OpenSignal Blog

AT&T will trial 5G this year, pitting it against Google fiber

AT&T plans to get its feet wet in the still murky 5G pond this year, joining arch-competitor Verizon and operators around the world in conducting early trials of the technology. AT&T announced its 5G roadmap on Thursday, detailing plans to test out ultra-high-speed networks in the millimeter wavelengths this year in both the lab and in the wild. The first city on its list will be Texas state capital Austin, conveniently located down the expressway from AT&T’s corporate HQ in Dallas.

AT&T, however, appears to be taking a much more conservative stance on 5G unlike its competitor Verizon. Instead of promising an overnight revolution in mobile data, AT&T says its initial 5G focus will be on fixed wireless broadband – in essence using 5G connections as an alternative to cable, DSL and new fiber broadband links. For that reason, Austin may not only be a convenient choice for AT&T but also a strategic choice. Austin is a Google Fiber city, and a handful of its residents are starting to get their first taste of a 1 Gbps home broadband connection. AT&T is already experimenting with its own fiber-to-the-home service called GigaPower, but it may now be toying with the idea that it could provide the same kind of gigabit service without digging any trenches and stringing any cables.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike Mozart

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike Mozart

Trialing 5G as a fixed broadband technology is smart move by AT&T because it insulates it from the standards process. 5G standards are still years away from being final, so whatever so-called 5G networks operators deploy this year and next will use proprietary technology. That means there won’t be smartphones and devices that can connect to them, and the networks themselves will be isolated from one another. That’s not to say that these early trials won’t be important from proving the merits of future 5G technologies, but it’s almost impossible to build a commercially viable mobile network without standards. The same can’t be said for a fixed wireless network. The residential broadband network AT&T builds only needs to connect with one kind of device, the modem installed in the customer’s home.

Of course, 5G will be much more than a means to faster home internet. The researchers developing 5G standards envision it providing much faster speeds to our phones, tablets, cars, laptops and cars. It could also supply the low latency necessary to power whole new categories of applications and the low power links necessary to connect the internet of things. It’s going to be a while before all of those technologies become reality, but one of the first steps along the road will be enhancements to our current LTE and LTE-Advanced technologies. Those upgrades could boost today’s 4G performance considerably.

Faster mobile speeds have to be high on AT&T’s and every other U.S. operator’s mind, considering how far behind the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in LTE technology. According to OpenSignal’s recently released USA State of Mobile Networks report, average 4G speed in the U.S. is 9.9 Mbps in the fourth quarter, far below the global of 13.5 Mbps.

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Go slow: how & why to test apps on poor connections

One of the recurring themes at OpenSignal is the staggering diversity of mobile experience. We see it in our Fragmentation Report on Android device models and in our Sensor Library.

Phrases like “mobile first”, “responsive” sweep this complexity beneath the carpet – they beg questions: on what mobile did you design first? to what does your design respond – just screen size, or also language & font size preferences, and inability to resolve IP to a location?

But what’s on my mind following our Global State of LTE report is data speeds. Even LTE, with its corresponding technological standards, provides a user experience that’s incredibly diverse – with average speeds ranging from around 3Mbps to 40Mbps. Hardly standard.

And LTE remains a luxurious technology. While most countries have it, most mobile users don’t. According to Ovum, Asia and Middle East have 20% and 7% LTE subscription penetration respectively. And even users who have an LTE subscription will only be able to use it some of the time. From our crowdsourced data we see several countries where LTE users will have an LTE connection less than 50% of the time.

That’s why this graph matters:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 09.56.39

In many countries your apps will be used mostly on 3G and 2G. Explore our maps to get a feel for the speeds your users will be experiencing. And remember: these are average (mean) speeds – many users will be experiencing much slower connections.

As developers we’re fussy about our WiFi, ethernet and cellular connectivity. We fuss until it works well. The irony is, this removes us further from the experience many of our users are getting, the experience we should be designing for.

Facebook know this, it’s why they introduced 2G Tuesday, a move that is not only pleasantly alliterative and assonant, but brings them closer to their users worldwide. The WhatsApp founders didn’t carry old school Nokias out of a misplaced sense of retro-cool, but because they knew it’s how many experience their service.

Testing on slow speeds is not about testing edge cases, it’s about the everyday experience of hundreds of millions of mobile users worldwide.

And it’s easy.

There are a bunch of different tools you can use for different mobile platforms, but I’m going to give you a recipe that works for pretty much every device and is super simple.

Ingredients:

  • A Mac
  • An ethernet connection, or any wired connection to your machine

Overview
We’ll use a tool called Network Link Conditioner to limit the bandwidth of a Mac, and we’ll share your Mac’s network connection using the wifi sharing feature. Done. You can now control the network speeds you get on your mobile device, whatever mobile device it is (as long as it has wifi).

Method:

  • If you don’t already have it (you may do if you have XCode), install “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode”, the official location is: https://developer.apple.com/downloads/ If you don’t have an apple developer account, some 3rd party sites have disk images (but I can’t vouch for them).
  • Install the Network Link Conditioner: once you’ve opened the disk image for Hardware IO Tools, double click Network Link Conditioner.prefPane, it installs in System Preferences.
  • Network Link Conditioner has a few presets (e.g. 3G, 100% loss) and you can roll your own to reflect the scenarios you want to test.
  • Also in System Preferences, go to Sharing and turn on Wifi Sharing.
  • With Wifi Sharing on, you computer should appear in the list of wifi hotspots in your device. Connect to it. To ensure all your traffic is routed through your computer, you may want to disable cellular connections (on Android you can do this by turning on Airplane mode and then turning back on Wifi) but generally this shouldn’t be necessary
  • Now your mobile device traffic is flowing through your computer and you’re in control of your network speeds (or at least you can limit them).
  • For bonus points you could turn on WireShark and see the requests your device is making; I prefer Stetho for more targeted network inspection.

The nice thing about this approach is that you don’t need to use the emulator to see bad speeds, you don’t need a rooted phone or a particular mobile OS version. It just works.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 09.16.46Remember to turn it on

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 09.18.02Deter freeloading by naming the hotspot “I Steal Passwords” or “NSA_stingray(hidden)“. Alternatively, select “Wi-Fi Options” before turning on sharing to add a password.

I recommend playing around with reducing speeds to 0 (100% loss mode) midway through operations to simulate sudden drops in connectivity.

And that’s it, now you can experience your app just as many of your users do.

Related reading: UI design for empty states40 Developer Tips for Android Optimization

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A look at the world’s LTE networks ahead of MWC

This time a year, the mobile industry’s attention turns to Barcelona where operators, network equipment vendors, device makers, internet companies and any number of startups — including OpenSignal — convene at Mobile World Congress. The headlines at MWC usually center on big device news, for instance Samsung’s big Unpacked Event, where the latest in the Galaxy smartphone line will be unveiled. But MWC is also a place where the world’s mobile operators discuss the nitty-gritty of doing business, where the latest advances in network technology are announced and where some of the biggest controversies in the mobile industry get played out.

We figured ahead of MWC would be an apt time to release our latest State of LTE report, which provides an extensive update on the status of the world’s LTE networks. There’s a lot of good to report.

A year ago a 20-Mbps mobile network was a very rare thing, but because of new network upgrades and new LTE-Advanced technology, networks averaging download speeds of 20 Mbps or more are now becoming quite common around the world. By OpenSignal’s count 52 individual operators and 15 countries meet that mark. The top average 4G speeds are now well beyond the 30 Mbps and in at least one network, we’re seeing consistent downlink connections of 40 Mbps or greater — that’s average speed, not top speed.

OpenSignal's plot of graph of speed vs. coverage for the world's LTE networks. See the full report to zoom on the details of each network.

OpenSignal’s graph of speed vs. coverage for the world’s LTE networks. See the full report to zoom on the details of each network.

These new super-fast networks are not confined to one region of the world. Instead, they’re widely dispersed across the globe, ranging from Singapore to New Zealand, Austria to Australia, Romania to Canada. Many operators are building their second and third 4G networks in new frequency bands, and LTE-Advanced upgrades in several of these countries are able to push the bandwidth available over individual 4G connections even higher.

Though these countries and operators are pushing the upper boundaries of LTE speeds faster than others, we’re seeing LTE connections get faster everywhere. The average LTE speed globally is now 13.5 Mbps, up almost 1 Mbps since our last LTE report four months ago.

Clearly a lot of operators globally are investing in their LTE infrastructures, and they’re not just making them faster. LTE coverage is also expanding in most countries in the world. In South Korea and Japan LTE is now so ubiquitous, there’s actually a 4G signal in more places than a 3G signal. East Asia and North America in particular are on the leading edge of LTE’s coverage expansion, though there are some notable standouts in Northern Europe (the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway), the Middle East (Kuwait, Qatar and UAE) and South America (Uruguay).

Not every operator is progressing at the same pace in both metrics, however. Some of the first LTE early adopters, such as the U.S. and Japan, rank far below their peers in speed, despite the fact they’ve built out some of the most reliable networks in the world in terms of coverage. Western Europe has some speedy networks, but it’s lagging behind much of the world in coverage. Operators in Spain, Italy, the U.K., France and Germany are still leaning heavily on their 3G networks as the chances of connecting to a 4G network are often little better than a coin flip.

But a few operators have done an exceptional job at maximizing both speed and coverage. SingTel and StarHub in Singapore and Olleh and LG U+ in South Korea are the most prominent, but Europe also has its stars, in particular Telenor and T-Mobile in Hungary, T-Mobile in the Netherlands and TDC in Denmark.

Be sure to check out the full report where we go into far more detail about the performance of 187 different networks around the world. We break them down by country and by multinational operator group, and provide detailed interactive charts so you can make your own comparisons.

Posted in Connecting the World, LTE, Mobile World Congress, Networks, Reports | Tagged | 3 Comments

How the Big 4 stack up in the US in coverage and speed

The TV ad war between mobile operators in the U.S. has reached a fever pitch. Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are using everything from marbles to samurai swords – and in T-Mobile’s case a good deal of sarcasm – to explain why their networks outperform the rest. Now seems like a good time as any for OpenSignal to release our State of Mobile Networks report for the U.S., which breaks down the coverage and speed of the nationwide operators’ mobile networks as measured by 180,000 network testers.

T-Mobile has been bragging about the big coverage gains it’s made in the last year, and our latest batch of data shows T-Mobile does have a lot to boast about. In the fourth quarter, we measured T-Mobile’s time coverage at 81 percent, which means that T-Mo 4G customers saw an LTE signal 81.2% of the time no matter where and when they connected (for info on time coverage see our methodology section). The most obvious explanation is T-Mobile’s recent network buildout in the 700 MHz airwaves. Those low frequency airwaves can travel much further afield in suburban and rural areas, and in dense urban cores they can more easily punch through walls to provide stronger indoor signals.

T-Mobile still has some catching up to do if it wants to surpass the two U.S. mega-carriers in coverage. It is now within spitting distance of matching coverage with AT&T, which scored 82.6% in our coverage measurements, but Verizon still reigns when it comes to network availability with a time coverage metric of 86.7%. T-Mobile’s network improvements, though, will go a long way to combat criticism about poor coverage.

Verizon still has plenty of ammunition to back up its claims of being the country’s most reliable network, but when it comes to speed, it was locked in a two-way battle with T-Mobile in the fourth quarter. We clocked Verizon’s average LTE download speed at 12 Mbps and T-Mobile at 12.3 Mbps, but due to the small margin of separation between them that amounted to a statistical tie.

Even when we compared LTE downlink performance in the country’s 11 largest markets, they were almost dead even. T-Mobile won four cities outright, including New York; Verizon took three, including Los Angeles; and they tied in three markets (the 11th market Houston was a statistical draw between all four nationwide operators). Thanks to some big capacity upgrades in the last few years, T-Mobile had been besting its competitors in speed for many consecutive quarters, but Verizon has made upgrades of its own, and it may well aim to recover its speed crown.

Chart by OpenSignal

Chart by OpenSignal

Sprint has been making waves with a new ad campaign that claims its new LTE Plus is the fastest in the country, but according to our measurements Sprint’s 4G network is still the slowest in the country with an average download speed of 6.6 Mbps. Sprint appears to be citing measurements taken solely on its LTE Plus network, a recent upgrade in 150 cities that uses technologies like carrier aggregation and smart antennas to significantly boost connection speeds. The problem is LTE Plus network is limited to urban centers and not all of Sprint’s 4G devices can connect to it. Meanwhile, OpenSignal is measuring the average speed across all of Sprint’s LTE connections, which paints a picture of what the typical 4G experience is like, not an optimized one.

That said, we’re definitely seeing evidence of Sprint’ 4G speeds increasing over the last year, thanks in a large part to more customers connecting to its amped-up LTE Plus towers. But for years Sprint lagged far behind the other operators in overall LTE performance. It’s starting to close the gap, but it still has some catching up to do.

Be sure to check out the full report and its interactive charts, where we delve into other data including 3G performance and network latency. We plan to release a new U.S. report every six months, and given how aggressive U.S. operators are becoming, we might see an entirely different mobile landscape come August.

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Infographic: 5 tips for picking your next mobile operator

Last month OpenSignal published a detailed guide to picking a mobile operator, looking at some not-so-obvious factors such as the quality of a service provider’s 3G network and the possibility of choosing a virtual operator. We got some good feedback on the piece so we decided to turn those five tips into an infographic you can easily reference while conducting your operator search.

The infographic summarizes the 5 big things you should think about when picking a new operator or service plan, but if you want to see the more in-depth analysis, check out the original blog post from December.

5 Things to think about when choosing a mobile operator - infographic

 

 

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CES: 4G is becoming the way our cars get connected

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ETC-USC

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ETC-USC

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas produced a lot of connected car news this week. GM announced it was investing half a billion dollars in Lyft. Google’s head roboticist took a job with Toyota to help hone the automaker’s autonomous car research. But one of the most interesting deals to come out of CES was struck by Ford and AT&T.

Over the next five years, Ford will connect more than 10 million vehicles to AT&T’s LTE network. What’s surprising about that is Ford has been the most obstinate of automakers in opposing the idea of the 4G car when it comes to infotainment. Ford has always promoted a bring-your-own-connectivity approach to internet dashboard services. Its Sync AppLink technology — already in millions of vehicles — tethers itself to the driver’s mobile phone, using its radio and service plan rather than a 4G module embedded in the vehicle.

Ford isn’t abandoning AppLink by any means. In fact, Ford just licensed the technology to Toyota, which announced at CES it would use a version of AppLink in its own vehicles. Customers can continue to tether their smartphones to their dashboard, using it to stream music into their car speakers or location-based services into the dash screen. But by linking its vehicles directly to the 4G network, Ford is able to offer telematics features it can’t provide through a smartphone connection: for instance remote vehicle unlocking, diagnostics and location. You don’t need an LTE connection for those kind of services, so I suspect Ford has bigger plans for 4G. It could start selling data plans, allowing passengers to connect their devices to an in-car hotspot. Ford could also start connecting its Sync dashboard apps without a smartphone intermediary.

It’s beginning to look like every car will eventually have some kind of direct mobile connectivity, and in the U.S. no one is benefiting more from that trend than AT&T. It’s landed almost every 4G car deal in the last two years, and in recent quarters much of its growth has come from connecting new cars to the internet, not new smartphones.

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Meet HaLow: A Wifi network built for the internet of things

Wifi already connects our laptops, smartphones and smart TVs to the internet, but it has bigger ambitions. It wants to glue together the internet of things. The Wi-Fi Alliance this week unveiled its proposed technology for smart homes, connected cars, digital healthcare and a host of other IoT applications. It’s called HaLow (pronounced “Hey-Lo”), and it resembles a cross between Wifi, Bluetooth and cellular networking.

HaLow is based on a new standard developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) called 802.11ah, and it takes advantage of lower frequency bands (below 1 GHz) to send signals further without draining additional power. The idea is HaLow will have twice the range of Wifi — eventually reaching up to kilometer — and will be able to penetrate barriers likes walls. That makes it ideal for linking devices spread much further afield than in a home or office. HaLow also uses the same protocols as Wifi and can easily be incorporated into any future Wifi router or device.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Banalities

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Banalities

What HaLow won’t do is provide the raw speed we’ve become accustomed to with Wifi. There just isn’t the bandwidth in the industrial unlicensed bands that 802.11ah uses to provide the blistering broadband speeds the newest Wifi routers can achieve. But speed isn’t the point. The internet of things will comprise millions — if not billions — of sensors, appliances, machines and gadgets requiring only part-time access to the internet. Most of those devices will transmit tiny amounts of data and only intermittently. If the idea is to stream HD video to a device, then you’re much better off connecting it to traditional Wifi or 4G network.

There are plenty of other technologies tackling the internet of things, standards like ZigBee and Z-Wave. For more than a decade, 2G networks have been used to power machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in the business and industrial sectors. But as IoT begins to penetrate much further into both the consumer world and the industrial internet, there’s been a big push to create new technologies optimized specifically for IoT’s unique needs: low power, low data rates, long range and extremely low costs. Think of it as a separate internet for the internet of things.

Not only is the Wi-Fi Alliance trying to cement HaLow’s place in this new internet, but so is the Bluetooth community and mobile industry along with several startups. France’s Sigfox has begun building low-power, low-bandwidth networks in countries all over the world, connecting everything from parking spaces to soil sensors. One of the big proposals for the forthcoming 5G standard is to optimize mobile networks for IoT, a departure from the mobile industry’s relentless focus on building ever faster networks. That means many 5G networks could actually be designed to be slow and plodding. The trade off is that devices connecting to these networks will cost little to build and operate for years on a single battery charge.

So which of these different technologies will win out? It’s likely we’ll see all or a combination of them powering their individual niches of the internet of things. HaLow’s place may be assured in the smart home where the Wifi router is already the centerpiece of connectivity, while Bluetooth could continue to dominate the personal area network. But a lot relies on timing. The first HaLow-certified devices won’t be available until 2018, and it could be another few years before we see the first IoT-optimized 5G networks. Meanwhile there are a lot of technologies claiming to have the answer to cheap, low-power IoT connectivity today.

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Quantifying Canada’s LTE momentum

Today OpenSignal published its first State of Mobile Networks report for Canada, delving into the individual performance of Canada’s three big national operators. Bell, Rogers and Telus all did quite well, matching each other closely in both 4G coverage and speed. All three also stood out among the worldwide LTE community, far exceeding global averages for 4G network performance and availability.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Robert

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Robert

Bell had the fastest 3G and 4G networks, averaging nearly 20 Mbps in our LTE tests, while Rogers turned in the best performance in terms of data coverage. Its 4G subscribers were able to get an LTE signal 80 percent of the time in the three months we sampled. All of Canada’s Big 3, however, were fairly close in all of the categories we covered, reflecting not only their aggressive network upgrades but also the significant amount of cooperation in Canada’s mobile industry. Telus and Bell share networks and towers across the country, while Rogers has struck similar deals with many of Canada’s regional operators.

Speaking of regional operators, they’re not being left behind in the race to 4G. Some of the fastest speeds we tracked came from Quebec and Saskatchewan on Videotron and SaskTel’s LTE networks respectively. For consistency’s sake, however, we didn’t compare regional operator performance against national operator performance.

You can view the full report and interactive charts on OpenSignal’s website, and keep an eye out for the upcoming global LTE report next month to see how Canada stacks up internationally according to our latest data.

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How strong is your Wifi password?

You may have thought “OpenSesame” was a pretty clever password when you set up your Wifi router, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s not the most secure choice for guarding access to your wireless network. But take heart: most people are just as bad at choosing decent passwords.

One of the new features of OpenSignal’s WifiMapper app is it allows users to share passwords for public and shared Wifi networks. The main purpose of the feature is to help WifiMapper users onto as many wireless networks as possible, but in the process we’ve gathered quite a lot of password data to analyze. We examined 5000 passwords and found that many followed some fairly predictable patterns. For instance the most common password was “123456789”, comprising 1.5 percent of the sample. Keep in mind, though, that these passwords are intended to be shared. Most of them come from businesses that freely distribute their passwords so their customers can access their networks, so we’re not claiming this sample is representative of every secured Wifi router. But we think it’s an interesting way to explore some of the most common password-naming conventions.

We decided to see how easy it would be to guess these passwords using ZXCVBN, a password-strength guage that picks out patterns rather than relying on brute-force password cracking methods (for more information on ZXCVBN check out Dropbox’s blog). For our experiment, we assumed a person using ZXCVBN methods could submit a password guess every five seconds, and then calculated the amount of time it would take to guess a particular password in our database. Here are the results:

Graphic by OpenSignal

Chart by OpenSignal

The vertical axis shows the time in seconds it would take to guess a password correctly, assuming you follow the sequential rules. The horizontal axis ranks the 5000 WifiMapper passwords in the sample in order of difficulty of guessing correctly, zero being easiest to crack and 5000 being the hardest. We also included some examples of real passwords used in WifiMapper along with the corresponding time it would take to guess them correctly.

The password “password” has a time of zero. It can be guessed instantly since it’s the first one that should be tried. A more complicated word, such as “polar”, would take 7 hours, while a more complex one, “ecolands”, would take 5 years. That may seem like a long time, but remember we’re assuming a live person entering passwords manually. A program entering passwords at a rate of 1000 submissions per second could gain access in less than 9 hours.

But once we get to the final 1000 passwords in our sample, the curve rises steeply. The passwords essentially become unguessable because it would just take centuries to try all the different permutations. So of our sample, only 20 percent of the passwords can’t be hacked following the ZXCVBN method.

Chart by OpenSignal

Chart by OpenSignal

So what do these weak passwords have in common? They all follow patterns that makes them — to varying degrees — easy to guess. They use mainly lower-case letters and make heavy use of the alphabet, rather than numerals. Many of them are common short phrases, addresses, brand names or words straight out of the dictionary. Does that mean the only truly safe passwords are strings of random characters like the one used by the ‘winner’ in our sample? Not necessarily.

According to ZXCVBN’s creators some of the best passwords are in plain English (or German, Russian, Japanese, etc…), but they bring together random words that don’t form any intelligible phrase. The example Dropbox uses is “CorrectHorseBatteryStaple”. That’s a much easier password to memorize than say “^HStyeY36YU#WM” and by ZXCVBN rules it’s just as secure. A pattern detector needs a pattern to work, so while “OpenSesame” is a horrible password, “SesamePencilHiccup” is actually quite a good one.

Posted in Wifi, WifiMapper | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Staying online while you shop: How wifi stacks up in NYC’s department stores

How do you do your gift shopping for the holidays? Online? In-store? A last minute panicked whirlwind battling crowds on the evening before your family get-together? Everyone has their own way of dealing with the rush that engulfs us at the end of the year when we part with our cash to find the perfect presents for our loved ones. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could make the whole experience a little less… stressful?

Shoppers scour Macy's for their holiday gifts (Photo by Flickr user Eric Mueller)

Shoppers scour Macy’s for their holiday gifts (Photo by Flickr user Eric Mueller)

For all of our complaints of being glued to our smartphones, shopping while connected can make the whole experience far more pleasant. Having access to the web lets your shopping partner flop on the comfy ‘man chair’ outside the changing room happily checking the score of the game, giving you plenty of time to try on different options without the audible sighs and watch glances. If you find a great gift on the pricier end of the spectrum, you can search online to see if you can find it somewhere else cheaper. This is only possible if you have a good data connection or access to wifi.

OpenSignal (the company that brought you the crowdsourcing app that gathers and maps data on cellular signal called — surprise surprise — OpenSignal) has developed a new app called WifiMapper. WifiMapper does exactly what the name implies: it shows you wifi hotspots on a map that you can use anywhere in the world. Like the OpenSignal app it works by crowdsourcing information on wifi networks that our users have connected to. We’ve collected information on almost 900 million hotspots.

This month, we’ve been looking at the data on wifi in shopping centers in Manhattan, New York, to see if shoppers can expect a calm and connected gift-buying experience.

Graphic by OpenSignal

Data collected Aug 1- Oct 31, 2015 (Graphic by OpenSignal)

We found that all of the stores we checked had wifi routers numbering into the hundreds, but Macy’s on West 34th street by far had the most with well over 4000. The Macysfreewifi ID was the name that popped up on the majority of these routers, so we can assume that these are intended for shoppers to use to keep well connected.

If you connect to that Macy’s network, you’ll be in good company. As you might expect, most people connected to a store’s official wifi network, such as Macysfreewifi, Bloomingdalesfreewifi and Lord&Taylor-WiFi, even though there were multiple options often available. This might be because shoppers trust them more than the other options.

Graphic by OpenSignal

Data collected Aug 1 – Oct 31, 2015 (Graphic by OpenSignal)

The amount of time that people spend connected to these hotspots also differs across these department stores. Customers at Macy’s had an average connection time of a little over an hour, while at Nordstrom Rack in Union Square and Saks 5th Avenue had average session lengths of less than 10 minutes. This could be because Macy’s has many routers so it could be easier to move around the store and stay connected, but its hard to say without further analysis. It could also be that shoppers at Saks and Nordstrom Rack are just incredibly efficient! it’s not just that customers spent less time on wifi at these stores. They often didn’t take advantage of the internet access when it was available. Of our users who had the option of connecting to the wifi at Nordstrom Rack, only 9% did.

Another find is that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s used the most recent router technology, while Saks Fifth Avenue is behind the curve with a much older type, which could impact the connectivity experience. In Saks we found that routers there used an ancient wireless technology known 802.11b technologies while Macy’s Bloomingdale’s used more modern routers based on 802.11g or 802.11n technologies, which offer much faster speeds and can support more connections.

Wherever you’re planning to shop for your holiday gifts, it seems that all the major retailers do have some kind of wifi available, but not all wifi networks are created equal. If you want help finding them or planning your wifi-connected shopping trip in advance, download WifiMapper to help you stay connected.

Posted in Connecting the World, Wifi, WifiMapper | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment