If you search on YouTube for "speed trials,” you will see the familiar speedometer and a ticking clock, but you won't be looking at a Forumula1 racetrack. Instead you will be staring at an iPhone, or a Galaxy screen waiting to measure how long it will take to download a video clip.
Operators used to compete on providing the best, most feature rich devices, the best content downloads, or most attractive service packages. But now with smartphones becoming a commodity, and other operator services not gaining traction, the single most important differentiator is speed. As a result, more and more speed trials are sprouting up to find the operator with the fastest network.
In the U.S., PC Week has run speed trials three years in a row testing the five largest U.S. carriers: AT&T, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. On September 21st, the FCC (U.S. Federal Communications Commission) met with major carriers to instigate a joint project with major carriers to measure mobile data speeds.
Network speed is not just a U.S. concern, however, it is also a global obsession.
Image via Shutterstock
Smartphones on Canadian high-speed networks are not coming close to getting the speeds the networks' advertisements suggest, as tested by CBC News. According to a recent survey in Britain conducted by O2, Vodafone provides the fastest mobile browsing in the UK. PC Week recently awarded Cosmote the fastest mobile network operator in Greece. Last month, Connect Magazine ran speed trials to find which operator provided the fastest mobile browsing in Austria.
Asia and Africa are also in the game. Last June, South Korea 's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute announced the fastest mobile Internet speeds after implementing 4G, followed by the operator Airtel in Rwanda announcing faster speeds after implementing 3.75G. For the last four years, the content-distribution service Akamai has been publishing its State of the Internet report, which ranks countries by mobile Internet speeds to help fuel the global competition.
However, despite all the emphasis on measuring mobile Internet speeds, there are no standard procedures for testing. Results are highly variable, even if not taking into account all the different ways speed trial test plans are built. Mobile networks are constantly changing, and speeds vary based on various parameters including tower location, network load, device used, and even weather conditions, Therefore, even after the results are in, it is not always possible to predict performance in a specific location; in reality, the findings are usually a snapshot of a few days' worth of usage for general comparison purposes.
All of this emphasis is also putting the heat on optimization vendors to find better ways to speed up browsing to help their operators compete successfully. Sitting at the network core and inspecting and adapting traffic at wire speeds, optimization platforms analyze data including application usage, device, operating system type to decide when and where optimization should be applied. By compressing and transcoding traffic transparently in the interests of performance, speed is significantly improved.
In response to growing demand, optimization has evolved from brute force of optimizing all network traffic to variable levels of optimization based on real time traffic conditions, location of congestion, and user quality of experience. In addition, as the "all you can eat" packages become a thing of the past, these same optimization systems can be used to enable users to activate turbo boosts of speed when they need it most. Letting users decide if it is worth paying extra for more speed, improves satisfaction and creates a dialogue that can build lasting customer relationships.
Even if the results of the speed trials are still not 100 percent accurate, the fact that speed is becoming a major concern of the operators can provide a great benefit for subscribers. Raising the bar on performance means everything should move a bit faster so subscribers can enjoy quicker response times for the applications they use every day from paying for parking to finding the fastest commute to work.
Despite all the different ways to measure and improve speed, everyone agrees that is the number one critical success factor for operators to compete, and it is the one thing subscribers just can't get enough of.
Merav Bahat joined Flash Networks in 2008, bringing with her more than 12 years of marketing, product management and business development experience in the mobile industry. Prior to joining Flash Networks, Merav served as Associated Vice President of Strategic Marketing for the Value Added Services division at Comverse. She also held the position of Director of Marketing for the Voice and Video Applications business unit at Comverse.
Edited by Brooke Neuman