Study: Mobile networks buckling as data usage picks up

U.S. mobile networks are bogging down as customer demand for high-end data services mushrooms, according to a semi-annual report from J.D. Power and Associates.

Data-related issues, including "problem incidence for mobile Web connections, excessively slow mobile Web loading and email connection errors" have steadily grown more prevalent since the beginning of 2011, said the firm in its 2012 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study - Volume 1. Problem rates for other network quality areas, such as calling or text messaging, remain unchanged.

"The ways and places wireless customers use their devices have changed considerably during the past several years," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates.  "For instance, in 2012, 58 percent of all wireless calls are made indoors--where wireless connections can be harder to establish and maintain--compared with only 40 percent in 2003.  In addition, the rapid expansion of smartphone usage has also changed the ways in which wireless customers use their devices, which also impacts network quality."

The growing adoption of smartphones, whose owners are responsible for high volumes of calls, text messages and emails, plus an increased frequency of mobile video downloads is further exacerbating network strain. "On average, between July and December 2011, wireless customers indicate that they connected to the mobile Web or used mobile email 20 times within a 48-hour period, which translates to 300 mobile Web connections per month, on average," said J.D. Power, noting this was an increase from average monthly Web connections of 285 times reported during the previous six months.

The study also found that end users are apparently willing to pay for better service. Customers who switched to a new carrier to obtain better network coverage spent $17 more per month on average than customers who switched for other reasons.

The firm's study analyzes overall network performance based on 10 problem areas: dropped calls; calls not connected; audio issues; failed/late voice mails; lost calls; text transmission failures; late text message notifications; Web connection errors; email connection errors; and slow downloads. Network performance issues are measured as problems per 100 (PP100) network connections, where a lower score reflects fewer problems and better network performance.  The most recent study gathered responses from 27,438 wireless customers. 

J.D. Power also examined carrier performance in six regions. The firm noted that Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) ranked highest in the Northeast for the 15th consecutive reporting period, and also ranked highest in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest and West regions. In the North Central region, U.S. Cellular ranked highest for a 13th consecutive reporting period. 

For more:
- see this J.D. Power release
- see this Telecompetitor article

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