Hi-tech: A speed test to gauge mobile internet in the offing

App to help users judge networks as 3G services expected to begin.

Farooq Baloch December 12, 2013
According to the FCC’s official blog, the app is a first step towards accurately evaluating mobile broadband network performance. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

KARACHI: As the government plans to conduct a spectrum auction for high-speed mobile internet services in a few months, it is high time for the mobile industry to find solutions for the largest challenge facing Pakistan’s online community — quality of network service.

A recent study conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), a global research firm, found that the major setback for the country’s internet users is the quality or reliability of connectivity.

The nationwide survey titled ‘Pakistan Digital Consumer Study’ is the first consumer survey for Pakistan’s online users conducted by the IDC on behalf of Google. The survey found that issues concerning the quality of connectivity included poor speed or bandwidth availability, perceived value-for-money, customer service quality and frequency of service interruptions.

With the rollout of the next-generation mobile services in the country, Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) will offer all kinds of mobile broadband services (3G, 4G or beyond), but on a higher tariff than the rates offered against the current 2G services.

Mobile subscribers are not only concerned with the service quality of the mobile internet but also complain about sub-standard services on their respective networks even on regular voice calls. Hence, consumers will need some mechanism to know whether the services offered are worth the price.

To curb similar concerns, United States Federal Communications Commission released a new application ‘Speed Test App’ for android-powered smartphones last month under their Measuring Broadband America Program. The app enables cellular subscribers to run their own tests and find out mobile broadband performance of their networks.

According to the FCC’s official blog, the app is a first step towards accurately evaluating mobile broadband network performance. It provides consumers with information that helps them make informed decisions when choosing and evaluating their mobile wireless providers. A similar app can be developed for Pakistani consumers to have some kind of mechanism for measuring the quality of cellular network.

Former Managing Director of Pakistan Software Export Board Zia Imran said a similar app could be developed easily. “What’s more important is to broadcast the app or link it to some central server, which will make it easy to report poor service by a particular network in a particular area,” he said while answering a question.

Currently, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, telecom sector’s regulator, measures the network quality of internet service providers (ISPs) and the CMOs through surveys. It carries out a nationwide Broadband Quality of Service (QoS) survey of all wireless and wire-line service providers. However, it’s not frequently practised – the last time PTA conducted any QoS survey was in 2011, when it conducted the survey for the third and fourth quarter of the same year.

The telecom regulator also has a short message service-based survey system which aims to find consumer’s perception about performance of their respective cellular mobile operator. Under this system, PTA sends a text message to mobile phone users and invites them to participate in the survey. The users can also participate directly by sending an SMS to a short code, 8899.

Observers believe that PTA surveys have their own importance, but developing an application similar to the FCC’s ‘Speed Test App’ will be faster and more efficient. A speed-test app can provide fact-based results to both the regulator and the consumers – and that, too, in real time.

“The development of apps does not fall under PTA’s purview but it is not restricted in any case. People are developing different apps and using them,” said PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran in response to a query, However, the telecom regulator expressed support for any initiative in this direction. “PTA, as per its mandate, is committed to ensure that consumers get up-to-the-mark service quality,” Mehran said.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2013.

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Saleem | 7 years ago | Reply

It is good for consumers to see what they are paying for though they don't have a choice at the end any way. I use ptcl service with 2 mbps but it never goes beyond 1 mbps while I am hard wired to modem. Ptcl sends bill efficiently for 2 mbps but really there is no recourse for this ripoff.

Haroon Rashid | 7 years ago | Reply Pakistan Digital Consumer Study for broadband speed by Google seconded by the regulatory authority of Pakistan for the internet speed. I guess the all of us knows accessibility, and advertised service of 3G and beyond being on offer by WLL operators is already available for long time by LDI operators, and used by millions. Yes the new license is probably for GSM. Suggest the regulator should thoroughly check the spectrum currently operational on 3G by public advertisement, is without any auction, and due diligence? Is there any accountability to the operator, and the enforcement on this?
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