Cutting Through The Wireless Hype

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 18, 2017

Question

I’m trying to decide which cellular network to use and not sure how much of the marketing hype about the 1% difference is real? Any suggestions on how to figure out which one is best for me?

Answer

This question was answered on January 18, 2017. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

As our smartphone usage increases, figuring out which cellular network is best suited for our needs has become as important, if not more important than choosing the right mobile device.

The marketing claims can be very confusing with claims like ‘fastest, most dependable, most popular, most advanced, most reliable, unlimited, next generation’, which we all want from our wireless providers.

Manipulating the Data
Creating impressive marketing claims based on a favorable interpretation of a specific data set is not exclusive to the wireless carriers, but they’ve been taking it to new heights.

Many of the claims that these companies make are hard to prove or disprove or are based on scenarios that may mean absolutely nothing to you depending upon where you live and work.

Sprint’s campaign claiming that there is only a 1% difference in reliability between the major networks is based on their interpretation of the data generated by recent Neilson drive test data for average network reliability (voice & data) in the top 106 markets.  

While it can be argued that this claim is pretty vague, the term ‘network reliability’ should not be confused with ‘network coverage’ or ‘network speeds’.

Why You Should Ignore the Hype
No matter how good the overall rating for any carrier in any specific measurement may be, there’s a very important thing to keep in mind in every case: YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Where you live, work and travel will have the biggest impact on which carrier(s) offer the best option for your specific needs.

Someone that travels a lot or lives in a rural area will have very different needs than someone that lives and works in a high population urban area.

In virtually every third-party measurement of voice and data services, which city you live in is one of the biggest factors for which networks provide the ‘best’ overall performance.

Real Customer Measurements
Every wireless carrier publishes a coverage map, generally available on their website, but I wouldn’t rely on it as empirical data as many complaints on the Internet challenge the accuracy of these maps when you drill down to the street level.

There are a number of third-part resources that provide coverage maps based on data reported by actual users (usually via an app) that live and work in your area.

The Root Metrics interactive coverage map (https://goo.gl/RMZOze) allows you to zoom down to street level to review coverage reports on each major carrier as well as by service type (voice vs data).  

Both OpenSignal (https://opensignal.com) and Sensorly  (http://sensorly.com) offer user-generated map data based on your location and carrier with the option to show 4G service vs slower 2G/3G coverage.  You can also download their apps if you’d like to contribute data yourself.

Each of these resources collect data in various ways so using all three should help you better understand which carrier(s) perform the best for the areas you’ll frequent.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on January 18, 2017

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