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Why mobile data quality matters

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Workshop We've been tolerant of mobile operator service problems because our expectations are low; no one expects a voice call made over mobile to be high quality, for example.

But if operators plan to be more than just a voice and data provider to businesses, the pressure is on to provide more than just a so-so service. Historically, we have cut operators a lot of slack - which has worked in favour of the providers.

Businesses want more, according to the feedback from Reg readers. The chart below, taken from our recent poll, shows that quality of service problems such as reliability, coverage and performance are the most important things you look for when choosing a mobile service provider.

Too often, however, your experience does not match up. This comment, from one Reg reader, shows the problem:

Coverage is generally poor, and call establishment is intermittent, i.e. we try to dial, the call fails, we hang up and try again, and then succeed.

The problems are more common for mobile data. As another reader observed:

The data speed is really not as efficient as I'd hoped. Coverage drops out unexpectedly and breaks connections - requiring restarting of some applications or downloads (others are not affected). Sometimes coverage just isn't there in an area (e.g. at home or at the office) where it normally is - and no explanation is available as to why or when it'll be back up.

Another user from a large enterprise complained about data speed and quality for mobile broadband:

We signed up for a large number of mobile broadband dongles to provide support for salespeople out on the road, however, the success of these has not been great. Many of the sales guys have complained of slow speed, coverage issues and dropped connections. What we hoped would be a real boost to the business has in fact, turned out to be a real headache. And our provider has been worse than useless in addressing our issues.

Poor mobile quality is critical for business. If your sales guy is trying to log a sale from a customer’s premises a good quality, reliable connection is essential - not to mention the time lost in trying to reconnect to check the details and the bad impression it leaves with the customer.

Mobile operators are aware of this, and that's why some restrict all you can eat data packages. The move won’t do their revenues any harm, either, particularly as they have pushed us into using more data under the pretext that it is cheap.

Maybe you could solve this by pressing your mobile operator for tiered quality of service on mobile data subscriptions. You might, for example, base it on the time of day, or the user subscription, potentially allowing priority for certain types of traffic. But if operators start to control how traffic moves across the internet this might impinge on net neutrality - the principle that internet traffic has a level playing field.

So your problem is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The volume of users and the volume of traffic per user is increasing - especially because business users compete for network capacity with consumers, and our devices encourage heavier traffic. It makes sense for you to do your homework on quality of service and coverage, and tread carefully with long term contracts that can prolong the agony if it does go horribly wrong - but there are no guarantees.

Maybe mobile operators aren't ready to take on a bigger role for businesses. They aren’t really there yet with their core role, and poor customer service might make the problem worse.

We want to know your data quality problems, what you have done about it, and how the operators responded. Should mobile operators be ready to take on a bigger part of your business, and are they ready to do it yet? ®

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