Evolving mobile networks need evolving quality measures

The role mobile networks play in our daily lives has changed immensely. From work and education through to social life and entertainment, we’ve built an ecosystem where almost every aspect of our daily life relies on mobile communications. This presents an unprecedented opportunity, and challenge, for mobile operators to meet the growing demand of data-hungry consumers expecting quality mobile network experience. Which poses the question: what does quality mean and how can we measure it?

How good is your mobile broadband connection?

That depends on who you ask. Your provider may claim near 100% coverage and sky high speeds, but what does that mean in reality? Will your video call drop in the middle of your client pitch? Will your favorite series hang every few minutes? Can you live stream that critical game?

Historically, experts in the telecom sphere relied solely on Quality of Service (QoS) measures to gauge network performance from a technical point of view. With the evolution of technical and technological capabilities, we can now dive into a much wider and deeper range of measures to understand mobile network experience from the users’ point of view. These metrics, focusing on users’ perception and experience rather than performance, are collectively referred to as Quality of Experience (QoE) measures. 

QoS vs QoE

As a simple example consider mobile video streaming. Based solely on performance claims, you could ‘technically’ watch a video on your data connection, but the experience will be far from satisfactory if the clip hangs every 5 seconds.

While QoS measures can quantify network characteristics at source, ultimately, they cannot account for how that translates to the end user and their interaction with the technology. In essence, QoE provides a valuable complement to how we think about any technology service, including mobile networks, focusing on the user experience and their level of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) while using the service.  

The bigger picture 

QoE provides an opportunity to fill in the gaps in our understanding of how a service performs, helping us build a holistic picture encompassing the entire user experience. Perhaps just as significant, a QoE approach allows us to tap into specific services and areas that matter to users the most. Take our previous example of video streaming.

Videos dominate our online world. They are by far the most popular online content form, and increasingly, smartphones are the gadget of choice to watch videos online. Which made it an obvious choice for Opensignal to launch mobile Video Experience as its first experiential metric back in 2018. We soon followed by launching a host of pioneering measures focusing on applications people care about including multiplayer mobile gaming, voice apps, and video conferencing. As the technology evolves video watching habits evolve as well and in early 2023 we will be updating our video metrics to match the latest user behavior. 

All our measures are based on end-to-end user tests which means they are an imprint of the activity as users would experience it every day. They’re not tested in a lab, they don’t use the latest smartphone model or test to a dedicated server.

QoS + QoE NOT QoS vs QoE

Measuring the quality of experience on rapidly evolving networks is essential for the entire telecoms ecosystem: businesses, consumers, regulators and policymakers all benefit from gaining actionable insights informing better decision making. While it could seem like QoS and QoE are poles apart, the question isn’t whether one measure is superior to the other. It’s about how we can use both QoS and QoE to create the most accurate picture on the status of connectivity today, so we can work towards a better-connected future together.