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Opensignal Unveils New Metric at MWC, Highlights Reliability Over Speed for Mobile Users

Opensignal is a globally recognized authority on mobile network experiences and has participated in the Mobile World Congress (MWC) this year in Barcelona where it launched its Global Reliability Experience Report. Reliability Experience is Opensignal’s new metric that analyzes the extent to which users stay consistently connected to their mobile network and whether they can continue to do typical tasks like email, watching videos, and using navigation apps while connected.

Andrey Popov, Principal Analyst at Opensignal, spoke to Riyadh Daily exclusively about the company, its work and motivations for measuring the reliability of mobile networks its experience at the MWC, and what it found about mobile networks in the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular.

Popov said that MWC is undoubtedly highly significant in shaping the narrative for the industry. It is the single biggest opportunity for companies in the global ecosystem to come together – from infrastructure vendors, smartphone manufacturers, companies facilitating the computing services to, of course, mobile operators themselves. MWC acts as an arena to bring ideas together and put them under scrutiny — enabling discussions on the external and internal factors influencing the industry, and also being an opportunity to showcase innovations, gauging reception from the sector and wider public. MWC is highly beneficial to analysts, who build their views of the industry upon these narratives, enriching them and benefiting the entire sector.

About this year’s event, he said: “The level of engagement at this year’s MWC and overall experience for exhibitors, including Opensignal, was exceptionally high – matching the vibrancy seen just before the pandemic. There were interesting panels – for example, the session titled “Does speed matter” signaled a shift in industry direction, away from chasing higher speeds and towards the need to identify and address the parts of networks where the value to consumers resides. This year has seen a lot of consumer device innovation being displayed as well – with chipsets, software, and cloud integration around AI”.

This year was Opensignal’s 10th appearance at the MWC. Opensignal also timed its 2024 Global Awards for the week of the events, where it awarded operators based on the best overall user experience, ranking them with their peers across the world – with South Korean Norwegian and Japanese operators making notable appearances.

The Reliability Experience metric developed by Opensignal significantly differs from traditional mobile network performance metrics such as speed and latency by focusing on the practical, everyday experiences of users on communication service providers' networks. Unlike metrics that measure raw performance figures, Reliability Experience assesses the network's effectiveness in enabling users to connect to and successfully complete specific tasks, including video streaming, voice calls over the internet, and web browsing.

Speaking about the motivation for its Global Reliability Experience Report, Popov said that speed was a straightforward benchmark for operators to pursue, but it doesn't fully capture what is most crucial to consumers. He said, “Our consumer survey conducted in 2023 included 55,322 respondents in the US and revealed that mobile users place a higher value on reliable network services over faster speeds. Consumers ranked reliability as their second most important consideration, just after cost, when choosing a wireless carrier”.

The introduction of the Reliability Experience metric came as the result of the company’s commitment to understanding and measuring the true real-world experiences users have with their network operators, he added.

On the subject of network reliability in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, Popov said, “We have published our cross-country results comparison in The Opensignal Global Reliability Experience Report. The measurements we analyzed in Saudi Arabia indicate that our users there typically have worse reliability compared to many other analyzed markets – but it is important to note the kingdom’s challenging geography, with widespread and sparsely populated parts of the country contributing to challenges in consistent service. The neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council are all geographically smaller markets and all naturally exhibit higher reliability scores than Saudi Arabia, putting them roughly in the middle of our comparison table.”

Another important point to note, Popov added was that in Saudi Arabia there were some two million mobile subscribers added in the last year on stc alone. Operators with high mobile customer growth must continue to aggressively reinvest in their networks. “There’s a lot of room for ongoing network modernization in the 5G era – particularly in core networks that often lag behind investments in RAN,” he added.

Speaking on the subject of new technologies and their impact, especially 5G, Popov was of the view that 5G deployment was still in a relatively early stage. He said that many mobile operators were in the process of moving to 5G standalone access (SA) and working out how to realize the potential benefits it could provide in terms of both the user experience and driving revenue streams (e.g. from providing premium connectivity).

In addition, 5G Advanced is being developed, which will add further enhancements, including greater support for extended reality devices and drones. Quite a few operators in the GCC states have already made the switch to SA and there have already been some trials of 5G Advanced technology in the region, he said.

He said that as in other regions, a shift in focus from rolling out 5G coverage to working to drive revenue growth through the new services and capabilities that 5G unlocks was expected.

He said, “One of the biggest applications of 5G at the moment in the region is 5G fixed wireless access (FWA). The GSMA recently predicted that by 2030, three out of the 10 most penetrated 5G FWA markets globally will be Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE. 5G FWA allows mobile operators to compete with established fixed-line operators and obtain additional revenue from areas where fiber rollouts have yet to occur or where they would be uneconomical.”

Popov speculated that one thing to watch, given that many markets in the Middle East tend to have populations concentrated in cities, but with large swathes of desert — is the development of direct mobile-to-satellite communications, beginning with satellite-to-phone for messaging but potentially followed by more bandwidth-hungry applications. “While people typically need connectivity where they live and work, being able to send an emergency message in a remote area where it would be uneconomical to serve with traditional mobile coverage can save lives,” he said.

He said that there were some question marks over business models and there was the recent apparent setback in the form of the Qualcomm - Iridium deal falling through. However, this was attributed by Qualcomm to smartphone manufacturers’ preference for standardized solutions. Support for non-terrestrial networks (NTN) was added in 3GPP Release 17 and is being expanded in 3GPP Release 18, he said.  

Andrey Popov, Principal Analyst at Opensignal

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