Measuring coverage in mobile networks used to be easy when the bars on the screen told the full story. As the breadth of applications grows quickly, so does the need for new coverage measurements. Going forward operators need to be prepared that end-users will expect coverage for all their applications.
As a starting point for how to measure coverage per application, you can measure the coverage for three performance tiers, e.g. 100kbps, 1Mbps and 10Mbps. These tiers can be used to approximate the coverage for voice, data and video-centric applications. The evolution of mobile-data performance requirements are driven by the new needs from IP-based voice and video applications. According to the most recent Ericsson Mobility Report, the North American coverage for the three tier examples above are: 95%, 78% and 31% respectively.
End-user’s expectations for IP-based voice quality are defined by the mobile voice services we have today. Circuit-switched mobile voice services are known to be universally available and support uninterrupted calls with very high availability. These factors together with the new High-Definition voice capabilities have set the bar for IP-based communication services. The large-scale introduction of VoLTE is driving performance reviews and upgrades for the lower coverage tiers. In addition to voice communication, the application coverage for streaming music services is important to support.
The very high screen resolutions for smartphones and tablets make them prime targets for innovative video consumption services. Video coverage is defined by the higher performance tier and a quickly growing factor for redefining the most demanding coverage bar. Streaming video services can be buffered at both ends but require close to real-time performance when used.
In the past, we have assumed that a lot of the video consumption will be offloaded to Wi-Fi but the ultra-mobile use of smartphones and tablets means that video demand is highly realistic in areas outside hotspots as well.
Here are my predictions for the ‘App Coverage’ evolution:
– IP-based voice and video will set the performance bar for new coverage expectations on mobile data services.
– End-user demand for universal app coverage will require a more refined approach for measuring coverage.
– The current performance measures for mobile data, e.g. response times and download times, will be accompanied by already established quality of experience (QoE) measures for voice and video.
Perhaps the vertical coverage bars we grew up with will soon be complemented with horizontal app-coverage bars on our screens.