When we measure 4G performance we often focus on network coverage and speeds but Vodafone is questioning whether customers are really that bothered about 4G speeds, or whether they just want a reliable service.
Vodafone, who came last of the four major networks in the speed index of the latest RootMetrics UK Rootscore Report, suggests that reliability – and not speed – is the most important issue for 4G networks, and that coverage should take second place to network quality.
According to Head of Vodafone Jeroen Hoencamp, “It’s more about having the strongest signal. We’d love to expand the network faster, but it’s about doing it right first time; I’d rather do it at the pace we’re doing and get it right, than try to go faster and build a thin and flimsy network. Many customers don’t care what 4G is. All customers want is consistency, so that wherever they go they have strong signal, so that they can do what they want wherever they are.”
This could perhaps be seen as a dig at rival 4G network EE, which has both faster speeds and wider coverage than Vodafone. While Vodafone has around 1.4 million 4G customers in the UK, EE has about 7.7 million. While Vodafone provides 4G coverage to around 50% of the UK population, EE boasts coverage of 80%. However, EE’s 4G network was launched a year before Vodafone’s and Vodafone claims that its 4G network performs better indoors as it uses a lower-frequency, which is optimised to travel through walls and other obstacles.
The idea that we need to measure more than speed to understand the performance of a 4G network is nothing new, and RootMetrics uses other indices in its reports. The company measures coverage, for example, as a combination of reliability and speed. In overall performance, which combines a number of indices, EE came top, followed by Three then O2, and then finally Vodafone.
Advertising super fast speeds can actually have a negative impact on a 4G network. It may initially attract new customers keen to benefit from those speeds, but if the promises can’t be kept and those speeds are only in fact available in certain areas or at specific times, those customers are unlikely to stick around, and the image of the network may suffer. It seems that 4G speeds have actually decreased over the last year due to increased traffic on the network. The OpenSignal UK State of the Market report showed that average speeds have reduced from 19 Mbps in September 2013 to 10.6 Mbps in August 2014.
Vodafone and EE each take a very different approach to building their 4G networks as well as the way they promote them. Paul Carter, CEO of network benchmarking firm GWS believes that, “While shouting about capacity tested download speeds might boost subscriber acquisition in the short-term, it would also increase churn thereafter as subscribers realised they weren’t actually getting 10 to 20 Mbps of mobile performance and decided to jump off.”