The mobile industry needs to balance complexity with seamless customer experience
The mobile industry finds itself in the middle of a paradox. Consumers would like a totally seamless mobile experience at all times, with virtually flawless coverage for everything from voice calls and messaging to live traffic updates in their cars as well as streaming video on the train to work. The paradox comes from the increasingly complex mesh of wireless networks which underpin the operator’s abilities to provide an ongoing, positive customer experience, writes Paul Carter, the chief executive of GWS.
With the current roll-out of VoLTE and VoWi-Fi in the UK, the lines between mobile networks, public Wi-Fi hotspots, and personal Wi-Fi networks become even more blurred, introducing even more challenges yet at the same time valuable solutions for network operators and consumers alike.
As mobile network testing specialists, our job is to be able to look beyond the devices we use and measure the performance of the network itself. This includes both identifying and helping to resolve network level issues and ultimately improve the customer experience. Given today’s combined use of technologies, systems, and networks, this requires detailed benchmarking test procedures to truly assess performance. Consider, for example, O2’s hybrid 4G-Wi-Fi smart cell network in the City of London. The operator has placed WiFi hotspots within London’s Square Mile using O2’s 4G network for backhaul. This network then is 4G supported, but adds a layer of complexity related to the Wi-Fi performance for each of their mobile network smart cells.
In another example, TfL plans to install a 4G network on the London Underground. Installing this network will be time consuming and expensive. The technical issue related to signal in underground tunnels needs to be combined with height and width clearance issues in some of the tunnels, as well as needing to close parts of the Underground for the installation process itself. After the antennas are in place, ongoing network testing will need to take place to ensure the project provides satisfactory service to the millions of customers who use the network each year.
Staying with the subject of transport, more and more new cars are being sold with 4G service built-in. At the moment, these are used for in-car Wi-Fi, navigation systems and sending diagnostics to the dealership, however the latest in-car tech trend is the inclusion of services like Amazon’s Alexa which require a constant high-speed internet connection to be effective. Consumer demand for connectivity on motorways and in urban areas is only going to increase and our most recent testing found that there is much improvement due, with 4G availability – from some operators – as low as 19% on some motorways. Consumer demand for internet connected in-car services along with the evolution of autonomous vehicles provides the impetus and the business case for operators to respond.
These demands for new and improved services, for faster and more reliable connectivity combined with ubiquitous coverage is pushing the industry towards the adoption of 5G network technologies. Initial trials have taken place in the UK already, but it will not immediately supplant 4G. 5G will exist on top of the pile, with connectivity still running on 4G, 3G and even 2G networks across the UK. Managing four distinct network technologies, and ensuring users always have access to a dependable connection will require operators to test their networks in the real world and constantly tweak and update their services to keep ahead of consumer demand.