Understanding mobile network experience: What do OpenSignal’s metrics mean?

In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into the very core of OpenSignal: explaining the metrics we use, what they all mean and what their roles are in measuring the real-world mobile network experience as users see it.

How do we collect the data in the first place?

We collect and analyze more than 3 billion measurements every day, from more than 100 million smartphones across the world. We collect data every day of the week, at all hours and in all the places people live, work and travel: no simulations, no predictions, no idealized testing conditions. Our data comes from actual smartphone users and we report users’ actual network experience, whether they are indoors or out, bustling in a busy city or trekking in the countryside.

We collect the vast majority of our data via automated tests that run in the background, enabling us to report on users’ real-world mobile experience at the largest scale and frequency in the industry. These automated tests are run at random points in time and therefore represent the typical experience available to a user at any given moment.

4G Availability – A user-centric approach

Our 4G Availability metric shows the proportion of time users with a 4G device and subscription have an LTE connection. When we report an average 4G availability of 75%, that means our LTE users were, on average, connected to LTE services on their network 75% of the time.

Availability is not a measure of coverage or the geographic extent of a network.  It won’t tell you whether you are likely to get coverage if you plan to visit a far flung region that is off the beaten track. Instead, it measures what proportion of time people have a network connection, in the places they most commonly frequent, something often missed by traditional coverage metrics. Looking at when users have an LTE connection, rather than where, provides us with a more precise reflection of the true user experience.

We also keep track of the instances that leave mobile users most frustrated: when there is no signal to connect to at all. The most common dead zones users struggle with occur indoors. As most of our availability data is collected indoors (not surprisingly, since that’s where users spend most of their time), we’re particularly astute at detecting those areas of zero coverage.

Download Speed Experience – The real speeds users get

Measured in Mbps, Download Speed Experience represents the typical everyday speeds a user experiences across an operator’s mobile data networks. In addition to Download Speed Experience, we report on three supporting metrics related to download speeds:

  • 4G Download Speed: The average downlink speed across an operator’s 4G/LTE connections
  • 3G Download Speed: The average downlink speed across an operator’s 3G connections (e.g. UMTS/HSPA or CDMA 1X EV-DO)
  • Peak Download Speed: A measure of the fastest download speeds OpenSignal users experience on real-world networks. By looking at only the fastest tests we minimize the impact of technical or congestion limitations and instead provide an estimate of the optimal speeds OpenSignal users experience in real-world conditions. Note, this is different to the best-case speeds measured in idealized conditions or theoretical maximum speeds that users themselves will never receive in a real-world situation. To assess Peak Speed we use the speed experienced by the 98th percentile of users.

Upload Speed Experience

Our Upload Speed Experience metric measures the average upload speeds for each operator across their mobile data networks. Typically upload speeds are slower than download speeds, as current mobile broadband technologies focus resources on providing the best possible download speed for users consuming content on their devices. As mobile internet trends move away from downloading content to creating content and supporting real-time communications services, upload speeds are becoming more vital and new technologies are emerging that boost upstream capacity.

In addition to Upload Speed Experience, we report on three supporting metrics related to upload speeds:

  • 4G Upload Speed: The average uplink speed across an operator’s 4G/LTE connections
  • 3G Upload Speed: The average uplink speed across an operator’s 3G connections (e.g. UMTS/HSPA or CDMA 1X EV-DO)
  • Peak Upload Speed: A measure of the fastest upload speeds OpenSignal users experience on real-world networks. By looking at only the fastest tests we minimize the impact of technical or congestion limitations and instead provide an estimate of the optimal speeds OpenSignal users experience in real-world conditions. Note, this is different to the best-case speeds measured in idealized conditions or theoretical maximum speeds that users themselves will never receive in a real-world situation. To assess Peak Speed we use the speed experienced by the 98th percentile of users.

Latency Experience – Quantifying the lag

Latency refers to the delay users experience as data makes a round trip through the network. If the latency of your network is high, the network will feel less responsive and be slower to react to your requests. We measure Latency Experience in milliseconds, and it represents the typical delay a user experiences when connecting across an operator’s 3G and 4G networks. It is calculated as a weighted average of the individual 3G and 4G latencies based on the proportion of time typical users spend connected to each.

All of our download, upload and latency speed tests are run on content delivery networks (CDNs) that host the most popular internet destinations (not on dedicated testing servers where requests might follow a different route to normal traffic or indeed be prioritized in a way that isn’t representative), helping us to accurately understand typical user experience.

In addition to Latency Experience, we report on two supporting metrics related to latency:

  • 4G Latency: The average latency users experience across an operator’s 4G/LTE connections
  • 3G Latency: The average latency users experience across an operator’s 3G connections (e.g. UMTS/HSPA or CDMA 1X EV-DO

Video Experience – Measuring real-world mobile video streams

OpenSignal’s Video Experience metric quantifies the quality of video streamed to mobile devices by measuring real-world video streams over 3G and 4G networks. The metric is derived on an International Telecommunication Union (ITU)-based approach, built upon detailed studies which have derived a relationship between technical parameters, including picture quality, video loading time and stall rate, with the perceived video experience as reported by real people. To calculate video experience, we are directly measuring video streams from end-user devices and using this ITU approach to quantify the overall video experience for each operator on a scale from 0 to 100. The videos tested include a mixture of resolutions and are streamed directly from the world’s largest video content providers.

The following scale can be used to relate the Video Experience scores to the actual experience users receive:

  • 75 – 100 Excellent:  Very consistent experience across all users, video streaming providers and resolutions tested, with fast loading times and almost non-existent stalling.
  • 65-75 Very Good:  Generally fast loading times and only occasional stalling but the experience might be somewhat inconsistent across users and/or video providers/resolutions.
  • 55-65 Good:  Less consistent experience, even from the same video streaming provider and particularly for higher resolutions, with noticeably slower loading times and stalling not being uncommon.
  • 40-55 Fair:  Not a good experience either for higher resolution videos (very slow loading times and prolonged stalling) or for some video streaming providers. Experience on lower resolution videos from some providers might be sufficient though.
  • 0 – 40 Poor:  Not a good experience even for lower resolution videos across all providers. Very slow loading times and frequent stalling is common.

With video being the  single largest category of traffic  carried on mobile networks and consumption expected to grow to keep pace with consumer demand, this is an extremely relevant metric. It is another key element in OpenSignal’s ongoing mission to measure the actual consumer experience on mobile networks.

In addition to Video Experience, we report on two supporting metrics related to video:

  • 4G Video Experience: The average Video Experience score across an operator’s 4G/LTE connections
  • 3G Video Experience: The average Video Experience score across an operator’s 3G connections (e.g. UMTS/HSPA or CDMA 1X EV-DO)

Feel like checking the numbers for yourself? Download our OpenSignal or Meteor app. Both are, available on Android and iOS!

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