanović
Serbian
Vladislav Zaimov
Bulgarian

Essayists (up to 1,000 words)

David Boca
Croatian
Damir Grmoja
Croatian
Andriana Karagianni
Greek
Khadis
Indonesian

Thank you once again to everyone who translated! Stay tuned for the next translation challenge, announced next week!

* For our word count definitions, we are referencing the Literary Rejections website.

Posted in Competition, Translation | Leave a comment

WifiMapper iOS Transformed

First things first, we’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to making WifiMapper a really awesome app! You all have been an amazing group of beta-testers and have given us some incredibly detailed and useful feedback. We want you to know that we’ve listened! We analysed all the most common feedback received to form action steps on how to improve things. Take a look at what’s changed:

(SPOILER ALERT: The following images are taken from a great app that has had a lot of changes. You won’t believe your eyes. But while the pictures are good, it will be much better from the palm of your hand! Sign up now for the WifiMapper iOS beta by entering your iTunes email address here. Thank you!)

WifiMapper Map and List view- Map & List

WifiMapper helps you find free Wifi, and it presents information on Wifi hotspots in a map and in a list. Users found that switching between these was a bit frustrating, so we’ve changed this interaction.

- Discover new places with Free Wifi

The great thing about WifiMapper is that it helps you find free Wifi *and* discover new places to hang out. Do you have enough information in the hotspot details page to decide to go there? Look out for comments, pictures, and wifi info!

 

- Crowdsourcing continues Wifi Hotspot Details Page

WifiMapper is the latest in the OpenSignal family of crowdsourcing apps, and once again, we’re asking you to contribute to our Wifi database and help WifiMapper be the best source of information on Wifi. We’ve tried hard to find you great places with free Wifi, but as you go exploring, you’ll find new ones – please add these in! Or maybe we’ve gotten one wrong – tell us whether a hotspot is actually free or not. Did you need a password? You can add that too.

If you’ve ever walked in somewhere and discovered there’s no wifi, or wanted to work but needed to save your mobile data, get WifiMapper now! As mentioned above, you can get the iOS pre-release beta by submitting your iTunes email address, or sign up at the WifiMapper website for launch announcements. If you’re on Android, you can join the beta through WifiMapper’s Google+ community.

Finally, please join our WifiMapper forums! Our forums are a great place to talk about app-related functionality, as well as theoretical challenges that are present cross-platform. Also, we already have tons of ideas for the next version of WifiMapper, and we’re sure you do too! Participate in conversations on bug reports and potential features, learn about how people are using the app, and make your voice heard!

Excitement ensues and free Wifi abounds!

Posted in Beta-Testing, WifiMapper | Leave a comment

Fi-ve reasons to love Project-Fi

Yesterday, Google announced its plans for a new mobile+internet service which will be available initially on Nexus 6 phones. It’s called Project-Fi. Google is releasing some awesome developments into the telecommunications space – here are the top five takeaways on Project-Fi.

  1. Wifi to LTE handoffs across networks

    You’re on a call, have LTE, and all of a sudden you’re in a dead spot with only a public Wifi hotspot. With Project-Fi, you’ll move ‘seamlessly’ from one type of connection to the other. This is not entirely new, companies such as DeviceEscape have been offering services to carriers to “hand-off” to free (and even password protected WiFi) for some time. The key to this model is maintaining a large and high quality database of WiFi points. The Nexus 6’s special cellular radio is also important, as it transmits on a large number of frequencies, combining network types like CDMA and GSM and allowing for more graceful transitions.

  2. A single SIM can access two networks (aka one SIM to rule them all)

    Project-Fi partners with two of the largest networks in the US, T-Mobile and Sprint – and as you might know from our latest State of LTE Report, T-Mobile has the fastest LTE speeds in the US (as of Feb 2015) based on OpenSignal data. Here, Project-Fi starts off by looking like an MVNO, but rather than have access to only one network in an area, phones on Project-Fi will get to choose the best of both networks at any given time. This works because Project-Fi has dual SIM network information on one physical SIM.

  3. Google Voice+

    You can think of Project-Fi’s capability to access mobile calls or texts from your Google Hangouts account as an extension of Google Voice. What’s even more fun is that Android Wear has Google Hangouts and will soon be Wifi enabled, which means that soon you won’t even need to carry your phone around – just talk through the watch on Fi!

  4. International Roaming

    While Fi’s projected coverage in the US, Canada and Mexico is already impressive, equally as good are the free international texts, cheap international calls, and low cost data when abroad. In more than 120 countries, you’ll pay the same rate for data that you do at home ($10 / GB). Keep in mind that on 3G networks you’ll experience a speed limit of 256 kbps, decent but perhaps not as pioneering as 3 UK’s feel at home where you get your full plan with no throttling.

  5. Instant Wifi Connection and Secure Network

    Project Fi uses a million ‘high quality’ open wifi hotspots to supplement its 3G/4G coverage. The difference is that with Fi, you’ll be automatically connected *and* you’ll have a secure data connection through a VPN tunnel. An insecure hotspot just got more … secure :)

Ruminations

Where is Project-Fi going, and what does it mean for OpenSignal?

It is still early days, but Project Fi already has several limitations, not least of which is that Fi only works on one model of phone – Google’s Nexus 6. For a company that’s promoting the “be together, but not the same” line on Android, this lack of choice is odd. Clearly the 2-carriers-in-1-SIM and also possibly the WiFi-LTE handoffs rely on Nexus 6 hardware. It’s likely that more phones will support Fi, but the question is: how many and when?

It’s also important to note that Google isn’t actually building its own mobile network, so while it gets the coverage of two major networks plus a selection of open wifi points, Project Fi is still going to have poorer coverage in more remote areas. This questions whether or not users currently served by T-Mobile or Sprint will be seeking the coverage improvements that Fi offers, and whether users without connectivity – who would be able to benefit much more from the technology – won’t actually be reached.

Coverage map of Project Fi Network

Coverage map in our ‘sister city’ across the pond – dark green is 4G, green is 3G, light green is 2G.

Put that together with Project Fi’s pricing ($20 / month flat fee + $10/1 GB data, pay for use), and you get the question of whether an unlimited plan on 1 network is better than a pay-as-you-use data plan on two networks + Wifi. Maybe, maybe not.

From the point of view of mapping coverage, network rank and data speeds, Project Fi is quite disruptive, moving away from a single carrier or single MVNO model and creating a network that is truly about access to quality connectivity. Here at OpenSignal we’re already thinking about doing a Project-Fi vs. conventional 4G report, looking at ‘Time on’ statistics – will there a big change in 4G connections? Furthermore, with two SIMs rolled into one, will we be able to determine whether Project-Fi is actually choosing the best network at a given time? How about the Wifi perspective: what do Project-Fi hotspots mean for regular users, and would we be able to single them out using WifiMapper (our soon to be released tool for finding free WiFi)?

So many questions, and only one way to find out!

Posted in Comparing Coverage, Mobile Trends, Understanding signal, WifiMapper | Leave a comment

Does a higher bill mean a better 4G service?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Fitchard who is a journalist covering the mobile industry and wireless technology. He most recently wrote for Gigaom.

If you pay a lot on your monthly mobile bill, you would expect to a get the best possible 4G service out of your carrier, right? Well, an analysis of global network performance using OpenSignal data shows that isn’t always the case. Some of the most expensive mobile carriers in the world actually offer the slowest LTE speeds to their customers. But the numbers did show high prices are a fairly good indication that an operator offers superior 4G coverage.

I recently worked with OpenSignal’s analysts to compare their data on 4G network performance from global carriers against average subscriber revenue data. What we found was there is little correlation between mobile plan pricing and LTE bandwidth. What the research did find, however, is a more direct relationship between price and the amount of time consumers spent connected to LTE versus 2G and 3G networks. So if you value coverage – getting a 4G signal more often in more places – then you’re likely getting more bang for your buck, quid, euro or won. But if raw speed is your bag, paying more doesn’t guarantee you the fastest speeds possible.

Comparing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) with Download Speed

Comparing Operator ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) with Download Speed

The U.S. has the highest average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) of the 29 countries sampled in the analysis at about $59. Yet as far as network speed goes, the U.S. ranks 26th out of 29, supplying an average connection of 7 Mbps. Meanwhile the lowest ARPU in the sample, $3, belongs to the Philippines, yet its two LTE operators deliver average speeds of 8 Mbps, ranking the country above the U.S.

The fastest LTE performance can now be found in Northern Europe, Spain, France, Hungary and South Korea, where speeds between 16 and 18 Mbps are the norm. But the differences in ARPU between them are huge. In Denmark, ARPU is around $19 a month. In Norway that number is $34, which is more in line with South Korea’s ARPU of $33 than it is with Norway’s neighbor just over the North Sea.

Within countries, the pattern – or lack thereof – was the same. In the U.K., EE has the distinction of having the fastest speeds (17.8 Mbps), seemingly justifying the $2 to $6 more it collects in ARPU over its competitors Vodafone and O2. But in the U.S. the opposite is true. T-Mobile has by far the fastest speeds (10 Mbps) compared to Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, but its ARPU is $49, undercutting its next cheapest competitor by $8 a month.

Comparing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) with Coverage

Comparing Operator ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) with Coverage

 

Your monthly bill may have no bearing on the size of your 4G pipe, but when we map price against 4G coverage we do see a clearer pattern. In general, as a country’s ARPU increases so does the percentage of time spent on an LTE network. South Korea, one of the pricier markets for mobile service, lead the world in coverage, its three major carriers supplying an LTE signal to its users 95 percent of the time. Of the ten most expensive countries in the sample, seven of them ranked in the top 10 in terms of coverage according to the OpenSignal data.

There was no hard and fast rule tying each incremental dollar of subscriber revenue to a boost in coverage. Even though the U.S. had double the ARPU of the rest of the top 10, it hardly had double the coverage (It ranked 6th). And there were definitely some big outliers. The U.K. may have been one of the higher priced markets in the sample with an ARPU of $25, but it ranked near the bottom in terms of coverage with time on LTE just 42 percent.

In general, though, there definitely seems to be a trend showing that carriers collecting more money from their individual customers invest more in network coverage. The trend seems to hold within countries as well as without them. Operators with the highest prices tend to have more expansive LTE footprints than their competitors.

If coverage is tied to price, why isn’t the same true for LTE speeds? After all, that’s the big promise of 4G: fatter pipes for more bandwidth intensive applications.

The different regulatory environments and spectrum policies of these different countries probably has a lot to do with those differences. Speed is largely determined not by investment in physical infrastructure, but by the amount of 4G spectrum available in any given market. In the U.S. carriers started out with 20 MHz as their basic LTE building blocks, while in Europe many carriers had access to 40 MHz, giving them double the capacity of their American counterparts.

What’s now considered fast here in the U.S. is pretty slow from Europe or Asia’s perspective. But given how insulated countries are from one another, U.S. consumers aren’t really aware of the discrepancy. Even if they were, they’re not exactly in any kind of position to challenge it. Living in Chicago, I don’t have the option of trading out my AT&T or Verizon service for an EE or SK Telecom plan.

When you look at individual countries, coverage still seems to be the big factor in determining who and how much consumers pay for their mobile service. But I believe as 4G matures speed could prove to be a very powerful competitive dynamic. Again, the U.S. provides a good example.

In the last few years, the title of America’s fastest 4G service has flip-flopped between T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon as each carrier has built and upgraded their networks. But over the last six months, T-Mobile has come out fastest in The OpenSignal 2015 State of LTE report and other independent speed tests, thanks to T-Mo’s aggressive LTE rollout. The country’s No. 4 operator has played up that fact in its marketing, and T-Mobile is now the fastest growing carrier in the U.S. It’s probably no coincidence that Sprint, which has the slowest LTE network, is the carrier suffering the most.

Posted in LTE, Reports | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

How WeatherSignal can contribute to forest fire monitoring

Knowing that a paper was published using our data always gives us a thrill. We enjoy the fact that our work can meaningfully contribute to different fields of research. Above all, we see it as proof of the value of crowdsourced data and the reliability of smartphones’ sensors.

This is certainly the case with Sagi Dalyot and Shay Sosko’s most recent paper, “Towards the Use of Crowdsourced Volunteered Meteorological Data for Forest Fire Monitoring”. You might remember these two researchers at Technion from a previous blogpost on our academic partners. We recently learned that their work was distinguished with the Best Paper Award by IARIA, the International Academy, Research, and Industry Association. Our congratulations go to them!

A big cheer for Sagi and Shay!

A big cheer for Sagi and Shay!

Sagi and Shay’s study focus on the evaluation of smartphone-gathered meteorological data, as a means to complement weather station data for the purpose of early fire detection. Fire spreading simulations, as well as fire danger rating systems, are largely based on two types of meteorological data: ambient temperature and relative humidity. Nowadays, some smartphones have incorporated sensors to measure both. Sagi and Shay chose the Samsung Galaxy S4, one of the first cellphones to include these sensors – integrated in the SHTC1 chip made by Sensirion. The app used to collect the data was our very own WeatherSignal.

The accuracy of the measurements was evaluated by implementing three different scenarios to gather the data, varying in duration and location – from series of short measurements to long periods of continuous collection, with the phone alternatively situated in the shade and exposed to direct sunlight. The data thus collected was then compared to that from weather stations.

The researchers found that when the smartphone was placed in a shadowed space, the measurements were accurate and reliable. And although exposing the device to direct sunlight resulted in some erroneous readings, a calibration algorithm developed by the authors permitted them to correctly identify these and discard them. Sagi and Shay went on to map how temperature readings crowdsourced by WeatherSignal can complement weather stations’ data, filling the gaps in areas not covered by meteorological stations.

Their conclusions are very positive and point to the possibilities offered by crowdsourced data from smartphones’ sensors: “with relatively small post-processing, and without having the need to use reference data to analyze the correctness of the data, the collection device can function as a reliable and accurate ‘dynamic geosensor station’ that serves as supplementary data source that is external and independent to the static network”.

In a time when new sensors and smart devices, released on a daily basis, are being tested as earthquake detectors and all-encompassing health-monitoring tools, their promise is turning more and more into reality.

Posted in Academic, Crowdsourcing, Sensors, WeatherSignal | Leave a comment