It’s Official – Your Phone Is Not a Phone
Smartphones on 3G networks spend almost 85 per cent of their active time generating data traffic, and only 10 per cent of it on voice. The radio access network is responsible for between 80 - 85 per cent of poor quality voice, whilst data sessions in congested areas often fall below video-ready speeds. LTE networks deliver on performance claims but the real challenge will come when these networks become heavily loaded.
These are some of the major findings from the latest annual study by Actix using real-world data from eight network operators across four continents.
“The data performance on today’s network varies greatly and is far behind the high speeds that handsets are capable of reaching,” said Actix director of marketing, Neil Coleman. “There’s a lot of demand from users for fast data rates but handset technology is advancing much more quickly than the networks can deliver.”
The study - The State of the RAN: How people, places and devices are shaping today’s customer experience and tomorrow’s radio access networks – reveals that the average smartphone in a person’s pocket is 18 months old and those with newer phones generate much more data. Apple subscribers use more data, and more data per session, than Android, with Blackberry users consuming 50 per cent less data than Android and 30 per cent less than Apple.
“If existing Blackberry customers switched to Apple or Android, mobile traffic would increase by 20 per cent,” said Coleman. “As early adopters move to the latest devices they put extra strain on the network and with more people switching from BlackBerry, this will only continue.”
The report also found that 20 per cent of locations are responsible for 80 per cent of network traffic (Pareto would be happy with that one – Ed.), while 5 per cent are responsible for over half of traffic, with these high traffic areas typically less than 30 – 100 sq. metres in size. In addition, 15 per cent of locations are responsible for 85 per cent of all customer experience problems. Across an entire network, outdoor usage is still high, but indoor usage (of voice and data) is gaining and in many congested areas indoor usage dominates.
“Data rates drop off by as much as 50 per cent when users go indoors,” said Coleman. “The area also affects the demand placed on the network, for example social media usage is highest in tourist areas, where data connections are busiest between 20:00 and 21:00. Many locations are busy a lot of the time, but areas with the highest levels of demand peak only for two short periods each day, such as transport hubs and central business districts. There’s no blanket solution to this for operators.”
The market is made up of smartphones; basic handsets are rapidly losing market share and alternative devices such as dongles, tablets and Mi-Fi are a minority. Mature operators are seeing market penetration reaching 66 per cent and network data suggests over 80 per cent of all downloaded data is from smartphones.
While smartphones make 3-10 data connections per hour of use, 60-70 per cent of data sessions are less than 50 Kbytes in size, and Actix estimates less than 30 per cent of these data sessions are user initiated. Every new generation of smartphone adds 20 per cent more data per subscriber, and smartphones released in 2012 generate 2.5 times more traffic per subscriber than those released in 2009.
“The Apple iPhone 4Gs is the definitive 3G smartphone in terms of mobile experience, usage and subscriber adoption,” added Coleman. “It remains to be seen if Apple can reach the same highs again.”
The report also reveals that tablets and dongles are more impacted by capacity issues than basic and feature phones, and that tablet usage is miniscule compared to smartphones, despite around 115m tablet devices having been sold to date (Source: Forrester).
“Our annual study reveals the importance of understanding the interplay between people, places and devices on the network,” said Actix CEO, Bill McHale. “Never before has the network comprised such a range of complex elements, as operators look to transition to LTE, manage increasingly demanding user expectations and optimize for an ever-growing number of devices.
“By studying a significant number of active operator networks across the world, this report delivers a comprehensive analysis of today’s mobile networks and the challenges operators face. Through understanding the network subscriber, where they are and the device they are using, operators can radically improve their network quality through targeted investment, optimization and SON.”
The full report is available on request from email@example.com