Optimising networks through crowdsourcing

Over the last few years a range of new applications have entered the market – apps that allow customers to check the quality of the telecommunications networks of their providers. It all began a decade or so ago, with speed testers for the fixed broadband network.

With the arrival of the smartphones a number of apps are now available that allow customers to better manage their data use; to check the quality of the network and the availability and strength of the mobile service; and some even more in-depth technical aspects.

We have also seen these tools being used by, for example, the media in the USA and the UK to get large numbers of people to check out network and services aspects. These media organisations then evaluate and publish results, to provide overviews of the overall quality of the networks and services provided by mobile operators.

This is another example of people power, where customers can now demystify some of the mobile technological aspects that to date they have not had access to. Rather than just being one lone individual complaining about backspots etc, an application like this suddenly adds the power of many to the issue.

Obviously these services could also be used by the operators themselves, to maximise and optimise their services to their customers.

A product called Mobile Pulse has taken all of this a big step forward – it allows enterprise and government organisations to automatically generate data from the phones and tablets used by their employees. This allows them to see if the networks and services used by the organisations are the best possible ones for their employees, in relation to coverage, general performance and the appropriate speed needed by these users. It also allows them to gather related information such as hardware and OS details, number of apps running, battery state, etc about connected devices (phones and tablets) that are used by the organisation.

The service is mainly used for the following applications:

  • Monitoring and measuring carrier network performance
  • Generating maps showing real-world carrier performance
  • Providing comparisons between carriers
  • Identifying device specific issues

The application can be set up in private or non-private modes.

  • Private mode is useful for situations where consumer anonymity needs to be protected.
  • Non-private mode is useful for enterprises that need to track specific devices.

The application can be set up in the background and doesn’t require any activity on the part of the people involved, and as such provides independent proof of any carrier’s mobile network coverage and performance. This can assist IT staff with analytics to troubleshoot any reported problems (which could occur on the mobile network, the device, the mobile app, or a combination of these). This is especially useful in a BYOD environment where the enterprise has no control of the mobile network or device or characteristics. It also helps in the endless discussions that take place in the event of a problem, to find out where the problem lies (who the culprit is). Without that knowledge the usual response is that it is the other party or product that is to blame; but this app gives the organisation the ability to pinpoint the problems and to take the appropriate action.

The service can also be used in a WiFi environment. In addition to all the technical benefits mentioned above, it could be used by providers of free WiFi services (shopping centres, councils, venues, etc) to optimise the service for their specific users, without the need to use expensive testing and analytic services – simply using the customers (the crowd) to source the required data. Again on an anonymous basis, this can also be used by these providers for marketing and sales services, which would in turn motivate them to provide good quality free WiFi in more and more places.

Paul Budde

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