According to new research from network measurement company Tutela, Verizon provides the most consistent network in seven of the 10 largest cities in America. The carrier lords this superiority over direct rivals AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile US, as well as other mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) Xfinity Mobile and Google Fi.
Canada-based Tutela collects anonymous data about worldwide mobile network and mobile device performance using its mobile analytics software that is rolled into around 300 million mobile handsets around the world.
According to Tom Luke, vice president of worldwide sales and partnerships at Tutela, it collects more than 130 measurements including download speed, upload speed, packet loss, signal strength, signal-to-noise ratios, reference signal received power (RSRP), and received signal strength indicator (RSSI). It can also measure where spectrum and what types of spectrum are being used. All in, Luke says Tutela collects around 30 billion measurements per day.
The company’s customers is almost exclusively global operators — including Millicom and Telefónica — but it has also started to work with some regulators tied to spectrum use.
Tutela relies on platforms like Google BigQuery to store and process all the data it collects. It then feeds this data to its cloud-based analysis platform, Tutela Explore, in order to visualize performance, network competence, and identify coverage platforms.
With this data, and its platform, Tutela is able to identify network performance in specific countries and cities (down to the street level), as well as identify which devices and networks people are using. Luke says there are three ways that its customers use the data: network planning, network optimization, and network benchmarking.
Tutela has begun to implement artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into its platform in order to identify problems. It already has the ability to identify problems with cell towers — say, a cell tower is pointing away from the majority of users that are connecting to it — and it has plans to expand that into identifying problems with spectrum frequency in certain cities, and identifying a drop in market share in particular locations.
The company also uses this data to conduct research into global mobile network performance. This week it released a report on the network experience across the the 10 largest cities in the United States to identify how mobile operators ensure converge in the largest areas.
5G Network Planning
While this report details the performance of the nation’s 3G and 4G networks, most operators are beginning to look to 5G, where Tutela can be useful in network planning. This includes spectrum planning, small cell planning, and planning around spectrum frequencies.
“Going into planning for 5G is a lot more difficult … because of the density of the number of sites [operators] need to roll out,” Luke said. “Whereas what we can tell them very, very, very precisely is here is a location, in this particular 200-meter-square area is a high traffic area and you’ve got poor performance, put a small cell in this … area. We’re seeing a massive opportunity for 5G.”
In addition, Tutela can tell operators where their competition is rolling out: “We can see the locations where operators have rolled out 2.6 GHz for example in the Toronto area,” said Luke. This allows operators to identify where there could be a large signal-to-noise ratio (if there are multiple antennas in the same location) therefore avoiding potential problems.
The road to 5G will likely not be an easy one and Luke sees that real estate and finding locations to put small cells will probably be one of the big challenges facing operators.
US Mobile Network Performance
Tutela’s latest report is based on data collected between September 2018, and February 2019. The data showed that the gap between Verizon and the competition is “particularly notable.” While it showed the most consistent quality in seven out of the 10 cities, it also has the fastest download speeds in nine cities. “It’s that the distance between first and second place — such as 30 Mb/s to AT&T’s 14.7 Mb/s in [New York City] — that stands out,” according to the report.
Tutela’s consistent quality score is based on the percentage of tests during the time frame where a connection was good enough for basic internet use (e.g. email and web browsing) or strong enough for demanding internet use (e.g. video conferencing and high-definition video streaming).
AT&T finished first or second in average download speeds. But, in terms of consistent quality it was more inconsistent, which Tutela attributed to AT&T’s older unlimited plans that cap speeds at 3 Mb/s and its data prioritization policies.
The other story that Tutela found in its research was that MVNOs are right in the mix. According to Tutela, this demonstrates that traffic shaping and prioritization are just as important to user experience as network quality. Both Google Fi and Xfinity Mobile demonstrated this, by topping Verizon in the three cities that it was not the No. 1 operator.
In San Jose, California, Xfinity Mobile, which runs on Verizon Wireless’ network, provided the most consistent quality, even over Verizon itself. Google Fi took first place in consistent quality in Houston and Philadelphia. Google Fi switches between T-Mobile US, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular as its host network depending on which has the strongest signal.
In terms of cities, New York had the most consistent and best quality network out of the 10 cities, despite having the highest average data usage. In New York, Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, Google Fi, and T-Mobile US had the most consistent quality scores in that order. Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, AT&T, and T-Mobile US had the highest average download speed for a 2-megabyte file size.