Research Notes

Many mobile apps claim to measure the quality of mobile networks. Strand Consult explains why these measurements are frivolous and useless

Strand Consult’s report “The Moment of Truth – Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs” describes the many factors that affect the network’s capacity, coverage, and the user experience. Many believe that a mobile application can measure the quality of mobile and fixed networks, and some mobile apps even rank mobile networks against one another, as if they can make authoritative measurements. Most stories covering these apps have limited critical or scientific review of how these apps work.

One exception is offered by More Mobile in Denmark. This fairly comprehensive article fact-checks Tutela Technologies which claims to “measure the real-world mobile network experience” based on anonymous crowdsourced data. More Mobile concludes that problems which Tutela purports to be caused by the network are actually caused by the mobile phones

Strand Consult’s report The Moment of Truth – Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs assesses the mobile apps which claim to measure network quality at a time when mobile networks are evolving from 2G, 3G and 4G to a combination of 4G and 5G. The next generation of mobile networks are more complex and use technologies such as carrier aggregation, spectrum management, and multiple input/multiple output (MIMO). These technological innovations change how a network is built and operated and therefore how the networks performance can be measured. For example, a measurement from a 4G phone tells you little about the quality of a 5G network, but these sort of mistakes are common in such mobile app measurements which do not control network measurements for the diversity of phones.

As networks are constructed differently (even those within the same technology), making comparisons across operators difficult. The simple measurement collected and presented on a slick app and the user’s experience will also differ considerably for various reasons.

Strand Consult’s report “The Moment of Truth – Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs” explains the role of the mobile phone in relation to poor network coverage and experience. Notably these apps are sometimes used are used to weaponize policy mobile operators and to claim they have, for example, poor coverage. The report shows that the many of measurements presented have nothing to do with network operators, but everything to do with the user’s choice and configuration of mobile phone.

The report is a tool that makes it easy for mobile operators to document that these apps cannot be used to document the quality of a mobile network. The report describes:

  • Which companies produce the apps which purport to measure mobile network quality
  • How these apps work in practice
  • How operators and the press can abuse, or be abused, by these measurements
  • How do these measurements impact an operator’ s image
  • What several scientific studies from universities say about these kinds of measurements
  • How can operators counter reports with bogus app measurements
  • When to take these measurements seriously and why
  • Cases: Practical experience from around the world

This report has grown Strand Consult’s 10 Steps to reduce cost of mobile masts and improve mast regulation, a successful project to improve the conditions for building and running mobile networks in Denmark. Strand Consult’s report “The Moment of Truth – Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs” helps provide a critical view of the many mobile apps purporting to measure network quality. While it is understandable, indeed commendable, to want to measure network quality from a scientific perspective, the instrumentation of the measurement is important. If the mobile apps actually measured what they claimed, then network operators would not spend a fortune making advanced measurements with expensive, complex equipment. They would just use an app.

The debate on the mobile infrastructure is important, but it should be fact-based and proceed in an informed and objective fashion. The main factors for the perceived poor mobile coverage can be attributed to the mobile phones that people buy, not the network. In addition, Strand Consult’s analysis shows that the municipal terms and rental rates for land for cell towers also has an impact on the infrastructure operators can actually build and operate. This is described in Strand Consult’s report How mobile operators can reduced cost of mobile masts and improve mast regulation.

The report “The Moment of Truth – Why the Quality of Mobile Networks Differs” debunks in a simple way the myths of measuring mobile coverage. The goal that this report is to inform operators of the misinformation and prepare them for how to push back in debate on coverage. Strand Consult will use its knowledge and our ability to communicate to create transparency around these challenges.

To learn more about this unique new report and the accompanying workshop, contact Strand Consult.