June 12, 2020

Network Quality: Expectation vs Reality

A behind the scenes look, as told by Ali Attique, Telco Systems Engineer at Circles.Life

Network Quality: Expectation vs Reality

Let’s face it — for most of us, we never leave our house without our mobile phones. While we’re out and on the go, network quality becomes paramount to us.

Be it a Telco or a Digital Telco, maintaining the quality and coverage of the network can be a pain. From the loss of signal strength indoors to congestion in populated areas, there are a dozen different factors that determine the quality of one’s data and voice services. But to most users, it’s summed up into just one thing — the telco experience. This makes it hard to narrow down the problem since we only know if someone is angry or just remains silent, or until we receive feedback from customers directly.

Since customer experience is the core value of Circles.Life telco business, delivering the best telco services must be our priority.

Network Quality of Service: Expectation vs Reality

Third-party surveys carried out by independent organizations for telco operators in Singapore consistently give us high ratings and things certainly seem great. But when subscribers’ offered feedback about network troubles, it prompted us to investigate and take immediate action.

The Problem?

Giving customers the power to control their telco experience has always been our mission — the voice of our customers is always at the heart of everything we do. However, the challenge posed was unique this time: the quality of services delivered via the Radio Network.

Traditionally, Telcos have a fleet of Radio Frequency (RF) Optimization and Planning engineers to sort out network quality and coverage problems. These teams use specialized equipment to identify locations with poor or zero coverage and optimize the network for radio signals to reach every nook and cranny.

The only thing we had? Our customers.

Getting To The Solution Quickly & Efficiently

Each customer’s phone — a tiny but powerful computer capable of radio measurements — was able to store network data, which is precisely what we needed to diagnose this problem.

We piloted a network improvement project in Singapore using crowdsourced data. Our users, who had opted in to share their network-related data, helped us collect anonymized and relevant information from their handsets.

Coverage map of Singapore with Circles.Life

We correlated network measurements from customer handsets (RSRP, RSRQ, RSSNR, CQI, and more) with cell tower information. This identified areas where the problems occurred. By aggregating that information together with network surveys and customer complaints, we were able to establish a matrix to better comprehend what constitutes a good or bad service quality.

Measurement Matrix: What Constitutes a Great Quality of Service (QoS)

Taking it a step further, we did not just refer to international standards and the quality levels as specified by other parties as indicators of good versus bad — we are using what our customers constitute to be “the good, the bad, and the ugly” levels of network quality.

With traditional methodologies, rolling out network improvements require sending engineers for on-site tests before optimization even begins, followed by weeks of planning before the final implementation of network changes. With the crowdsourced data, we could directly know the areas where our subscribers were affected most. There is no longer a need for lengthy radio test exercises spanning over weeks for data collection. Changes in network quality were almost immediately available.

By feeding these sets of criteria and measurements into our engineering systems, we were ready to shed some light on this elusive problem. Our engineering teams and systems were even more customer-centric than before. We now had the means to proactively and rapidly respond to changing network conditions for our subscribers be it from weather patterns, network congestion or faults on the radio interface itself.

What We Found

Our first massive discovery came from an area where some 600 subscribers were reporting bad network quality; this was below the reported average coverage and quality measurements. In fact, there was a network null spot (zero coverage) near a junction of a few buildings. A massive 3,000+ devices had reported these null values.

An example of an area of no coverage as reported by participants (for illustrative purposes)

We sought out our supplier and partner operator with the quantified data in hand and made it possible for our partners to roll out an immediate action plan. The actions and changes made for improvement were executed at speeds 10x faster than before, which was not possible with traditional methods and processes of radio optimization. Since then, both areas now have significantly better coverage — not just at the ideal standard but immensely better.

Data connection of our subscribers in percentage‌‌

Consequently, we also discovered that Singaporeans spend the most time on high-speed networks with Circles and its partner network. But why does the chart above still have 3G, you ask? Turns out, some subscribers still have handsets which only support voice calls on 3G — we are inclusive and we leave no soldier behind!

Furthermore, we have now set up response teams with our partners, working closely and continuously with them to enhance the telco experience not only for our customers, but also for those of our partners. A big shout out to our telco partner for believing in our methodology.

Although some would count this as a victory, we will continue to pursue only the best, as we are not yet satisfied with the results we have achieved.

What’s Next?

We believe that all of Singapore deserves a great telco experience — Circles.Life is making sure of it. In fact, we’re not stopping there. We have plans to roll out the same program across all countries we operate in! This solution will be integrated into our platform, taking our already revolutionary telco stack to the next level. Look out Taiwan and Australia, because a network boost may be coming soon! Because everyone deserves a great telco experience.