The FCC gets in on the mobile speed-test game

Sprint 5G NYC speed test
The FCC's app will test the broadband performance of the connection, whether cellular or Wi-Fi, that is active when running a test. (Bevin Fletcher/FierceWireless)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is using a speed-test app to collect data as part of its effort to understand the lay-of-the-land in terms of mobile broadband speeds and availability in the U.S.

The FCC wants citizen volunteers to use the app to test the performance of their own mobile networks. In addition to showing their network performance results, the app also provides the test results to the FCC. The agency says the app protects consumers’ privacy.

Consumers can download the FCC Speed Test app. Or they can find it in the Google Play Store for Android devices and in the Apple App Store for iOS devices. The app will test the broadband performance of the connection, whether cellular or Wi-Fi, that is active when running a test.

An FCC spokesperson said, “The speed test functionality depends on whether the mobile device that a user is running the Speed Test app on is connected to a Wi-Fi network or running on mobile data. If it’s connected to the Wi-Fi, then it is testing the speed that the user is getting from their fixed broadband provider via their Wi-Fi router. If the device is not connected to Wi-Fi, then it tests the data speeds the user is getting from their wireless carrier.”

With Wi-Fi networks, the combined performance of both the Wi-Fi access point and the fixed internet service provider’s network contributes to the overall network performance assessment.  So the test results over Wi-Fi may not reflect the performance attainable on the fixed internet service provider’s network.

The FCC’s mobile speed test app was developed in cooperation with SamKnows.

There are plenty of other speed test apps from companies such as Ookla, Tutela and OpenSignal.

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But the FCC wanted its own app. It says other tests may not disclose their collection methods publicly, may impose fees for broad access to the data they collect and may not reveal measurement details.

“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in a statement. She added that data from the speed test app will help “show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”

The app will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps.

The FCC is in the process of updating its broadband maps for both fixed and mobile networks. Its current maps have been heavily criticized as being inaccurate, and better maps are a project near-and-dear to Rosenworcel.