Mobile coverage is estimated with simulations and planning tools. These work quite well and give a decent estimate for the basis of deploying a wireless network. Once deployed, a lot of testing needs to be done to verify the outcome.
Yet, the world we live in is not always as easily modelled as we might think. Radio signals propagate in ways that might be quite different from the plans. The tilt and direction of the antennas in the tower have a direct relationship with the service the customers receive.
Outdoors the landscape and buildings affect the effective coverage. For indoors, the size of the building, the construction materials and the location of the user within the building (e.g. deep inside the building or in a basement) impact how well the signal is received by a mobile device.
In this article, we discuss these challenges, and how Netradar can solve these issues.
Any coverage missing
In Hollywood movies, we can sometimes see a scene where a person needs to make a call for help but the mobile phone simply says “No signal” or the like. In real life this should not happen that often, but it still does.
The Netradar SDK (SW component of just 400KB) has a feature to detect when the mobile phone does not have any cellular signal. The SDK then stores information about this location and pushes the data to the backend. We can also include data about other providers in the area that did have a signal available if the SIM operator did not. This allows gathering real data about black spots in your network and fixing issues before they also create a Hollywood moment.
According to the latest Cisco Annual Internet Report, 4G coverage is today the dominant cellular technology. 3G comes second and 5G will slowly grow its role. Thus, for many years to come, people will rely on 4G to meet their daily needs and feed the traffic to their apps.
4G coverage is estimated with planning tools and verified in the field as much as possible. The final judge will be those customers whose mobile phones then try to connect to 4G, if available. In developed countries, 4G should cover all major cities, towns and highways. Yet, often when moving in rural areas, 3G is the fastest technology available.
Netradar collects the radio details periodically and when people use the data connection. We build coverage maps to show where 3G is the dominant radio technology and where 4G rules. This data can be compared automatically with the maps generated by planning tools to see where the simulations failed and 4G coverage is not available in reality.
Yet, connecting to 4G does not necessarily mean a high speed connection. We all know that radio signal quality gives an upper bound to the possible bit rate available to the customer, but not the lower bound. Network capacity can run out and lead to very bad effective speeds. Yet, we must remember that simply seeing a low speed on a device does not mean the network is at fault; the low speed can also be caused by the content servers themselves. This is an absolutely critical differentiating factor in how Netradar can analyze the data connectivity compared to any other solution on the market. In addition to the availability and quality of the radio signal, we also analyze the effective capacity and how well it meets the customers’ needs.
The new 5G service is being deployed in many markets. The benefits of 5G to the consumers are best seen in the increased capacity. Mobile devices very rarely need high top speeds, often around 10Mbps is enough. However, with increased usage comes capacity shortage, and this is where 5G can make an impact.
With 5G NSA, the 4G network provides the signaling and 5G carries the data. With Netradar, we can identify where the 4G control signal is available and where people actually get the 5G bearer activated. We collect radio quality metrics for the 4G signaling and the 5G data bearer.
With 5G SA, we naturally get the full 5G picture as 4G is not needed anymore. We offer the 5G signaling coverage and the radio details when data is transmitted over that radio.
As 5G is still an emerging technology and we learn how the high frequency band works in real situations, there can be locations with a very bad effective capacity. Sometimes simple configuration mistakes can create quality issues. Netradar always analyzes the quality of the data connection in terms of speed and network capacity. We show all cases where the customer got a low network performance, to help the radio team to fix the network based on real customer data.
In summary, Netradar provides a huge amount of data and a set of different analytics to help operators build a real competitive advantage and enhance their network together with their customers. We can pinpoint totally missing coverage (Hollywood style), missing 4G or 5G, and even low capacity as experienced by the real users of the mobile network.
If you have come this far, I’ll give you a short heads up on a forthcoming feature of Netradar. Crowd-sourced data is typically submitted and analyzed on a daily or weekly basis. We are bringing to the market, to the best of our knowledge, an almost real-time network coverage and capacity warning system. If mobile devices carrying our SDK record a network issue, like missing coverage or very bad capacity, they can report those immediately to the backend and you, responsible for network performance, can fix the issue in almost real time, shortening the response time it takes to fix potential emerging issues.