To make sure our mobile network stays in tip top condition, everything's tested thoroughly and regularly. But what do we look for? And how do we use the data?
Earlier this week, we announced news of our plans to increase the level of investment in our network over the next financial year to more than £900 million – that’s roughly £2.5 million each day – as we prepare for the launch of 4G. But where does that money go?
The money we’re investing will be used to build our best ever network for all customers, whether you’re using 4G, 3G or any other type of connection on your phone. Thing is, while planning and building a great network is something we’re absolutely committed to, ensuring that the network is performing as we – and you – expect it to is just as important to us.
To make sure things stay shipshape, Vodafone spends almost £5 million every year testing the performance of its live network across the UK. There are loads of levels and tactics involved in this process, including pedestrian testing and looking at the way in which devices themselves behave on the network in our Faraday cage. We also work with industry leading, independent experts to carry out spot checks in locations up and down the country. These help us get a broad view of how we’re doing.
“Our latest round of data is from April of this year, covering 26 cities across the UK.”
Ok, so how do things stack up? Our latest round of data is from April of this year, covering 26 cities across the UK and the routes between them. That’s certainly wide-reaching, but it’s carried out by P3 – one of the world’s leading independent network testing companies – using industry best practices, which means we don’t know exactly which routes they’ll be testing or when.
That mystery’s what’s important though, as Santiago (Yago) Tenorio, our Head of Networks explains:
“Network performance is as much about the way in which we can see the network behaving as it is about the feedback we get from our customers. We use an extensive range of techniques to keep tabs on what’s happening, and that helps us to understand where we need to focus our efforts to build an even better experience for our customers.” It’s all about seeing a fair and balanced view.
And we’ve invested a lot of money to act on the test findings in recent years. But what exactly do we test?
Ticking all the boxes
When it comes to these network tests, the model is nothing if not comprehensive. Not only is the testing conducted independently, using industry standard approaches, it’s carried out under controlled conditions to ensure that it’s the pure network performance being counted.
“P3’s testing covers voice call, smartphone data and mobile broadband dongle services and uses same devices, at the same time, in the same location, for all of the major mobile networks in the country,” Yago continues.
“It covers the devices while they’re moving and while they’re stationary. We believe it’s an industry leading approach and, as such, it leaves very little room to debate the findings.”
About those results
We asked Yago to talk us through the various elements of the independent testing and some of the results we’ve seen recently, and Vodafone’s performance in London, the UK’s most populated area:
“Voice call tests cover several areas. Firstly, we look at the success ratio for Vodafone customers making calls from their phones. In April’s independent tests, Vodafone led the pack in London, fairing significantly better than EE’s and O2’s 3G network.
“Secondly, we test the dropped call rate – the ratio of calls that cut off once you’ve connected. Thirdly, we test the quality of the call connection to assess how clear it is and whether or not there’s any interference on the line. In both instances we found the Vodafone network performed on a par with other networks, and that’s something we’re working on making even better as part of our long-term network strategy.
Mobile data is monitored for both download and upload performance, with downloads measured in two different ways. For Yago, it’s not just about being the fastest – it’s about being the most consistent and reliable.
“There are two main use cases for downloads. One is short bursts of activity like viewing web pages, and the other is streaming services like Spotify, TuneIn Radio or Netflix that require an ongoing and consistent network connection,” Yago explains. “We want to give our customers an experience they can depend on, which is why we’re continuing to improve the capacity of our network now and in the future.”
And the results show that this effort’s starting to deliver results. P3’s independent tests show Vodafone is outperforming its 3G competitors on a typical smartphone’s download throughput (a phone from HTC in this instance), with an average of 3Mbps in April – almost 50 per cent faster than our nearest competitor in London, for example. Our network also performed on a par with the competition on the average web page load time for a standardised test page, at around 2.8 seconds.
But it’s not just about consuming content on the go, Yago adds:
“Sharing moments with friends and family has become part and parcel of people’s everyday lives, whether that’s Tweeting pictures or updating your Facebook status. So it’s important for us to keep a keen eye on upload performance too.”
The P3 tests show Vodafone smartphone customers get an average of 1Mbps upload speed in London, again leading the field of 3G operators and enabling customers to share with confidence in the capital. And it wasn’t just in London that Vodafone came on top with the average speed, as our network gave a higher average upload and download speed than all of our competitors.
All in all, things are looking good. But this is just data for April. We’re continually accessing this independent feedback as it floods in, alongside our own data, looking for ways to improve and figuring out where’s best to spend some of our increased investment.
Our aim is to be the best network in every part of the UK, and testing like this is an important part of that mission. Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
How do you test a new phone? Well, if you want to do it right you need a really, really big cage, and some of the most advanced mobile kit in the world. In this video, we talk to test engineer James Mortlock to find out what happens inside the mysterious Faraday cage, and why his work is so important to the phone in your pocket.