Home & Office

Wireless network problems on the rise, study says

Wireless network issues are increasing as more consumers use web services on their smartphones. Plus, winners and losers in each region of the U.S.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Perhaps to no one's surprise, wireless network issues are on the rise, according to a new study.

J.D. Power and Associates -- you know, the market research firm best known for giving automakers shiny trophies they can use in advertisements -- says that increasing mobile Web and e-mail usage is causing problems with network performance.

In its semiannual 2012 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study, which evaluates calling, messaging and data activity in the U.S., J.D. Power found 10 problem areas:

  1. Dropped calls
  2. Calls not connected
  3. Audio issues
  4. Failed/late voicemails
  5. Lost calls
  6. Text transmission failures
  7. Late text message notifications
  8. Web connection errors
  9. E-mail connection errors
  10. Slow downloads

In other words, everything I experienced this week using my smartphone while traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

But it's the data-related issues that are growing the fastest. J.D. Power says that rates for these incidents (mobile Web connectivity, loading performance and errors) during the first half of 2011 measured 16 for every 100 network connections in the period between July and December 2011; the latter half clocked in at 19 for every 100, with slow downloads leading the charge. Calling and text messaging incident rates remained unchanged.

J.D. Power says the data demonstrates a consumer base that's increasingly using smartphones for their Internet connectivity -- duh -- but more importantly how steep the challenge is for wireless carriers to meet that demand through infrastructure investment.

To wit: between July and December 2011, wireless customers said they connected to the mobile Web or used mobile e-mail 20 times within a 48-hour period. (They clearly didn't include many ZDNet readers in their sample.)

The good news is that there's financial incentive to address the problem. Wireless carriers continue to compete on the basis of coverage, and consumers have shown that they're willing to spend more ($17 per month more, on average) for it.

The winners and losers:

  • Northeast, winner: Verizon
  • Northeast, loser: Sprint
  • Mid-Atlantic, winner: Verizon
  • Mid-Atlantic, loser: Everyone else
  • Southeast, winner: Verizon
  • Southeast, loser: T-Mobile, Sprint (tie)
  • North Central, winner: U.S. Cellular
  • North Central, loser: Sprint
  • Southwest, winner: Verizon
  • Southwest, loser: Sprint, T-Mobile (tie)
  • West, winner: Verizon
  • West, loser: AT&T

Editorial standards