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Ofcom asks: Is the Quality of Mobile not strained? PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Saturday, 09 March 2013 10:56

CMAIn modern society’s love affair with technology many of us may imagine that, like gentle rain, our mobile signals ‘droppeth from the heavens’ without hindrance.  Setting aside poetic dreams the sad reality is that call drop-outs, delayed texts, interminable Internet delays, fading signals, busted data caps and rampant roaming charges are everyday experiences.

For those who regard their mobile as less of a phone and more like a remote control for dealing with the data of their digital economy, here is some sobering news.  The most common mobile complaint, according to Ofcom’s research, is still the inability to make or receive a phone call – a signal failure that has worsened with each successive generation of technology. 

That this ‘notworking’ complaint occurs more frequently in Northern Ireland, sociologists please note, is not some sad reflection on resistance to digital addictions but is simply down to inconvenient clustering of souls – that and probably thicker walls.

Ofcom’s ‘Call for Input’ on how best to measure the quality of mobile experiences is fascinating reading but it also raises the welcome prospect of greater future reliance on data derived directly from the user.  The Ofcom remit, set in 2002, reminds us that whilst they may see their job as managing fair market play amongst network operators, they have an overriding duty to inform and protect citizens and businesses.  The question is, in matters of mobile network performance, do they believe operators or consumers – and are the latter sufficiently well-informed about what they are being sold?

An operator, for example, may boast of an impressive population coverage – but customers seem to have this curious idea that the entire point of a mobile service is that they can use it away from their home turf.

The consultation rehearses the familiar lament that gathering data from sources other than operators is costly – a view that somewhat overlooks the smarter use of smartphones to report their own experiences.   Actually the consultation does consider data ‘crowd-sourcing’ via a handy smartphone App but almost immediately suffers an imagination failure when reflecting that this would not be of much use if the signal failed.  Why would the mobile device not know and record this?  Why could it not report on its crap count when reconnected?

Designing such an App would, of course, open up the prospect of collecting different data streams as consumer needs change. How much data, for example, is shuffled off the network via WiFi to avoid the strains (and costs) of cellular systems?  In thinking about these things the views of the experts at Ofcom are inevitably framed by the industry but a consumer and business-led approach would likely identify metrics that are more meaningful in everyday lives.  How long does it take to send a picture?  And it opens up the prospect of operators finding new ways of competing for your mobile money.  The exposed realities of poor cellular network performance may initially be embarrassing (between operators) but it shouldn’t take them long to get the bigger picture – particularly as the experiential evidence would be plotted on interactive maps like ‘Map for England’ and thus come under pressure from community leaders seeking to improve their local economy.

Of one thing we can be certain.  For any such App to be widely accepted it would need regulatory endorsement on at least a pan-European basis and report on all operators – including those to whom your phone switches in places where, unlike the UK, roaming facilities reduce the impact of sporadic network failures. 

The idea that the customers should know what their service providers are up to would be a great step forward.  Ofcom might at last be able to see to what extent the obligations that attend spectrum licences are met.  Operators might be encouraged to collaborate more on wholesale network provision and a more efficient use of spectrum.  And in this giving and taking we’d be not merely twice but thrice blessed with the measured quality of mobile.



Ofcom's 'Call for Inputs' is open until 1st April 2013  and ideas (from anybody) for metrics that would inform measurement of the 'Quality of Experience' of mobile services are welcome.

This editorial was written for members of the Communications Management Association - part of the BCS, the UK's chartered institute for Information and Communications professionals.









Last Updated on Saturday, 09 March 2013 12:13

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