Argentina’s 4G tango: LTE is still limited but it’s growing

Argentina was one of the last countries in South America to launch LTE, but ever since the first 4G networks debuted there last December, Argentine operators have gone on a bit of a tear. LTE is still far from widespread, but it’s making its way from the biggest cities and into the provinces, and Argentina’s three big operators are now closing in on 3 million total 4G subscribers.

In OpenSignal’s latest State of Mobile Networks report, we zero in on Argentina’s blossoming LTE landscapes to see just how Telecom Argentina’s Personal, América Móvil’s Claro and Telefónica’s Movistar are faring. Drawing from 55 million measurements taken from our crowdsourced community of 22,522 Argentine smartphone users, we track the time 4G customers spend connected to LTE networks as well as compare these operators’ 3G and 4G speeds.

Buenos Aires at night (Photo Credit: Flickr user Rodrigo Paredes)

Buenos Aires at night (Photo Credit: Flickr user Rodrigo Paredes)

One operator in particular has managed to stand out in coverage. In areas where Movistar has launched 4G services, its customers are seeing an LTE signal 63 percent of the time, impressive for a network that’s been live for less than a year. Claro and Personal, however, both beat Movistar in speed tests, but to be honest all of Argentina’s networks are on the slow side compared to global averages we tracked in our most recent worldwide LTE report. Argentina’s big 3 are building out 4G coverage quickly, but they have yet to inject much capacity into these networks.

Be sure and check out the full analysis and accompanying charts in our Reports section. It’s an interesting snapshot of country still in its LTE infancy. Given that, the picture likely will be far different when we check in on Argentina again next year.

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Indosat takes on the name of its corporate parent Ooredoo

Indosat is becoming a full-fledged member of the Ooredoo group in name as well as operations. Indosat announced this week it will be the eighth and largest operator in the Ooredoo Group to adopt the Ooredoo name. For the first time Qatar-based Ooredoo will have a unified brand across all of its majority-owned subsidiaries globally.

Photo credit: Indosat Ooredoo

Photo credit: Indosat Ooredoo

The Indosat name won’t disappear entirely. Instead it will be appended to the beginning of the operator’s brand, becoming Indosat Ooredoo. Ooredoo – then known as Qtel – took over Indosat in 2009, and it quickly became one of the most significant companies in the group. Today it accounts for more than two-thirds (68.5 million) of the Ooredoo Group’s 100 million subscribers.

A lot of that has to do with the size and peculiarity of the Indonesian mobile market. Indonesia is not only the fourth largest mobile market in the world, but a large portion of its population owns more than one SIM card and pays for multiple prepaid subscriptions. The number of mobile subscriptions far exceeds its actual population. Asian financial advisory firm Redwing estimates every mobile user has an average of 1.7 SIM cards.

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Sprint coins another new word for its 4G network: LTE Plus

Sprint, the operator who famously first began using the term 4G, is back at the name-creation game. This week it unveiled a new moniker for its LTE network in 77 cities. That name is LTE Plus, and it replaces Spark, the previous handle Sprint used for its high-capacity LTE systems.

Sprint CTO John Saw announced Sprint's new souped-up LTE-Advanced network this week (Photo credit: Sprint)

Sprint CTO John Saw announced Sprint’s new souped-up LTE-Advanced network this week (Photo credit: Sprint)

To be fair to Sprint, this isn’t merely a marketing-workshopped brand name with no underlying meaning. What Sprint is calling LTE Plus is actually a lot more powerful than its regular LTE network. LTE Plus is Sprint’s term for LTE-Advanced, and it makes use of newer technologies like carrier aggregation and multi-antenna beamforming to pack a lot more punch into its 4G connections. On Sprint’s blog, CTO John Saw said the improvements double the network’s overall capacity and is producing peak speeds in excess of 100 Mbps.

To be a bit critical of Sprint, though, its original LTE network wasn’t so hot to begin with. Sprint routinely ranks lowest among the big 4 U.S. operators in both speed and coverage in OpenSignal’s 4G tests. Given the big chasm Sprint is trying to bridge, Sprint’s LTE Plus network likely isn’t much better than many operators’ plain-old LTE networks. Outside of the 77 cities where Sprint is deploying LTE Plus, its 4G networks still faces some big-time capacity constraints.

You can’t blame Sprint, however, for wanting to add a little marketing pizazz to reflect improvements to its networks. We’re now five years into the LTE era, and every established operator is looking for a way to distinguish its old 4G service from its new one. Verizon uses the term XLTE, Telstra has adopted 4GX, while EE favors 4G+. You can expect the term 4.5G to start showing up in press releases pretty soon.

Also, as Saw points out, Sprint is just at the beginning of a network upgrade process that could result in Sprint having one of the most powerful 4G networks in the industry. Sprint sits on a treasure trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum, and it’s only using a small portion of it today. As it begins shoveling more of those frequencies into its network, its speeds and overall capacity will only increase.

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Jobs and jelly beans at SMR10

The 10th Silicon Milkroundabout (SMR) took place this past weekend, and it was a busy, buzzy and exciting event! Eight OpenSignalers attended and chatted to dozens of potential candidates for our marketing, design, product and dev’ teams. OpenSignal has doubled its team to 25 people over the past year and will keep growing at a fast pace, supported by moving to brand new offices at Angel Square. Check out our jobs page if you want to be part of the journey.

The jelly bean curve

To highlight our love of analytics, we brought a jelly beans jar and invited booth visitors to calculate (or just guess) the number of jelly beans inside. Surely, we had to map these answers! The curve showed two spikSMR-Jellybeanses; the majority of business people on day one of SMR estimated the jar contained around 2,100 jelly beans whereas the tech people on day two shot much higher, their submissions averaging 7.000.

Well, reality is, the count was 3.521 sugary beans. Lucky winner Maria was only 21 beans shy with her guess of 3.500. We hope she sends us pictures of her jelly bean feast.


Strong team for a strong vision

Consumers love our apps for reducing their everyday guessing of where good connections are available. Our app OpenSignal directs you to stronger phone signal whereas Wifimapper lets you locate Wifi hotspots (both our apps are free). At OpenSignal, we are excited about phone sensors and what can be measured through them beyond network signals. With WeatherSignal, we launched an app that taps  a dozen different sensors for climate forecasting and our longer term vision is to harness the  billions of sensors in phones around the world. If these themes, including jelly bean curves, awaken your passion, check out our jobs page and get in touch. Or, at the latest, see you at SMR11.

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AT&T inches forward with its plan to combine Mexico, US networks

When AT&T bought up Mexican operators Iusacell and Nextel in January it promised to create a pan-American mobile footprint covering 400 million people. AT&T still isn’t quite at the point where it’s running a single ‘home’ network that spans the U.S-Mexico border, but last week it introduced new options for its core subscribers that gets it closer to meeting that promise.

Mexico Roaming Bonus is a feature available to any of AT&T’s primary postpaid-plan customers at no charge. It allows AT&T’s U.S. customers roaming in Mexico to make unlimited calls and text messages to and from numbers within either country. AT&T is also making 1 GB per month of data available for roaming in Mexico at no additional cost, but it will charge $20 for each additional roaming gigabyte used. These policies only apply if you’re in Mexico itself though. If you’re an AT&T customer in the U.S. and make a call to Mexico, you’ll be charged international dialing fees unless you sign up for a separate $5 global calling plan, unless you subscribe to one of AT&T’s 15 GB or greater shared data plans.

The situation has also improved on the other side of the border. AT&T customers in Mexico can use their voice, text and data plans while traveling in the U.S. and from Mexico, they can call AT&T numbers in the U.S. at no additional charge. We’re still a ways away from AT&T’s one network/two countries vision, but Ma Bell is getting there.

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Could Facebook drones be used to fill in U.K. mobile dead zones?

Facebook VP of Engineering Jay Parikh has been making the rounds with U.K. media this week, talking up the social network’s plans to use drones to connect places throughout the world that currently get no cellular signal. In one interview with The Telegraph, though, Parikh made an interesting comment: some of those unconnected places might be right here in the U.K.

Facebook’s new Aquila drone is being designed and built in the U.K., thanks to Facebook’s acquisition of Somerset-based Ascenta, but the destination of these drones was always thought to be places like Paraguay and the Philippines, where high-flying unmanned aircraft could stand in for cell towers, blanketing rural and underserved areas with mobile signals. The drone project, after all, is part of Facebook’s initiative, which seeks to bring data services to areas still not reached by wireless or wireline data networks.

The Aquila drone (Image source: Facebook)

The Aquila drone (Image source: Facebook)

Parikh, however, told the Telegraph that he saw no reason why developed countries couldn’t benefit from Drone technology as well. He added that Facebook was open to talking with the U.K. government and local operators about testing out drones in their backyard.

Lack of mobile network coverage isn’t a problem exclusive to the developing world by any means. Anyone who has spent any time in the English countryside knows there are still plenty of dead zones or “not-spots”, where it’s impossible to get a signal. Circling drones, which can stay aloft for weeks, could fill in some of the biggest gaps, blanketing the ground below in 2G and 4G signals. Operators like EE are already tinkering with the technology. Who knows? Maybe in the next few years, you may no longer be looking to the horizon for the nearest tower. Instead you might be looking straight up.

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Bluetooth’s short range will get a lot longer in 2016

Bluetooth is getting a significant range boost next year, according to the standard-setting Bluetooth SIG. In its roadmap for 2016, the SIG said Bluetooth would see its range quadruple from its current 100 meters as part of a raft of new improvements that includes higher data speeds and mesh networking capabilities. All of this is aimed at making the technology more useful in the emerging Internet of things.

Bluetooth has always been the technology of choice for short range connectivity in mobile gadgets, for instance linking phones to earpieces or wireless speakers, but the emergence of Bluetooth Low Energy in recent years has embedded the technology firmly in the IoT space, connecting everything from fitness trackers to heart monitors to dog collars.

But one of the most interesting recent use cases for Bluetooth has been as a sensor. Because of its relatively short range, Bluetooth can be used as a proximity detector that can trigger any number of actions. For instance, Bluetooth is a key technology used in beacons, determining down to the specific aisle where you are in a grocery store. Some enterprising wireless tag startups have even used Bluetooth to create crowdsourced location networks. For instance, if you leave your briefcase at a café, the smart tag inside communicates with strangers’ smartphones to help zero in on its exact location.

As you can imagine, at OpenSignal we’re rather fond of the idea of turning wireless radios into sensors. It’s essentially the heart of our business. We use the 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi radios in smartphones to measure the coverage and performance of mobile networks all over the world, while making use of those same radios and GPS to map that data geographically. Our goal is to tap further into the many sensors of the phone to see what they can tell us about the world around us. So we’re very curious to see where these improvements to Bluetooth will take us.

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T-Mobile US customers get to “binge” on video, but there’s a subtle price to pay

The rumors are true. T-Mobile US is exempting video streaming from its core smartphone customers, meaning customers can feast on Netflix, HBO Go, ESPN and flicks and clips of 21 other media apps without worrying about draining their data plans.

T-Mobile announced the new program, called Binge On, at the 10th installment of its Un-carrier event (The recorded live stream is embedded below, but given’s CEO John Legere’s fondness of expletives, it may not be suitable for work). Binge On will apply to any T-Mobile subscriber with a Simple Choice plan of 3 GBs of higher (obviously T-Mobile’s unlimited plan customers are unaffected), and it comes on top of the Music Freedom service, which exempts — or zero-rates — all data from a dozens of audio streaming apps.

T-Mobile even included DirecTV, which is now owned by AT&T, and Verizon’s Go90 app in Binge On, basically giving its larger competitors – and frequent targets of Legere’s derision – unfettered video access to its network. YouTube, however, was missing from the list entirely, highlighting the controversial downside to these kind of zero-rating policies.

As The Verge’s T.C. Sottek rather colorfully points out, Binge On and Music Freedom offer short-term benefits for consumers, but they strike long-term blows for net neutrality. The Internet works best as a level playing field where any app, service or media outlet can compete on equal footing for a consumer’s attention. But by exempting data traffic for specific companies, you create a lopsided internet where brands handpicked by T-Mobile gain a significant advantage. If you know you can watch Netflix on your phone for hours without restrictions but will drain your data bucket by watching YouTube, which streaming service would you choose?

YouTube is such a popular service that Google likely won’t suffer much by its exclusion in Binge On. The real victims are the small guys. A new video startup already has trouble capturing the attention of the masses. That task becomes even more difficult if consumers become naturally averse to any video that doesn’t get zero-rated.

I’m not saying a program that gives consumers a free pass on video is a bad idea – inherently it’s a great idea. But it has to be fair. Instead of creating a list of favored companies, T-Mobile should simply exempt all video traffic from its data plans, regardless of source. That’s a difficult thing to do technically, but such a policy would encourage innovation in mobile video rather than inhibit it. Consumers are much more likely to try out a new video app or service if they’re no longer afraid they’ll wreck their data plans.

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WiMAX remains on life support in the US thanks to court order

Today was supposed to be an historic day or sorts. Sprint had planned to pull the plug on its WiMAX network, finally putting an end to that grand failed experiment in mobile networking. A U.S. court, however, has taken exception to Sprint’s plans.

A Massachusetts superior court judge issued an eleventh hour ruling on Thursday ordering Sprint to keep its WiMAX networks running while two lawsuits against the operator are pending, according to Re/Code and other news sites. Sprint had planned to shut down the networks at midnight, seven years after it kicked off the 4G race by launching WiMAX in Baltimore.

Image Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Image Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

WiMAX was intended to be a disruptive force in the mobile industry, challenging the telecom powers that be, but the technology failed to gain traction globally. The eventually introduction of LTE two years later and its large-scale adoption by global operators signed WiMAX’s death warrant, but Sprint’s WiMAX network held on for a half a decade more.

Despite WiMAX’s fall, it still has a few users left, and that’s essentially the issue before the courts today. Two non-profits Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon use Sprint’s WiMAX network to provide broadband access to public institutions like schools and libraries. Both have sued Sprint, claiming the operator is not meeting its contractual obligations, negotiated back when Sprint partner Clearwire ran the network. The judge’s injunction requires that Sprint keep WiMAX online in 75 cities for the next 90 days. Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen want the same unlimited service they have with WiMAX if they move over to Sprint’s LTE network, which has clear restrictions on usage.

We’ll find out in the next three months whether the dispute is resolved. Until then, though, it looks like WiMAX will keep gasping for breath.

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T-Mobile is expanding its 4G reach by crowdsourcing its network

T-Mobile’s customers will soon start helping T-Mo build a better network in the U.S. – though they may not know it. The operator this week unveiled the 4G LTE CellSpot, which is basically a pint-sized cell tower any T-Mobile customer can install in their home or business to get better voice reception and stronger data connections.

Technically the CellSpot is what’s known as a femtocell, and operators have been giving them to customers for years to help address dead spots in homes or offices. Customers plug these femtocells in and all calls and data sessions get routed through their broadband connections back to the operators network. It’s like having a personal base station of your very own.

The Cellspot is a pint-sized base station that connects to T-Mobile through your broadband connection (Image Credit: T-Mobile)

The Cellspot is a pint-sized base station that connects to T-Mobile through your broadband connection (Image Credit: T-Mobile)

There is a key difference between the CellSpot and other femtos, however. The CellSpot isn’t a private base station accessible only to the customer who installs it. It’s a public access femtocell, meaning any T-Mobile customer can connect to a CellSpot just as they would to any of T-Mobile’s outdoor cell towers. As individual customers install these femtos, they’ll be expanding the coverage and capacity of T-Mobile’s voice and 4G networks for the benefit of their fellow T-Mo subscribers. It’s the same concept of crowdsourcing that OpenSignal uses to collect data, but instead of crowdsourcing network information, T-Mobile is crowdsourcing the network itself.

That may sound like a strange concept, but it’s one that has a precedent in the world of Wi-Fi. Fon has been building crowdsourced Wi-Fi networks for years, and operators like BT in the U.K. and Comcast in the U.S. have built extensive hotspot networks on the backs of its customers’ broadband connections.

The CellSpot also follows a trend we’re seeing in 4G: the move toward denser networks. As our hunger for mobile bandwidth grows, operators are deploying more and smaller cells, which in turn increase the overall data capacity of the network. Mostly operators are rolling out these small cells themselves, but T-Mobile US – known for its wily ways – is getting a leg up by enlisting its customers in that rollout. It’s offering a lot of incentive to help out as well. Any customer on one of T-Mo’s core Simple Choice plans can get a CellSpot for free if they put down a $25 deposit (though they’ll be charged $138 if they don’t return the device when they’re done).

The CellSpot could become a very powerful tool for T-Mobile in its ongoing battle against U.S. titans Verizon and AT&T. Imagine if every retail business got a CellSpot to boost T-Mo’s signals in their shops and restaurants. T-Mobile not only would get better coverage in hard-to-reach indoor locations, but all of those new small cells would mean gobs of new 4G capacity. That would translate into faster speeds and better performance for all of its customers in some of the most heavily trafficked places. We’ll see how T-Mobile’s experiment goes (Free Mobile is doing a similar thing in France), but if it proves popular we’ll likely see other operators join in. Crowdsourcing might be the way our future mobile networks get built.

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