We Don’t Think Speed Is The Be-All And End-All: Brendan Gill

Internet speeds can be highly unpredictable. Often there is a huge gulf between what operators promise and what consumers get. Speed testing solutions like Opensignal with their insights into actual internet speeds on the ground have allowed users to make informed choices, operators to improve their services and regulators to benchmark the operators. Brendan Gill, CEO and co-founder of Opensignal Inc., a leading British speed measurement solutions provider, talks about internet speeds in India, 5G and the speed requirement for the Internet of Things (IoT). Edited excerpts from a phone interview:

Where does India stand compared to the US and China?

In terms of availability, I think India compares extremely positively with other countries. The US was kind of behind on 3G, but they were very determined around 4G to catch up. Their 4G coverage is high but actually not quite as high as India. Other developed markets, like the UK, the availability is significantly lower, and we are significantly behind India when it comes to the availability of services. In India, the launch of Jio massively boosted the availability both from what Jio provided and by all the other operators reacting to that.

How reliable are crowdsourced speed testing solutions because a lot of times operators don’t agree with numbers that are not in their favour and call them flawed?

I think the very first thing to start with is that not all crowdsourced tests are the same. Crowdsourcing is kind of a very broad category. But within that you have very different approaches. Opensignal has the most sophisticated methodology to do that. I won’t go into all the details, but just to give you one example, some tests measure speeds only when users press the button and choose to run a test. So they are very much defined by when users want to test. And that is often, when they’re having problems or when they want to show off really good speed. Opensignal is fundamentally different to that. Our tests are run automatically. We run them on random intervals in time. So it’s not affected by users’ choice around when they want to run a test. And this automated approach to testing is something that has been endorsed by regulators around the world. People like the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in the US, have gone on the record and said automated background testing is the right way to test mobile networks.

What has changed in terms of speed measurement parameters?

We don’t actually think speed is the be-all and end-all of it. Actually video experience is a new measure that is more reflective of what people do on their devices and actually explains the network capabilities in the language that people understand. So we look at things like video experience to really reflect what people use and understand about the mobile network. Also there’s no such thing as just the actual speed, as it keeps changing and it depends on the situation where you are.

Why is 5G important from an IoT perspective?

IoT is interesting because the requirements vary depending on the application. And some IoT-use cases are very bandwidth-unintensive. Maybe they don’t need to exchange data in real time, often they can wait and use the network when the capacity is high and can wait till the middle of the night when the capacity is low. One of the primary usage of 5G is actually enabling with the continuous delivery of 4G services of today. So, in other words, even with 4G, people experience variance in speed and network congestion. 5G will bring a lot of capacity improvement and will actually release some of that congestion. And that is true for IoT, as multiple IoT devices can overwhelm 4G networks. When 5G comes, it can help address that.

We saw 4G services coming late to India. Will that happen with 5G as well?

There are a lot of unanswered questions around 5G, where we see that the impact it can have, there’s still a lot of justification to be determined, which will really impact how rapidly it rolls out. Even in areas where 5G is rolling out, there’s no real mobile device support yet. So, even in places like the US where 5G is live, it is extremely limited to a few areas and then kind of wonky devices that aren’t on mainstream at all. So, I think the timeline for adoption of 5G by mainstream users even in places like the US, is still next year or the year after. 4G was better everywhere. So operators are rolling it out pretty much everywhere. But with 5G, it will be very different. I think 5G is something operators will use more strategically to fill in holes.―Livemint

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