Friday, June 24, 2016

PC Magazine's Swimsuit Edition?

The verdict is in, and Verizon is the nation's fastest mobile network, according to PC Magazine's latest study.

That is, if we:
  • Rely solely on the results from tests done in 30 cities, and
  • Ignore the 59 million people living in rural America

Verizon "won" about half of the cities, with the rest going to the other three carriers -- AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

PC Magazine's report reads like a combination of the Sport Illustrated swimsuit edition ("Who's Hot This Year?") and recreation swim league, where everyone gets a ribbon.

To provide contrast, I thought it would be instructive to show what we're seeing in rural California, and profile not only speeds, but also latency, mean opinion score (MOS), and video quality.

Here are three rural locations, chosen randomly from the 1,990 locations we tested last month.

1. Location 1020: Cahuilla Reservation, California

AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all demonstrated low latency and high speeds. All three had high standard deviations for downstream speeds; only Verizon had low standard of deviation for upstream. All three appear to support HD-quality video for streaming from a west coast server for both smartphone and tablet, however only AT&T and Sprint were able to support HD-quality video for conferencing from an east coast server.

 2. Location 1768: Blythe, California

Mobile performance in Blythe was a mixed bag with both AT&T and Verizon demonstrating fast speeds, and Verizon upstream standard deviation falling below 20% of the mean. AT&T's latency was sub-200 milliseconds for both west and east coast servers. Both providers appear to offer voice-grade quality VoIP with Mean Opinion Scores greater than 4.0, but only Verizon appears to support HD-quality video for the smartphone.

3. Location 1011: Trinidad, California

The area north of Trinidad showed no connection for Verizon, and very slow speeds for all providers. AT&T was able to deliver sub-200 millisecond latency for both west and east coast servers; T-Mobile for west only.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Maximum Speeds Increasing Over Time

I know it's cliche and overly simplistic to look at maximum speeds. We see this in tech magazines and blogs all the time -- which mobile provider is the fastest and where. Most of it appears to be circumstantial. However, with the amount of mobile data we have at the CPUC now from nine rounds of testing, the trends point to a clear improvement in both upstream and downstream speeds.

The graph above shows the maximum downstream speed achieved for each round for all four providers.

 The graphs below show the maximum downstream speed, lowest of the maximum speeds (of the four server tests), and the average of the four server tests achieved for each round of testing.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Hey Paul, Sprint Deserves More Credit

"Sprint's reliability is now within 1% of Verizon," says a full page ad in the New York Times today featuring former Verizon Wireless spokesperson ("Can you hear me now?") "Paul."

Like most mobile provider ads these days, there was no footnote explaining what "reliability" meant or which study was being referenced.

Based on the mobile field testing we just completed last week, here is a preliminary snapshot of how Sprint compares with the other providers in terms of average speed (slowest), and average standard deviation (lowest). In other words, even though Sprint generally offers slower speeds, the variation in speed is lower than that of the other three providers. Does that make it more reliable than the other three? Stay tuned.

One major caveat to Sprint's claim is it has a much smaller coverage footprint than Verizon Wireless in California.

The data here are preliminary. More detailed analysis to come...

1. Average Throughput in Kilobits per Second, Up and Down
Spring 2016 Mobile Field Test (In Coverage locations only)

2. Average Standard Deviation in Kilobits per Second, Up and Down
Spring 2016 Mobile Field Test (In Coverage locations only)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

CPUC to FCC: Mobile Coverage Reporting Misleading, Rural Service Worse Than Urban


Yesterday, the CPUC filed comments with the FCC for their 19th Report on the State of Competition in Mobile Wireless. Here are the conclusions:

  • Relying on minimum advertised speeds which the FCC requires from the wireless providers in their Form 477 submissions does not yield an accurate evaluation of mobile broadband availability and quality, or of competition.
  • As we measure advanced mobile services, such as two-way interactive video, service availability decreases significantly when users are in rural areas.

Form 477
The CPUC estimates that based on Verizon Wireless’ most recent Form 477 filing for December 2015, 99.6% of California households have mobile broadband service available at mean speeds of at least 6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps upstream. By contrast, relying on field testing data from Fall 2015, staff lowered the mean 2 standard deviations to take reliability into account, and found that only 9% of California households have access to a combined 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up or greater.  For all four major mobile providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon), only 16% of California households can expect access to mobile broadband at those levels (about 98% of the time). 

Advanced Mobile Services
One-way streaming video service substantially degrades when the user moves from urban to rural areas. This degradation is characterized not only by a decrease in video quality, but also by a dramatic increase in locations with no video capability at all. For two-way interactive video, the effects of rural versus urban location, combined with the distance to the called party, are additive.  A rural user attempting a two-way video session would be less likely to have HD or SD quality, and even less likely if the distance to the called party were large.

§  Reference: Wireless Streaming Video in California: Spring 2015