Phones fail to hit data quality standards

The vast majority of mobile phones sold on the Irish market fail to meet internationally recognised quality standards for downloading data.

Phones fail to hit data quality standards

By Seán McCárthaigh

Around a quarter of the most common mobile phone handsets sold on the Irish market fail to meet internationally-recognised quality standards for downloading data, according to a new research.

The survey by ComReg, the telecommunications regulator, found some popular phones used by Irish consumers did not meet recommended levels of quality for accessing data on their handsets.

A similar study carried out by ComReg earlier this year to measure the quality of voice calls on mobile handsets revealed less than a third of models achieved a recognised standard.

The latest survey tested 71 mobile phones including Apple, Samsung, Huawei, HTC and Sony models for the strength of the downlink between mobile base stations and handsets.

Phones were scored on their Total Isotropic Sensitivity (TIS) which is a measure of the quality and consistency of mobile data services with the lower scores indicating the strongest downlink connections.

The Cellular Telephone Industries Association, an international industry trade group, has recommended minimum TIS levels for various bandwidths including -89.5 for phones accessing the 800 MHz band –a common bandwidth used in less populated parts of Ireland. The average score was -91.

ComReg measured the download quality of the different handsets across four bandwidths when used with both the left and right hands giving a total of eight scores for each model.

The average score was better than the recommended level in all eight tests but 13 handsets failed to meet the 800Mhz band – including the Apple iPhone 6, HTC 10, and Motorola Moto E3.

Among the best performing handsets for the quality of accessing data were the iPhone 7+, Samsung Galaxy S8, Huawei P10 and Sony Xperia M4.

ComReg said there was only a “very small variation” produced in the results between left and right hand use for all the bands.

Factors which affect the quality of service with mobile handsets include local terrain, the number of base stations, the user’s distance from a base station, spectrum bands and the ability of radio waves to travel over distance and penetrate buildings as well as the number of people using phones at the same time and location.

ComREg said the one factor that is relatively constant for users is their mobile handset.

Radio waves in lower-frequency spectrum bands are better suited to providing mobile coverage over larger geographic areas and at a relatively lower cost because fewer masts and base stations are needed. Higher-frequency bands, usually above 1GHz, are used mostly in more populous urban areas.

Like many other countries Irish mobile network operators use a mixture of bands to provide a service to consumers which means most handsets contain multiple antennas capable of transmitting and receiving signals.

The latest study is a third in a series conducted by ComReg to better understand and objectively measure factors that affect mobile coverage

In February it published the findings of an analysis on the voice call performance of the same 71 handsets.

It showed that less than a third of the most popular phones sold in the Republic met internationally recommended quality levels for making voice calls.

None of seven Apple handsets tested met the recommended standard including three versions of the iPhone which featured in the bottom five scores.

Last month the regulator published another report on the results of its measurements of the effect of building materials on indoor mobile performance.

It revealed that foil-layered insulation as well as aluminium and PVC window frames can significantly lower the strength of mobile phone signals.

The research found that energy efficient building materials could reduce signal strength be between 100 and one million times.

ComReg said it would continue to measure the performance of all new makes and models of mobile handsets that become available on the Irish market “on a regular and ongoing basis” for voice and data.

Story updated on September 28, 2018.

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