Digicel holds Google, Facebook ads hostage

If Google and Facebook are really so keen on connecting the developing world to the Internet, then they should share their mobile revenues with the operators doing the actual connecting – at least that’s the stance of Denis O’Brien, the Irish billionaire who owns Digicel. Since Google and Facebook don’t appear to be taking his suggestion seriously, O’Brien’s is getting their attention in an unusual way: He’s blocking their ads across Digicel’s Caribbean and South Pacific networks.

Denis O'Brien (Photo credit: Digicel)

Denis O’Brien (Photo credit: Digicel)

Digicel announced this week it would use network software from Israeli startup Shine to block browser and in-app advertisements served up by ad-networks like Google, Facebook and Yahoo. The operator group is starting with Digicel Jamaica, but it plans to institute the ban on networks in other countries in the coming months. If Silicon Valley’s Internet giants want their ads back, O’Brien said, they’ll have to pay for them in the form of revenue sharing deals. Here’s O’Brien’s official statement:

Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook talk a great game and take a lot of credit when it comes to pushing the idea of broadband for all – but they put no money in. Instead they unashamedly trade off the efforts and investments of network operators like Digicel to make money for themselves. That’s unacceptable, and we as a network operator, are taking a stand against them to force them to put their hands in their pockets and play a real role in improving the opportunities for economic empowerment for the global population.

O’Brien is coming off like the champion of the common man, pointing to all of the bandwidth ads siphon off of customers’ data plans. But Digicel stands to gain the most if Google and Facebook give in. Basically they’ll be paying to play on Digicel’s network, which could have all kinds of implications for operators around the world and net neutrality in general. There’s also no guarantee that Digicel would use that revenue sharing windfall to expand the reach of the mobile Internet, either by building more networks or lowering mobile data pricing.

But if O’Brien comes off as self-serving, so do Google and Facebook. For some time, Facebook and Google have been decrying the lack of basic internet access to vast populations of people around the world. The result has been initiatives like Internet.org and Project Loon, ambitious and sometimes far-fetched plans to provide cheap internet access using wireless technology. Though Google and Facebook position these plans as altruistic, they stand to benefit plenty. The more people who have Internet access, the more people can use their services or see their ads.

Regardless of which side you fall on – if any – this is going to be a fascinating fight to watch. O’Brien isn’t just putting the screws to the ad-tech community, but the content companies that depend on the the revenue their ads generate. And if Google and Facebook capitulate, you can bet Digicel will be joined by plenty of other operators looking for their own revenue sharing agreements.

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Google goes LTE-Advanced with its new Nexus phones

Apple isn’t the only one taking the leap into faster mobile networking technologies with its new flagship phones. Both of Google’s new showcase handsets, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, sport new Qualcomm chips that can tap into the growing number of LTE-Advanced networks being built worldwide.

Considering the plethora of new features included in these devices (we’ll drill down into the sensor stack in a later post), LTE-Advanced isn’t something Google is focusing on in this product launch. But buried in the tech specs of both phones is the designation “LTE cat. 6,” which means they’re capable of achieving theoretical peak speeds of 300 Mbps – assuming they have the proper network to connect to.

The LG Nexus 5X (Photo Credit: Google)

The LG Nexus 5X (Photo Credit: Google)

The Nexus 6P and 5X join the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus as the latest phones sporting LTE-Advanced. Apple, without a doubt, will sell a lot more iPhones than Google will Nexus devices, but the Nexus was never intended to be an iPhone-killer. Rather it’s a showcase for Google’s technology and applications, and with this Nexus generation, Google seems intent on showing off the newest mobile networking technology.

OpenSignal’s State of LTE report released last week found that several operators around the world with LTE-Advanced networks are seeing their average speeds climbing. So there are plenty of networks, from the U.K. (EE) and Romania (Vodafone and Orange) to South Korea (KT, SK Telecom and LG U+) and Singapore (Singtel, StarHub and M1), on which these new Nexus phones can shine.

Google is also offering both devices on its own virtual operator Project Fi, but the U.S. will be a more difficult place to show off raw speed. Neither of Google’s partners T-Mobile and Sprint can support full-fledged LTE-Advanced speeds today, though Sprint has long promised to turn on ultra-fast networks in its 2500 MHz frequencies. When that day finally happens, Google’s new Nexus devices will be able to tap that network.

If you get your hands on either the Nexus 6P or 5X when they go on sale in October, we encourage you to download the OpenSignal app (available in Google Play). If you’re able to connect to one of these new LTE-Advanced networks, you’ll likely notice a significant boost in your Nexus’s performance — plus you’ll be contributing data to OpenSignal’s crowdsourced network testing community.

Posted in LTE, Networks | 7 Comments

Netflix starts streaming 6 miles up thanks to Virgin America deal

The draconian restrictions on inflight Wi-Fi are easing up – at least on some airlines. Rather than ban streaming video in planes like most airlines, Virgin America is actively encouraging its customers to binge-watch their favorite programs on Netflix. A new partnership announced today between the airline and streaming service will make high-speed internet access free until March.

Photo Credit: Virgin America

Photo Credit: Virgin America

Before you get too excited, know that this doesn’t apply to all Virgin America flights, only new Airbus craft decked out with ViaSat’s Exede satellite-to-plane connectivity service. Virgin America traditionally has relied on Gogo for inflight Wi-Fi, but Gogo’s limited capacity has meant a slow and often expensive internet experience for travelers. ViaSat’s service, however, is built off the back of a super-satellite with 140 Gbps of total capacity, meaning its airline partners no longer have to be so stingy with their bandwidth.

A lot of airlines and inflight ISPs have been upgrading their aircraft and networks to support faster speeds. Gogo just boosted its own speeds with a new souped-up satellite service called 2Ku, and more airlines are starting to connect to ViaSat’s network. We’re still a long way from Wi-Fi in the sky becoming as fast and as cheap as Wi-Fi on the ground, but the internet experience at 35,000 feet is getting better.

Posted in Mobile Trends, Wifi | Leave a comment

Apple just unleashed 13M new LTE-Advanced phones on the world

The big mobile industry news over the weekend was of course the launch of the next generation iPhones, the 6s and the 6s plus. Apple said on Monday it sold at least 13 million of them since they went on sale on Friday, but while the press and Apple argue over whether that’s a new record in iPhone sales, I’d rather focus on the significance of the radio technology in these new devices.

The new iPhones are the first Apple devices to fully support an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation, which means they can connect simultaneously to two separate LTE networks running on different frequencies. Previous iPhones have had some limited support for carrier aggregation, but not until this current generation have they been able to tap into true LTE-Advanced speeds of 300 Mbps.

Photo credit: Apple

Photo credit: Apple

Apple isn’t exactly ahead of the curve here. Samsung launched its first 300 Mbps phone in South Korea in 2014, and since then, the most recent generation of Samsung, Huawei, LG and HTC flagship phones all have been LTE-A capable. But Apple has never been in a rush to embrace the newest wireless technologies (the first iPhone didn’t have a 3G radio). Instead it’s always waited for wider industry adoption of a new networking technology before introducing it in the iPhone and iPad.

Broader adoption of LTE-Advanced is what we’re starting to see today. In OpenSignal’s State of LTE report released last week, we’ve observed big boosts in average speed in countries where LTE-A networks and phones have been introduced, for instance South Korea and Singapore. LTE-Advanced isn’t exactly widespread today, but Apple obviously feels it’s come far enough that the newest generation iPhone needs to support the technology.

And there’s nothing quite like an iPhone launch to draw attention to a new technology. In just three days 13 million new LTE-Advanced phones appeared in the market, and many of them were sold in countries where at least one operator has live LTE-Advanced networks. On that list is Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. In the coming weeks, the new iPhones will go on sale in many more countries that have these new super-speedy networks as well.

If you just got your hands on a new iPhone 6s or 6s plus, we’d love it if you downloaded the OpenSignal app from the iTunes store and run a few speed tests (we just updated our iOS app). Your operator may not be offering LTE-Advanced yet – and even if they do, there’s no guarantee it’s available where you live – but if they are, it could mean a substantial boost in performance over your previous iPhone.

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OpenSignal iOS update! Version 2.3 Released

If you are an OpenSignal iOS user, we’ve got some exciting news. Today we released version 2.3 of our OpenSignal iOS app. So what has changed? A LOT! Okay, okay – here are the top four things that we’ve added, fixed, or improved.

1) Performance
Performance has been our number one focus for this update. It’s not great when an app crashes. It is even harder for us when the app crashes randomly. Thankfully, we’ve caught that one by the tail!

OpenSignal iOS app dashboard2) Compatibility
Compatibility has been a big theme in this update as well. Both general compatibility of the app with newer versions of iOS (you can’t ignore that already 50% of active iOS devices have installed iOS9) as well as responsiveness to different screen sizes have been implemented.

3) Experience 
It’s the little things that matter, so we’ve gone through the app and made sure the details work. Ranking stars, map tiles, location, text sections – all of these have been refined so you can enjoy the app that much more.

OpenSignal iOS app Manual reporting page
4) Reporting
Last but not least, we’ve added a manual reporting feature, similar to our OpenSignal Android app. In addition to running a speedtest, now you have more options for telling us about your mobile experience. How does poor signal affect you: do your calls drop, is browsing really slow, can you send a text? You can also use the reporting tool to give us quick feedback on the app and your device.

Now please try it out! Let us know if this update makes things better and meets your expectations. We’d love to hear your feedback. Please leave comments below or in the forums.

(Now if that wasn’t exciting enough for you, go check out our global State of LTE report for Q3, which we published yesterday! It has 183 networks and 68 countries, our most comprehensive review of LTE networks yet. What’s your network’s performance?)

Posted in Beta-Testing, OpenSignal app | Leave a comment

How crowdsourcing is mapping the communities everyone forgot

Since OpenSignal depends on community crowdsourcing to collect data from millions of smartphones, we’re always interested in interesting crowdsourced projects. One that caught our attention is the Missing Maps Project, which aims to map out vulnerable neighborhoods and communities around the world so aid organizations can better prepare and respond to crises in those areas.

The project was founded by the American and British Red Crosses, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMapTeam (HOT) and Doctors Without Borders. Using satellite positioning and a team of volunteers, Missing Maps builds geographic information system (GIS) databases across the world, from tiny villages in Rwanda to sprawling slums in Bangladesh. That data then makes its way to HOT’s OpenStreetMap editors, who — quite literally – put these communities on the map.

Photo Credit: American Red Cross

Photo Credit: American Red Cross

Obviously OpenStreetMap is one of the biggest and most successful crowdsourcing projects in the world, but Missing Maps is also making use of other crowdsourcing tools. Of particular note is Mapillary, an app that allows users to photograph the world around them with their smartphones and map those images into the company’s global database. But for the community mapping initiatives, Missing Maps is going beyond the phone camera.

Using Garmin Virb cameras mounted to vehicles, Missing Maps is able to get more sensitive GPS readings, better image stabilization and greater battery life as it tools around these neighborhoods snapping a photo every two seconds, says the American Red Cross’s Drishtie Patel in Mapillary’s blog. “Additionally we find it to be a much safer option than walking with mobile phones in some of the high risk areas we map,” Patel writes.

Those photos all go into Mapillary’s database, which is available to relief organizations, NGOs or anyone who wants to use them. Those photos have a lot of logistical value, allowing organizations to see road conditions, the positioning of homes and the layout and conditions of community structures. But they also have a lot of value for OpenStreetMaps volunteer cartographers who need to decipher Missing Maps GIS data remotely. Patel writes:

We find they are a good reference for tracing, especially to new mappers who can then see what these areas look like on the ground. We always get questions about this from volunteers at mapathons who are trying to decipher and distinguish items they are mapping. These pictures are a huge help as they give context to mappers enabling better quality tracing.

Missing Maps has kicked off the community photo mapping project in Canaan, Haiti, collecting 5000 photos over 70 miles of roads in two days. The following photo was taken as part of that mapping session, but I encourage you to view the complete set of photos through Mapillary’s viewer. Mapillary strings the photos together in sequence allowing you take a virtual drive through the streets of Canaan. Just press the “play” button under the map.

Photo Credit: Mapillary user Calimapnerd

Photo Credit: Mapillary user Calimapnerd

OpenSignal collects different kinds of information than OpenStreetMap and Mapillary through our crowdsourcing efforts, but we’ve also tried to put our network coverage data to good use in emergency situations. We developed an Android app called CrisisSignal that emergency responders, relief workers or community members can use to measure and track the state of communications infrastructure in disaster-afflicted areas.

Posted in CrisisSignal, Crowdsourcing, Sensors | Leave a comment

The State of LTE in September 2015

Today OpenSignal released the next installment of our State of LTE report, which tracks the coverage, speed and overall performance of 4G networks worldwide. This is our most comprehensive LTE report to date, including data on 183 operators globally drawn from our crowdsourced network of smartphone users in the three months between June and August.

What did we find exactly? Well, there are surprisingly fast networks emerging in Eastern Europe as operators launch powerful LTE networks over multiple frequency bands. East Asia is starting to show off new LTE-Advanced networks and expand 4G coverage far and wide. In South Korea you can now expect to get an LTE signal 97 percent of time, making 4G nearly as ubiquitous as 2G and 3G.

State of LTE Q3 2015 screenshot

A chart from the State of LTE report showing operator 4G speeds versus coverage. Click on the image to see the full report with interactive graphs.

But we’re also seeing some of LTE earliest movers fall behind the curve. The U.S., Sweden and Japan were among the first countries to launch LTE, and consequently they have some of the highest coverage networks in the world. All three, however, are losing ground in terms of speed. The U.S. may have one of the highest concentration of LTE devices in the world, but its 4G networks are also among the slowest in the world even despite recent upgrades.

What we’re seeing is evidence of LTE in various states of maturity around the world. Latecomers are launching networks using the latest technology advances and spectrum, and since their networks are still lightly loaded, they’re able to demonstrate some truly astonishing speeds. Meanwhile 4G old timers are starting to suffer from their own success. Their huge subscriber bases are eating up capacity and taxing their network resources. Some like South Korea and Singapore have managed to remain on top through upgrades and plowing more spectrum into their networks, while others are having trouble keeping up.

You can see all of the data and read our in-depth analysis in the full report. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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AT&T looks beyond the smartphone

When AT&T Mobility chief Glenn Lurie took the stage at CTIA’s annual trade show in Las Vegas he didn’t say a word about the iPhone 6s or for that matter any of the other new smartphones coming to its networks this fall. Nor did Lurie talk about 4G or upgrades AT&T is making to its network.

Instead he spoke about wheelchairs, luggage and garbage cans.

Photo Credit: Kevin Fitchard

Photo Credit: Kevin Fitchard

It makes sense that Lurie’s speech focused on the internet of things because those things are driving AT&T’s growth. Last quarter AT&T added 2.1 million new subscriptions to its networks but most of those gains came from internet of things links, including 1 million car connections through new deals with automakers like General Motors, Audi and Tesla. Today for every four phones on AT&T’s networks there’s one non-traditional device.

“Is smartphone growth done?” Lurie said. “No. There is tons of growth in smartphones.” He pointed out, however, that the U.S. has reached 100 percent mobile penetration last year. Operators are upgrading their customers to new devices and stealing customers from one another, but if AT&T wants to experience another huge wave of growth on its networks, it will have to do so with by connecting cars, appliances and home, not phones.

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Verizon gets bullish on 5G (perhaps prematurely)

Verizon was one of the first operators to make a big commitment to LTE, so it makes sense that it would come out as an early backer of LTE’s successor 5G. Today Verizon announced it would begin field trials of honest-to-god 5G networks in 2016, much earlier than any other global operator.

There’s only one problem: No one knows what the heck 5G is yet.

Image Credit: Verizon

Image Credit: Verizon

The standards bodies that define these things have just started the process of determining what 5G will be: what it will accomplish, the kind of radio technologies it will use, and the spectrum it will traverse. The entire process could take several more years to finish, which would put Verizon’s 5G network trials well ahead of an actual 5G definition. (Check out my earlier post on the ongoing saga of 5G for more details.)

So what is Verizon getting at exactly? Most likely Verizon is signaling its intentions to join the growing research effort surrounding 5G, committing its resources to testing out candidate technologies, frequencies and use cases for our next generation networks. The real commercial networks that Verizon customers would actually connect to won’t emerge until years later. No matter how aggressive individual operators want to be, they’re still limited by the same standards and product development timelines all operators face.

That said, Verizon has been known to light fires under standards makers in the past. Despite being confined to a single country, Verizon is one of the world’s most powerful operators. It wasn’t the first to launch LTE – it wasn’t even the first in the U.S. – but it was the first to launch it on a large scale. That early backing helped bring LTE to market years earlier than was originally expected.

The mobile industry is targeting 2020 for 5G’s debut, but an increasing number of network makers and operators are making bold claims about delivering 5G networks years sooner. That could just be posturing, but who knows? If a large portion of the mobile industry really wants 5G sooner rather than later, they might just have the clout to force the issue.

Posted in Networks, Other | 2 Comments

Are Rio de Janeiro’s mobile networks ready for the Olympics?

Last month OpenSignal released its State of Mobile Networks for Brazil, but given the 2016 Summer Olympics are less than a year away, we thought it a good idea to drill down into that data to see how the host city, Rio de Janeiro, performed specifically. Next summer, hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Rio, and you can bet they’ll want to text, Tweet and Instagram their experience to the world.

The good news is that Rio’s mobile networks are in decent shape. The country’s five major operators generally provided better 3G and 4G coverage and speeds in Brazil’s second largest city than the offered to the country as a whole.

3G/4G Coverage


Let’s start with coverage. While there are still some places in Rio where OpenSignal’s app could only detect a 2G signal, the city’s mobile data infrastructure is widespread. The country’s fourth largest operator Oi scored the lowest, providing a 3G or better connection only 71 percent of the time. All of the other operators had coverage numbers over 80 percent, with Nextel able to provide a 3G mobile data link a whopping 96 percent of the time.

LTE Coverage


There are still some sizable gaps in Rio’s LTE coverage, though it’s important to remember that 4G is still relatively young in South America. While our nationwide report found that no operator could provide an LTE signal more than half the time, several of those operators offered considerably better coverage in Rio itself. Vivo customers with LTE phones were able to connect to the 4G network 66 percent of the time, while Claro customers’ connection rate stood at 60 percent. Nextel’s LTE network, which only went online in June, is already beating out Oi and TIM’s in terms of coverage.

LTE Download Speeds


LTE may not be available everywhere in the city, but where it is, speeds are definitely impressive. Claro, Oi and Vivo averaged download speeds over 17 Mbps, which places their networks among the fastest in the world — at least for the time being. As more Brazilians trade out their 3G smartphones for LTE versions, we’ll likely see average 4G data rates fall as more devices compete for the same capacity. Nextel was the big exception in this category. Though it’s built considerable 4G coverage in Rio, its total data capacity appears to be severely limited. It averaged just 2.8 Mbps in 4G download tests.

3G Download Speeds


When mobile users fell out of LTE coverage onto the 3G network, speeds dropped off dramatically, though four of the five operators were able to supply a 1 Mbps or greater connection. And even in places where 3G wasn’t available, Brazil’s operators were able to provide some kind of signal in most cases. The amount of time mobile users spent without any network connection whatsoever was 3 percent or lower in all cases, and Vivo performed particularly well in this category. Its customers were at a loss for signal only 1.6 percent of the time.

Time With No Signal


Brazil’s operators still have another year to prepare before Olympic athletes and fans hit Rio en masse – and they’ll probably need the time. Though Rio’s mobile infrastructure seems in good shape today, nothing can quite bomb a network like playing host to a major global sporting event. In particular you can expect to see Brazil’s fast 4G speeds take a hit as both more Brazilians and an influx of tourists load up the country’s new LTE networks.

That said, there’s plenty Brazil’s operators can do to bolster their networks in the next 11 months. They can add more LTE coverage and bandwidth by upgrading more towers and adding more 4G capacity to existing towers. They could surgically add capacity to key Olympic venues and neighborhoods using small cells and Wi-Fi. And when the Olympic events actually kick off, they’ll likely deploy temporary towers (cells on wheels) throughout the city to handle the additional traffic. U.K. operators seemed to cope quite well with the onslaught during the 2012 Olympics in London. Let’s see if Brazil’s can do the same.

For this analysis, OpenSignal extracted all tests conducted by users with our Android and iPhone app within the city limits of Rio de Janeiro, which encompasses all 32 Olympics competition venues and the four principle neighborhoods where the games will be focused. In all, we took 13.3 million measurements from 7,353 different smartphones over a three-month period between May 1 and July 31.

Posted in Comparing Coverage, LTE, Networks, Reports | Leave a comment