Dropped call? It might be your phone

If you’re dropping a lot of calls, don’t instinctively blame your network operator. A new study has found that different handsets offer vastly different network experiences. By Craig Wilson.

John Strand

John Strand

A consumer’s choice of handset, and how they hold it, can have a huge impact on the quality of their calls and connections they experience. And, ironically, older phones tend to offer better network performance than newfangled smartphones.

These are some of the findings from a new report from Danish consulting firm Strand Consult, which says that just as different cars perform differently on the same fuel, mobile phones perform differently even if on the same network.

Conducted in Denmark, the study focused on the top-selling handsets in the region, including the iPhone range, the top-end devices in the Samsung Galaxy range, the HTC Wildfire and a selection of Nokia cellphones. BlackBerry handsets, which are not particularly popular in Denmark, were excluded from the testing.

The study found that the antennae inside the best phones are up to 10 times better than those found in the worst phones and that although neither networks nor manufacturers are allowed to publish information about which handsets are best suited to which networks, those handsets that best match a particular network’s parameters will inevitably perform better.

According to the study, this shows a need for uniform global disclosure of network standards and handset specifications. Strand Consult warns that although it is tempting to make a list of the best and worst performing handsets, without the “proper context” drawing up such a list is “not appropriate”.

The aim of the study was to demonstrate that there are a wide number of variables that affect a user’s network experience and not to condemn or laud specific handset manufacturers. Furthermore, the study hopes to encourage manufacturers to disclose more information about their handsets so that consumers can make informed, network-specific purchasing decisions.

The study also points out that other factors, including hardware, software and even the number of applications on a device, all affect network service quality. The way a handset is held also has an impact, as Apple learnt the hard way with its iPhone 4 “antenna-gate” debacle. According to the Strand Consult study, it’s possible to hold a handset in such a way that it blocks the interior antenna’s connection to the network.

Interestingly, the study found that the newest and most popular smartphones — Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and Apple’s iPhone 5 — fared worse than their respective predecessors when using the lower GSM900/UMTS900 frequency band.

The tests were conducted in laboratory conditions using an artificial head and hand designed to simulate how a person uses a mobile phone.

Strand Consulting head John Strand says network performance is becoming increasingly important, particularly in regions where capital investment is limited and regulators are becoming more demanding about the quality of service mobile operators offer.

“If customers start buying phones that don’t offer the right quality on the right network, it has an impact on user experience, which could see operators accused of not providing suitable service levels,” he says.

Another challenge facing operators, especially in developing regions like Africa, is that the cost of building network infrastructure is similar in markets with relatively high mobile phone charges as in markets with relatively low charges. Developing countries tend to fall into the latter category. Where there are backhaul and power constraints, it can actually turn out to be more expensive to deploy networks.

“Network quality is important for Africa because mobile communication is fundamental for African development,” Strand says. “We need serious debate about how we create good mobile coverage. Often everything is blamed on operators, from network quality to coverage and capacity, and it’s important to say that the regulator has a role, and that the quality of phones has a role.”  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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  • Biscuit1018

    I for one would love to see objective data on phone, network, area combinations. My views are perception driven and I am inclined to blame the network.
    Having said that I am relatively convinced that my old Nokias (feature and candy bar) perform better voice wise than the modern feature phones.

    I still have most of my old Nokias and every now and again I trot them out as a 2nd phone when I travel overseas. Must admit, whilst I dont miss the lack of features I do miss the solid voice platform with a battery that goes on forever.

  • Scryer

    This article is a bit one sided. Trying to put the blame on the phone manufacturers, while portraying the mobile operators as innocent victims of slander. I therefore only have one question: Who funded the study? Mobile operator(s)?!

  • http://twitter.com/scrookson Sean Crookson

    I recall a discussion concerning one network operator who privately claimed to make millions by dropping calls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-Andersen/1061883709 Martin Andersen

    iPhone4 on MTN the best experience I had thus far. Even roamed with no hassle in the middle East 2 years ago with 0 problems.

  • Tracey

    The point on the phones is absolutely true. Have demonstrated the same in areas where people are complaining about their signals on a “smart” phone. An old Nokia shows full signal strength each time, whilst the smart phone barely shows a bar. Keep those old phones – less SAR levels too! Loudspeaker use is also clearer so you do not have to place it against your head!

  • baasted_123

    I have had the same crappy experience from MTN with various phones. One time in December I tried calling a friend. After 6 failed call setup attempts from me, and a few subsequently from him, we just gave up. Sad thing is that MTN got money for at least 10 calls and we did not get a word in. Eventually sent him an email. You cannot make a call for longer than 10 minute without it dropping anymore. Let alone driving along the highway and trying to keep a call up.

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