How SwayMarkets compared the 3G network data

Our story on the best iPhone carrier relied heavily on data generated by users of CarrierCompare, an app developed by Boston-based startup SwayMarkets. Here’s what co-founder Amos Epstein had to say about the methodology behind the statistics: 

"SwayMarkets collected & analyzed between 15,000 and 40,000 data points across each city, with care taken to ensure representative sampling over both location & time. As opposed to more conventional drive testing or sponsored surveys, all our data is crowdsourced. Our results are more indicative of customers’ actual experience with their phones."

LightSquared vs. GPS gets ugly

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Photo: European Space Agency

Those following the LightSquared / GPS debacle (all six of you) know it’s been a fiercely contested issue, and rightfully so. But the smear campaigns and misinformation have to stop.

In case you’re not one of the six, here are the basics: The GPS industry claims that LightSquared’s proposed 4G network will interfere with its transmissions. The FCC commissioned a study and LightSquared believes it has a technical solution.

As it stands now, LightSquared is not allowed to build anything until the FCC approves it.

But misinformation has been spread to the contrary. Senator Grassley was even prompted to send a letter to the FCC, asking why the FCC provided LightSquared with a waiver to use spectrum licensed to GPS companies. The FCC sent a response, which correctly said that it had done no such thing, and it won’t approve LightSquared’s network until it believes a solution is in place.

The GPS industry also overreached by issuing a questionable report about how LightSquared would affect its signal — a report that has been batted down by many independent scientists

On Thursday, LightSquared opted to resort to similar dirty tactics. The company commissioned a report from the questionable Brattle Group that found the GPS industry was receiving $18 billion in implicit subsidies from the U.S. government. The underlying argument was essentially that the government is in bed with the GPS industry.

What the report does highlight — and should have focused on — is the fact that the GPS industry has made little effort to upgrade its systems, and its receivers are not operating according to specification. They are, in fact, spilling over into spectrum that was licensed to LightSquared.

The GPS industry and its advocates have acted shamefully in this proceeding. But it’s also a shame that LightSquared felt it needed to go on a smear campaign to compete. 

In the meantime, a rare new entrant to the wireless market that could compete with a dwindling number of providers is being held up. It’s time to focus on the problem at hand and fix it without attempting to get the public on board by obfuscating the facts. -David

Why Verizon needs to stop offering unlimited data

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Chart: CNNMoney

Wonder why unlimited data plans are going the way of disco? Mobile Internet usage is exploding. In just 4 years, global mobile data traffic will grow by more than 11-fold to 6.2 million terabytes per month, according to Cisco.

Meanwhile, it’s costing carriers $50 billion each year to upgrade their networks in an attempt to meet customers’ demand for more mobile data.

That cost is getting passed on to you. (It’s so kind of you to pick up your wireless company’s tab!) -David

Would you pay $1,250 per megabyte?

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Photo: Ken Banks, kiwanja.net

That’s exactly what you’re paying if you’re sending texts without a messaging plan: Text messages max out at a measly 160 bytes. At 20 cents per message, that’s costing you $1,250 per megabyte.

Yet only 51%, or 118 million, of the nation’s 232 million mobile phone subscribers send text messages through a bundled plan, according to wireless industry organization CTIA. That means the remaining 49% are either not texting or paying way more than they should for texts.

Not that those bundled plans are reasonable either: For instance, AT&T offers 1,000 texts for $10, which works out to a stunning $62.50 per megabyte.

Even unlimited plans are a ripoff. Let’s say you’re sending one text message every minute of every day of every month. That’s 44,640 texts per month. At “just” $20 per month, that still works out to $2.80 per megabyte.

By contrast, AT&T offers a data plan that gives you 200 megabytes of monthly Internet usage for $15 — just under 8 cents per megabyte.

No wonder the wireless industry makes 80 cents of profit on each dollar they make from texting, the Wall Street Journal reported today. Texting alone brought in $25 billion in revenue for American and Canadian telecoms last year.

Which is why cell phone users should welcome free apps like Apple’s new iMessage, Google Voice, BlackBerry Messenger and other third party tools that send texts and instant messages over carriers’ data networks rather than the cellular networks.

The wireless industry was shocked to learn about iMessage. Just like the bill shock wireless consumers have been feeling for more than a decade. -David

GPS under attack!

GIOVE-B global navigation satellite

Photo: European Space Agency

The GPS community has complained that LightSquared, a new wholesale 4G wireless company, could cause catastrophic interference that would render many GPS services inoperable.

But it turns out that the GPS companies may have done considerably more damage to themselves. A UK study by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that backups for global navigation services are essentially non-existent, and GPS is extremely susceptible to hacking, jamming and spoofing by anyone from a malicious attacker to a terrorist.

Taking down GPS wouldn’t just impact direction-seekers and people checking into stores on their smartphone apps. Between 6% and 7% of Western countries’ GDP is tied to satellite navigation, and a failure of GPS could do upwards of $1 billion of damage to the European Union alone, the study found. 

Yes, there is a real possibility of a wireless network interfering with GPS services, and the Academy has several recommendations for how to mitigate that effect.

But it doesn’t just have to be a wireless network: In 2002, a poorly installed closed-circut TV camera in Douglas, Isle of Man, caused GPS within a kilometer radius to be blocked.

The reason the GPS community is so susceptible to failure — both on a local level and massive level — is largely due to a lack in investment in its own technology. for instance, there are only 32 GPS satellites around the planet, two of which are inoperable. That worrisome, because 24 are needed to make the GPS constellation work.  

Times are tough for GPS companies, which are seeing share dwindling due to consumers’ increasing use of smartphones for satellite navigation. It’s understandable that they are upset about potential interference, especially if it’s emanating from a rival’s network.

But without serious upgrades to ensure the protection of their assets, it may all be a moot point -David

As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as ‘4G,’ although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed.

From the International Telecommunication Union, the wireless standards-setting body. 

(Translation: “Though they’re not 4G, we understand that some carriers are calling their networks 4G, and we’re kind of fine with that, because we’re tired of them yelling at us about this issue.”)

Mobile equipment is a quarter-trillion dollar business

iSuppli just put out a staggering figure: Mobile equipment, including phones, cordless phones, battery chargers, mobile infrastructure, mobile and fixed broadband access devices and wireless LAN equipment such as routers will reach $235.5 billion in sales this year.

The biggest chunk of that? 3G cell phones and smartphones, which generated $86.4 billion in 2010, up 35% from last year. Yowsers! -David