Forget 4G, networks struggle with 2G to keep London connected, says survey

One in three mobile internet and one in seven voice calls attempted by commuter fail according to a survey.

Mobile
GWS reckons that even Harry Potter's favourite station, King's Cross, should get a better signal. Image GWS.

We've all suffered the frustration of being cut off in the middle of an important call while travelling, but how bad, or good, is the service we get from mobile suppliers? Could do better, it seems.

According to a survey conducted by Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), one in three mobile internet tasks and one in seven voice calls attempted by London commuters failed during testing.

Among the results revealed by the survey, Three was shown to have the best network for commuters overall while Vodafone users have got the best 3G data service. The Orange and T-Mobile joint venture EE has the best 4G service.

But most worryingly, according to the survey, EE, O2 and Vodafone all "heavily rely" on older 2G networks to cover commuters.

According to the GWS testing, Three won the voice calling run-off with its network coming out joint-first (with O2) on reliability but winning outright when call quality is factored in.

But, again according to the GWS data, commuters are likely to experience poor quality — such as the sound breaking up — when mobile operators switch to 2G and so use "half-rate codecs to decode voice data".

GWS engineers said that they were on 2G more than 60 percent of the time when using O2 and O2 used half-rate codecs to handle almost a third of all the calls (28 percent) engineers made during the testing programme.

EE went back to using 2G for 41 percent of the time and Vodafone did so 40 percent.

The best signals with 3G.

Task

3

EE

O2

VODAFONE

Time to upload 4MB picture (seconds):

33

36.2

45.4

48.4

Time to download 4MB song (seconds):

23.3

21

26.8

16.1

Download time for 4 minutes of HD video (seconds):

41.2

42.4

46.8

41.5

 The best signals with 4G

Task

3

EE

O2

VODAFONE

Time to upload 4MB picture (seconds):

16.3

10.8

16.3

9.5

Time to download 4MB song (seconds):

10.8

5.8

7.1

7.7

Download time for 4 minutes of HD video (seconds):

16.2

7.8

11.2

12.4

Interestingly, connection problems  occur when the train is travelling slowly, or in a station. One in four data failures happened when the train was in a station, the survey said, while one in five occurred when the train was on an open stretch of track.

And GWS found that voice and data failures are more likely to happen when the train is travelling between 0MPH  and 5MPH than when a train is travelling between 5MPHand 50MPH. But then again, the frequency increases again when the train is travelling at more than 50MPH.

And who gets the wooden spoon? According to the survey it’s time for Harry Potter and chums to look out as the worst station more mobile signals is Kings Cross-St. Pancras.

Ranking

(worst to best)

Station

Average number of

voice and date failures

1

St. Pancras

99

2

Radlett

53

3

Kentish Town

43

4

Upminster

42

5

Elstree and Borehamwood

36

6

Hendon

33.5

7

St. Alban’s City

33

8

Cricklewood

27.5

9

Kidbrooke

27

10

Ockenden

20

The methodology

The GWS engineers benchmarked the 10 most popular commuter train routes into and out of London. They then used an array of 12 Samsung Galaxy S4s (powered by Rohde & Schwarz’s SwissQual QualiPoc Freerider) to gather data for the study of commuters’ mobile connectivity.

Three SIMs from each of the four major UK operators (3, EE, O2, and Vodafone) were used during testing. In each case, one SIM was used for voice testing, one SIM was used for 3G-only data testing, and one SIM was used for 4G-only data testing. Testing was conducted in June 2014

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