Jul 03

Can you measure what your mobile data carrier delivers?

One of the challenges of an ever more mobile environment that is that the degree of dependency on mobile carriers to provide services also increases. This applies to both voice and data.  Yet, of these two, the implications about the inadequacy of data services is becoming more and more worrying, especially for enterprises or organizations which value their ability to operate in flexible (mobile) ways.  At the same time, most carriers still treat mobile data as if it is merely a similar sibling of traditional voice services, rather than as a distinct growth market with special characteristics, requirements and challenges.  This has major implications for enterprises.

To understand why it matters, start with a personal example — one that many will recognize. You are on the move with your smartphone or your tablet.  You depend on a 3G (or LTE or similar) mobile data service  to stay in contact — whether looking up information on the web, receiving your email, accessing your employer’s applications, finding where you are (and where you should go) on a map or whatever.  Without a decent mobile data connection you cannot perform the tasks you expect.  Yet, all too often, you discover that your carrier does not have the coverage that you expect where you expect.  As an individual you end up frustrated (and worse).

Now extend the scale — to multiple employees of enterprises.  The consequences, of not being able to obtain consistent reliable data connections, escalate.  100 or a 1000 employees affected even only occasionally produces a a substantial cumulative loss of productivity.

Extend this still further, into (say) emergency services.  You are waiting for an ambulance or a police car or a fire truck … and it does not appear.  One reason could be that, at a key point in the journey from origin point to you, there is a gap in mobile data coverage — and resulting delays.  Now the cost may be mortal.

Return to the carriers.  It pretty much does not matter where you are (USA, Canada, Europe, Latin America, etc.), there is a constant: only with the greatest of difficulty might you find out where there is good (or limited) coverage for any given network in sufficient detail.  Yes, third party tools like Open Signal Maps (www.opensignalmaps.com) do exist, but these are still rudimentary.  Indeed, most coverage maps are too high-level to be anything other than useless.

What is, perhaps, even more surprising is that decent high quality coverage maps are not provided online by carriers — until you realize, so stuck in conventional voice network operations are they, that knowing where reception for data services is good and bad has simply not occurred to them as a planning service that enterprises and individuals alike increasingly regard as a necessity.  As so often before, telephone carriers are locked inside their copper-voice pasts, and paying far too little attention to where their business can grow — namely via reliable and predictable data services.  Instead, most carriers whinge about the investment cost required to enable data — even though data services will likely save their businesses.  (O2 provides some interesting statistics about how smartphones are used — with making a voice call being #5, not #1 — q.v. http://bit.ly/LVKZYm)

For individuals this situation is frustrating, but personal.  For enterprises and organizations, with many employees who increasingly depend on reliable and predictable mobile data services, the bottom line significance is much more serious.

Think about it.  Let us say you are managing a logistics company with thousands of trucks delivering to tens of thousands of locations each day.  Your people need reliable mobile data services.  Not having these undermines your business model and profitability.  It does not matter where the data network disfunction arises — in a city or in the wider countryside: the failure to complete delivery services has a measurable cost.  Apply the same logic to governmental-type services (police, health, utilities, sanitation, etc) and while the actual cost may be expressed differently, it has costs.

This is where the approach of a small Colorado company called Mobile Pulse becomes interesting.  By installing a small client on any mobile device with mobile data connectivity it assembles  broadband performance data against which its customers can run analytics to find out how different devices/networks perform — and identify where coverage gaps occur (which, according to its CEO, Andrew MacFarlane, many carriers do not know in detail).  In effect its tools deliver, via a SaaS business model, to enterprises and other (larger) organizations the capability to understand the performance and geography of broadband wireless networks, carrier by carrier/location by location.  With such data enterpeises and organizations can identify problem issues to carriers (if they listen) and/or negotiate alternatives — depending on the data discovered.

The appeal of a service like this is enormous.  The great pity is that, probably for sensible economic reasons, the data gathering is currently not extended out to all users. Think about the implications of what could occur if smart device users possessed a small client on their device which reported on what data services worked for which carriers where.  Within months, possibly days, detailed analyses by area could become available for purchase before you visit a location or country.  Individuals as well as enterprises and other organizations could then celebrate knowing they had access to what would materially help productivity — something certainly not available today.

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