State of the (Mobile) Broadband Nation – A Benchmarking Study

State of the (Mobile) Broadband Nation – A Benchmarking Study


State of the (Mobile) Broadband Nationa benchmarking study

We live in an information society that is driven by a knowledge economy. A nation’s competitiveness is directly dependent on its information infrastructure, which includes access to and availability of broadband at a low price. Availability of broadband decreases the digital divide and allows consumers access at a much faster rate, changes user behavior, and has a positive impact on the local, regional, and national economies.

Broadband networks reduce the disadvantages of low population densities in rural areas. New applications such as telemedicine, e-government, public safety, e-commerce, small business assistance, and entertainment can be launched and adopted. As a result, new jobs are created and often new or offshoot industries are created as well. The economic benefits of broadband can also be attributed to indirect factors, including increased commerce, reduction in commute times, increased consumption of entertainment, and savings in health care as a result of sophisticated telemedicine. In the United States, several studies have been released that detail the prevailing economic benefits of broadband deployment.[1],[2]

Broadband availability becomes ever more important in the global society in which the end-points of any solution can be anywhere. In an interconnected world, for example, healthcare delivery will be much more decentralized and distributed. The local clinic might be responsible for monitoring a patient’s vital signs but the analysis and prognosis might come from a physician thousands of miles away. One might be lying down on a bed in Kuala Lumpur but the surgeon doing the surgery might be in Stockholm on video conference with experts from Cambridge and Chennai.

Given the importance of broadband in fostering the US competitiveness and the economic well-being, the FCC is required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to submit a National Broadband Plan to Congress that looks at the broadband policy by Feb 2010. The key initiatives and principles adopted by the FCC will not only impact the US market but will also have wider ecosystem repercussions. In its interim findings, one of the seven gaps that FCC identified is Consumer Information Gap.[3]

To understand the state of the US mobile broadband market, we undertook a benchmarking study with the help of our colleagues at Root Wireless who have developed an innovative approach to collect mobile performance data. Root provided us with copious amounts of data from the urban routes in seven big markets for all four major US carriers. Other benchmarking studies have typically focused only on the data cards[4] and have used limited data samples (though some have covered more cities). This study used over 4.7 million data points for analyzing the mobile broadband performance in the US. Since smartphones are the most important and the fastest growing segment of the US mobile industry, for our analysis, we primarily focused on the smartphones as very little analysis has been done and scant performance metrics have been reported on such devices.

Our goal was to benchmark the state of the US mobile broadband market with respect to the signal quality, realistic mobile broadband speeds, and 3G availability. This paper presents the findings from the study.

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[1] Examples of such studies: Robert Crandall and Charles Jackson, ‘‘The $500 Billion Opportunity: The Potential Economic Benefit of Widespread Diffusion of Broadband Internet Access 2001,’’ ‘‘Broadband Bringing Home the Bits,’’ National Academy Press, 2002. In addition, there have been several local and regional studies looking at the impact of broadband to their economies such as ‘‘George Ford and Thomas Koutsky, Broadband and Economic Development: A Municipal Case Study from Florida,’’ 2005.

[2] For more discussion on the subject, please see Chapter 2, Fotheringham, Sharma, Wireless Broadband: Conflict and Convergence, IEEE Press/John Wiley & Sons, Nov 2008