The FCC to Track Wireless Network Performance

Carl Weinschenk

The Federal Communications Commission this week announced Measuring Mobile America, a project that will measure the performance of wireless carriers, according to InformationWeek.

The goal is to help consumers navigate the increasingly complex world of wireless:

The program will be modeled after an existing initiative, Measuring Broadband America, that gauges residential broadband performance. In a report released in July, the FCC said consumers have used the data generated by that program for comparison shopping, leading to increased competition among service providers.

More specifically, the story said the initial wired program has led carriers to be more accurate in performance estimates, that it is driving them to deliver promised speeds more consistently and driving them to higher speed tiers.

The hope apparently is that the wireless program will achieve the same goals. It promises to be a more complex undertaking simply because wireless networks inherently are more difficult to deal with. They likely will create more ambiguous results as well. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the information garnered by the study is combined with the wired network data for use in rule-making and other FCC initiatives.

There are organizations that already do what the FCC is proposing. Ironically, Metrico Wireless — a company that runs sophisticated comparison tests of various elements of wireless networks — was sold this week to network equipment firm Spirent.

Lifehacker has a comparison of the wireless networks that focuses on wireless networking quality. It does link to studies by J.D. Powers & Associates and Consumer Reports on the quality of wireless networks. Verizon Wireless seems to be the top dog.

This type of measuring will be increasingly important as LTE networks proliferate. There are many decisions that carriers make in terms of coverage, the number of customers supported by a tower and what steps to take to supplement services during peak hours. The work done by Metrico (if its mission doesn’t change under the new owners), J.D. Powers, Consumer Reports and others will be vital in efforts of individuals and companies to get the best services and to reveal those carriers that are falling short. The government project is welcome, but isn’t the only game in town.

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