Independent communications regulator Ofcom has announced that it will be undertaking non-commissioned testing of specific operator mobile networks in the UK for the first time. This will include both 4G and 3G tests and has been described as ‘walk and drive’ testing.
Ofcom are to perform operator specific testing on the EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three networks to determine whether the operators are achieving the necessary levels of 4G and 3G coverage. As well as testing coverage for the general population, they will also be assessing the state of 4G and 3G on roads and rail routes around the country. This information will be passed on to the Department of Transport and Network Rail.
Ofcom is expected to use its extensive experience to create a testing process that is fair and representative, after the accuracy of the results of network tests by other companies have been questioned. This will involve a variety of different testing techniques. For example Ofcom will use standard over-the-counter consumer handsets for their tests rather than using customised testing devices provided directly by network providers.
According to Ofcom, “Once the report is finished we will consider whether any regulatory or government intervention is required to achieve wider coverage. We are currently considering a range of methods, including requesting data from operators and commissioning ‘walk and drive’ testing for quality of service, too.”
Confusion over Network Testing
Ofcom’s decision to perform independent testing has been in response to the proliferation of network performance reports that are now being produced, many of which provide contradictory results.
One report to prove particularly controversial was the Rootmetrics UK network performance report which compared the four 4G network providers. EE came top in every category including network speed, network reliability, mobile internet, and overall performance. Not surprisingly EE was delighted with the report, with CEO Olaf Swantee commenting that “Today’s results show that the EE network gives customers everywhere in the UK the best mobile experience.”
Vodafone, who scored the least in almost every category were far less enthusiastic. The network said that the results should not be taken seriously, that Rootmetrics relied on old data which is inaccurate in such as rapidly changing market, that the research didn’t use standard industry practises, and that it was not fully impartial. Whether these concerns were founded or whether they were sour grapes is hard to tell.
Rootmetrics itself emphasises the accuracy of its report, saying that testers drove around 23,000 miles across all four countries of the UK, using off the shelf mobiles to collect the equivalent of one sample for every 100 mobile phone contracts in the UK. Outdoor testing was performed whilst driving and indoor testing was undertaken at more than 1,000 locations.
CEO and President of RootMetrics, Bill Moore believes that “These results give UK consumers and businesses the most accurate view of mobile performance in the UK that has ever been made available. From nation to neighbourhood, people now have access to data showing them the best network in their area. No other study of this size and scale for mobile performance has ever been carried out before in the UK, and it has, for the first time, shown consumers the true services they are receiving from their network provider.”
With these conflicting opinions flying around it is hardly surprising that Ofcom has made the decision to undertake its own network testing to determine whether the existing 4G networks are delivering their promises in terms of 4G coverage.