Mobile Broadband Under The Microscope
September 7, 2012

FCC To Start Testing Mobile Broadband Speeds

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Americans have what we call a “healthy” appetite when it comes to mobile data usage. In fact, in February, AT&T reported mobile traffic on their network is doubling every year, as opposed to the previously suggested 40% annual growth rate.

This is a trend which could continue worldwide, as analyst group Informa Telecoms & Media reported a few months later that global users will begin to consume 6.5 times more video, 8 times more music and a whopping 10 times more online games than they have in previous years.

With mobile data usage growing at such an exponential rate, the FCC has found it fit to begin evaluating mobile broadband speeds in the US. Beginning September 21st, the federal agency will begin providing customers with detailed information about the speed of their mobile broadband connections across the nation.

This new program, entitled Measuring Mobile America, will work hand in hand with major mobile broadband providers, research and public interest groups, and independent third parties to rate the performance of wireless data services.

Measuring Mobile America (MMA) will be modeled after an existing program, similarly titled Measuring Broadband America, which issued a report in July detailing the performance of broadband ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon FiOS. According to this July report, these ISPs were delivering 87% of advertised speeds to their customers during peak hours, from 7PM to 11PM.

"We know from experience: transparency on broadband speeds drives improvement in broadband speeds," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a press statement.

This new program will test the performance of America´s major mobile carriers on smartphones and tablets in a process which will, according to Genachowski, "empower consumers and encourage improvements in mobile networks and programs, benefitting millions of Americans."

While this new testing program promises powerful information to consumers, it isn´t the first time the FCC has attempted to test America´s mobile broadband networks. In 2010, the FCC launched their first mobile app recruiting users to test their mobile broadband speeds wherever they were. In addition to measuring raw speed, the mobile app also measured jitter, latency and upload speeds. Based on these results, the FCC issued a report announcing the difference between “advertised” broadband speeds and actual speeds had improved “substantially” since 2009.

According to the FCC´s most recent data, consumers are, by and large, able to take advantage of 96% of a carrier´s advertised speeds.

The MMA program will be announced at an open meeting on September 21st, where the Commission staff will explain the full details of the program. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and the CTIA said they will cooperate with this new program as well.

In a statement concerning the 2010 mobile broadband testing app, Genachowski said, "Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition.”

Armed with this data, consumers stand to benefit as their carriers continually work to bring these fast, advertised speeds to their smartphones and tablets. After all, based on the past 5 years, our mobile data consumption isn´t going to slow any time soon, especially considering the boom of 4G-enabled devices.