In the business of mobile measurement, the term “coverage” can be a nebulous concept. Depending on who’s tossing the word around, it can mean many things. It can mean coverage in the purely geographic sense, representing the total percentage of a landmass where a network signal is present. Or it can mean population coverage, which is an abstracted metric representing the percentage of residential doorsteps where you can get a connection.
At OpenSignal, we’ve always felt the most important thing is the coverage that consumers see on an everyday basis. So when we started measuring network experience many years ago, instead of using the usual coverage definitions, we created a new one based on a very simple calculation: how often consumers are connected to a network, regardless of where they happen to be. And to avoid any confusion with the other types of coverage, we gave that metric a very distinct name: Availability. If an operator has a 4G availability score of 80%, that means that across its subscriber base, users were able to find a 4G signal in eight out of every ten attempts. It’s as simple as that.
Today, however, we’re introducing a new experimental metric that looks at coverage from a different angle. This new metric is called place coverage, and it looks at the geographic reach of a network, taking into account where consumers are able to latch onto a network signal, not just when. Our availability metric is by no means going away, but place coverage eventually will provide another tool for understanding the nuances of coverage — and how actual consumers experience it.
For the first analysis of this new metric we’ve chosen Australia, because that country’s operators clearly highlight the differences between availability and place coverage. In our State of Mobile Networks: Australia report, we found that Australia’s three major operators were statistically tied in 4G availability, each providing an LTE signal just over 85% of the time to our users. When it comes to providing a consistent 4G connection to their current subscribers, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone were evenly matched in our results.
Now let’s look at how those three stacked up in 4G place coverage for the same July-September test period. As you can see, Telstra clearly came out on top. Telstra’s measured 4G place coverage of 85.3% was essentially equal to its 4G availability. Meanwhile, Optus and Vodafone’s 4G place coverage scores were several percentage points lower than their availability scores. Telstra has a well-deserved reputation for building high-coverage networks in Australia, both in cities and in the bush. Our place coverage metric is able to fully account for the breadth of that network reach by accounting for all of the diverse areas our users were able to find an LTE signal.
As I mentioned earlier, place coverage is still in the experimental phase, but you’ll be seeing more of it in the future as well as more details on how we calculate the metric. We’ll look at place coverage in several more blog posts relating to other countries we focus on. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the new metric. You can post them in the comments section below.
Editor’s Note: OpenSignal edited this blog on Nov. 20 for simplicity and clarity. Since this post originally published, OpenSignal has changed the name of the place coverage metric to coverage experience.