by Dr Konstantinos Stavropoulos, IOT product manager with Anite
The time has come for London to host the 30th Olympiad. However, the arrival of millions of extra people will test UK mobile networks like never before. The extent of this pressure should be larger than in previous Olympic Games, as the majority of visitors – as well as London’s mobile users – are expected to use smartphones and applications. Many analysts have speculated that the use of apps could give rise to network blackouts from late July to mid-August. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has predicted the Olympics will cause mobile chaos, sharing concerns that UK mobile networks will be unable to deal with the increased demand caused by the games. Although UK operators have made preparations, adding network resources where required, the national media are ready to cover any mobile user issues that occur.The shortcomings of particular mobile devices will also come under the spotlight; and the brand perception of every device vendor is at stake, should any of their devices suffer from poor performance during the games.
Preparation is the key
Athletes that prepare thoroughly for any sporting event are the ones that shine. It is the same with mobile devices.
Many device manufacturers run tests in the lab to evaluate the performance of their devices in simulated real-life situations; including conformance test cases specified by industry standards bodies like the Global Certification Forum (GCF). Test scenarios above and beyond conformance testing are also considered, with many – typically more complex – tests mandated by operators as part their schemes to accept devices onto their networks.
These tests can help to pinpoint, and resolve, issues before devices are launched into the market. In turn, this also helps in reducing the number of faults discovered by the end users – bolstering customer loyalty.
On a high level, these tests have characteristics reminiscent of Olympic sports. Many tests focus on the device ‘intelligence’ – its ability, based on agreed industry protocols, to communicate with the network.
Similarly, athletes will use their intelligence to judge the precise moment at which they need to lower the pole in order to vault over the bar successfully.
Other device tests will focus on the device’s data speeds. Just like the 200 metre hurdles, speed matters, the faster, the better. There are also tests that check the behaviour of devices under extreme operating conditions.
Testing for roaming
These tests for devices represent real-life scenarios of technical and commercial significance. For example, international roaming will be essential for foreign visitors in London – who do not wish to use a UK network SIM card.
Roaming is always seen as a mobile service that ‘just works’. Nevertheless, roaming is a complex procedure in a cellular network and various issues related to international roaming have been reported in the past.
The inability to ‘recognise’ and connect to a mobile network while travelling has often been the result of insufficient testing before the launch of mobile devices.
Even reconnecting to the network after losing coverage, for example after using the London Underground, is less simple in practice than it sounds.
While some users will be happy to see coverage bars, and the name of a UK operator on the screen of their devices as they walk out of a tube station, others will be puzzled that their phones seem to stay ‘invisible’.
The case of friends with different devices connecting to the same network, at the same time, but experiencing different download speeds while browsing will also surprise the users of ‘slower’ devices. Yet, data speed is a matter of device and network performance.
Overcoming the challenge
The popularity of smartphones and applications has also underlined the need to assess their impact on network signalling (the handset’s communication back and forth with network) and battery performance.
Users who run out of battery during a day away from their hotel will not be pleased. These kinds of ‘small’ issues will affect user satisfaction and that device manufacturers must be alerted to.
Mobile users will expect from their devices during the London Olympics – great battery performance, a fixed-line like experience for voice call quality and data speed and no software/hardware glitches.
More than ever before, it is essential for operators and device manufacturers to focus on these factors and keep enhancing their offering by continually testing and improving mobile devices, and networks, as applicable.
Failing to prepare adequately, and to rise to the high expectations of their end-users, could compromise the long-term ability of a company to compete in the challenging mobile arena.
Dr Konstantinos Stavropoulos joined Anite in 2009 as IOT Product Manager, responsible for SAS, Anite’s network simulator product for mobile device interoperability testing. Konstantinos has worked on areas of diverse nature, ranging from antenna array systems (MIMO, smart antennas) research and mobile network planning/optimisation to the development and management of innovative software products. Prior to joining Anite, Konstantinos held Product Management positions at Arieso and Aircom International. Konstantinos holds a PhD in Digital Communications from Imperial College (London, UK) and a Diploma in Electrical and Computer Engineering from National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) (Athens, Greece), has presented papers in conferences worldwide and is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).