Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lies, damn lies and mobile broadband surveys

Not one but two surveys were released today on who provides the best mobile broadband in the UK and from two respected sources. Do they agree? Of course not. Which? reckons Virgin Media's offer to be the best on the market, while YouGov puts T-Mobile top of the heap. There is at least some consensus in that they both run on T-Mobile's network. By my reckoning, that takes to five the number of UK operators who have the best offering according to independent testers. Back in December Orange gained the accolade acccording to YouGov (again), while in October a survey by put 3 top. Vodafone has to rely on a June 2008 survey conducted by itself...ahem...I mean independent wireless engineering company LCC International to put itself in top spot.

Of course it's all nonsense. Are we seeing regular radical overhauls of networks that would mean that network providers are overtaking each other in terms of network capacity? Of course not. So why the disparity? It's because there are so many variables associated with the user experience (distance from the base-station, contention ratio, height of the antenna, thickness of walls) of mobile broadband that generalisations about "the best network" are meaningless.

This won't stop MNOs from trumpeting their success in these polls of course, but in reality, user experience will bear little resemblance to the results of all these surveys. MNOs need to do two things.

Firstly they need to ensure that these polls continue to give out - at least - mixed messages. Ideally, of course, an MNO would want to be #1 in every poll. The bare minimum required is that they do not allow themselves to drop too far behind their competitors. Once there is consensus on 'the best' or 'the worst' network it will be a difficult barrier to overcome, even if there is no grounding in reality. A good reputation will allow MNOs to charge more, while those with a bad reputation will be forced to compete more aggressively on price. This requires that MNOs continue to invest in network upgrades.

Secondly they need to allow users to try before they buy. That way they can do the comparison that matters, i.e. how do the various offers match up in my front room, office, local pub etc. rather than depend on YouGov, Which? or whoever doing that research in a small random selection of locations.

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