Network performance is a complex topic and like any complex topic, it’s always tempting to break network performance down into one or two simple measurements. For example, when trying to win customers, mobile network operators can sometimes fixate on technical metrics such as peak data rates, and 4G or 5G availability.
However, it’s easy to argue that most mobile customers are not that interested in technical specifications. All your customers want is a network that ensures that every app that they use gets the bandwidth it needs — when it needs it. In other words, customers want a network that never gets in the way of app performance.
That’s why a more nuanced approach to network performance matters so much. In this article we outline Netradar’s unique approach to network performance and how MNOs can use Netradar metrics to better focus network improvements.
Customer happiness is about more than peak bandwidth
Peak available bandwidth can indeed enable customer satisfaction. A bigger pipe fits more customer traffic and more customers through your network.
But network performance, and therefore app performance, is always the net effect of a range of factors — and theoretical peak bandwidth is just one factor. Factors that affect app performance include:
• Peak bandwidth. Maximum bandwidth under ideal conditions, as determined by the network technology that is deployed (e.g. 4G or 5G) and the backbone of the network.
• Distance from the base station. Clearly, the further away a user is from the base station the weaker the network signal — and the lower the bandwidth available to the user.
• Indoor users. Cellular signals lose data-carrying ability as soon as signals hit windows, walls and other barriers which will affect real-world bandwidth.
• Network load. Users share network resources, and network resources are finite — from base station bandwidth through to infrastructure bandwidth.
• App performance. Slow app responses and buffering media aren’t always due to network bottlenecks — it could be down to the cloud service that the app depends on.
With so many factors coming into play in the user experience it can be tempting to stick to basic network benchmarks and just hope that users are happy. After all, network operators can only rely on network metrics to troubleshoot.
MNOs do not really know when and where their customers are frustrated by poor in-app experience and once they leave it is simply too late to figure it out. Moreover, MVNOs do not typically have access even to the network metrics of the underlying network so even less understanding of the network performance.
Intelligent network satisfaction insights from Netradar
Compared to cold, hard network statistics that may not truly reflect the customer experience, Netradar’s unique capability to measure customer satisfaction right on the user’s device is a significant advantage that helps network operators optimise networks for maximum customer satisfaction.
Netradar’s measurement technology is unique in three aspects. First, we enable capturing detailed and massive network performance data directly on the user’s device. In other words, we provide MNOs with network performance numbers reflecting the user experience — not theoretical network metrics. And we provide data on a level of detail that can be acted on by technical teams.
Second, we are able to detect when and where the network is congested and limits user speeds. This is a completely new and unique insight and reveals where customer needs are not met.
Finally, we also have unique insight into app performance. In other words, irrespective of network performance, do apps work — or is something causing apps to fail or become unresponsive? As much as network measurements at a certain time may indicate an all-OK, the everyday app experience may be rather different.
A refined approach to performance metrics
Through years of device-based analytics Netradar has built up a solid understanding of the factors that cause glitchy in-app experiences. In other words, we can provide a more nuanced picture of where the real network problems lie.
Consider a broad-based metric where an operator selects a network speed target in order to make investment decisions. By merely evaluating target average download speed the MNO might end up with a map looking like this:
Figure 1: Download speeds as heat map, 10–20Mbps
The above map essentially indicates that much of the operator’s network barely meets the average download speed target. It makes it almost impossible to target network investment.
In contrast, Netradar can deliver a more relevant picture. For example, we can tell network operators when and where users commonly do not get the average download speeds that their apps require at any given time. This metric produces a much more nuanced map. The map below shows how well the network can offer 10 Mbps of download speed when the apps really need it.
Figure 2: Probability % for getting 10 Mbps of download speed (if the app needs it)
It makes it far clearer where users are really experiencing poor network performance in their day to day use of their mobile devices. Filtering the data, we can illustrate why it is far better to plan network tweaks around the real user experience instead of an arbitrary numbers-based goal.
Figure 3: Location with the lowest probability of getting 10 Mbps (or higher) download speeds
What can MNOs do to improve the user experience?
Operators could always choose the brute force approach: simply investing in significantly more network infrastructure to deliver wide, open data pipes that never put the user experience at risk.
But doing so is not really an option — cellular services are a competitive sector. Excessive investment expenditure will bubble up to plan pricing, which could turn users away.
The detailed data collected with Netradar help MNOs to make more considered, more careful decisions and save on expenditure to build excessive network capacity.
For example, the planning and optimization personnel can zoom into the map above and drill down to see exactly where user needs are not being met:
Because Netradar pinpoints the location of users with poor in-app experiences so clearly, network operators can easily tweak their network to improve the experience for users who are close to the edge of churning. Some steps operators may take include:
• Load balancing. Users are often served by multiple base stations. Taking a more considered approach to the balancing of load across base stations can ensure that sufficient bandwidth is available to every user, no matter which base station they are connected to.
• Adding frequencies. Changing the hardware on a base station can also break capacity barriers by simply introducing a larger volume of available capacity to the network, without the exorbitant expense of adding base stations.
• Tweaking antennas. Again, with a reference to the physical location of users, MNOs can consider tweaking the direction in which antennas point to better accommodate a broader range of users. Merely changing antenna direction can also account for changing environmental factors — and user demand that grows unexpectedly.
Netradar enables MNOs to capture detailed, specific data required to tweak and tune network parameters so that network performance does not frustrate customers.
Due to natural churn in their customer base, they can also collect significant competitor data as their apps will be running on devices with competitor subscriptions. In fact, more data they could buy from any crowdsourcing player.
Focus on the experience — not the metrics
In summary, Netradar’s unique approach to performance metrics emphasizes service levels — and the user experience. It is a much better basis for network tweaking and investment decisions compared to broad-brush metrics such as peak available bandwidth.
To find out more about Netradar’s novel approach to service level metrics simply get in touch with the Netradar team here.