Mobile broadband performance - does anyone care?

While consumers have become resigned to accepting that their fixed broadband speeds are never likely to perform at the advertised speeds, mobile broadband still seems to attract undue attention.

A new study claims that operators are advertising higher and higher download speeds--now typically 7.2Mbps--and yet two thirds of mobile broadband users were still getting speeds that were below 1Mbps.

This situation is not particularly new, and mobile operators have been dragged before advertising adjudicators to have their knuckles firmly rapped--only to repeat the marketing campaign some months later.

But does Vodafone Spain's attempt to offer tiered tariff schemes--which are performance dependent--make it any better?

The scheme revolves around subscribers willing to pay €49 per month to have their traffic prioritised when the network is congested. Those not willing to pay will find themselves ‘downgraded' (essentially cut off) to make room for premium customers when the network is becoming overloaded.

The problem with this concept, albeit having top line appeal to the business user, is the difficultly for the operator to prove to the end user that their data traffic really is being prioritised. The diverse conditions under which mobile broadband is expected to operate make it almost impossible for the network operator to provide any contractual commitment to real performance.

Without knowing what technology Vodafone Spain is using for this trial--which, if successful, could be deployed elsewhere in Europe--it remains unclear what level of sophistication is possible.

However, the market research firm, Ovum, claims that implementing and selling this type of tariff makes little sense commercially, especially today. The firm maintains that, in a couple of years, when traffic monitoring, policy control solutions and even data traffic growth are more mature, then tools for end-users to monitor the performance they receive (and therefore prioritised tariffs) might become more viable.

So, is Vodafone using this as little more than a marketing ploy to gain additional revenues from business users, or does it really have the capability to shape and prioritise data traffic? I guess we'll have to wait until someone conducts an independent trial, or is anyone really interested as long as they have reasonable (1Mbps perhaps) mobile connections?-Paul