Mobile Accountability II

Christine Ekman

It’s a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be,
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me.

It’s Only A Paper Moon
lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose, 1933

I am deep into Nate Silvers book, The Signal and the Noise, which is about predictive modeling and statistical analysis.  It’s an acquired obsession. I’m interested in understanding how big data can overcome hearsay or long-held presumptions. Like, how do you convince baseball scouts that their expertise will be enhanced with predictive analysis (the story behind the movie Moneyball).

So what’s up with the above lyrics you ask? I think that people believe in their gut feelings and take marketing at its face value, not for the Barnum and Bailey world of illusions that it really is. The latest marketing of LTE services caught my eye. The wireless carriers all chose to represent their latest digital service offering, LTE, in analog graphics, or worse, in the case of AT&T, just an arrow.

LTE is a digital service and performance in wireless markets varies greatly. Users deserve more detailed information about performance and it needs to relate to their geography.

Root Metrics and Ookla are two companies that offer consumer apps for testing the wireless broadband speed and Mobile Pulse offers wireless network analysis for enterprise and government customers.

There is a widely held acceptance that the wireless networks are best effort networks.  Without data and analytics, service level agreements are not possible and the network will continue to perform as a best effort service.  Historically, SLA’s and data analytics, in the hands of customers, raise overall network performance, reliability and quality.

Without the application of detailed performance data from the subscriber base the industry will continue to design and upgrade the network on its terms not on user needs and expectations.

Enterprise and governments are in a unique position to negotiate performance level agreements with the carriers, the same carriers that have had Service Level Agreements (SLA) for their wire line services since the General Services Administration (GSA) began to require SLA’s in 1996. Yes the federal government introduced SLA’s, not the carriers. Without quantifiable performance data, it is nearly impossible to negotiate a service level agreement with a service provider.

Most wireless subscribers think they know the best performing carrier for their needs, and I’m guessing that their analysis is subjective and often flawed. In Moneyball, the Oakland A’s scouts felt that it was impossible and crazy to build a baseball team using sabermetrics (Bill James defined sabermetrics as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball”). The Boston Red Sox proved that sabermetrics could win the World Series.

As all of us become increasingly dependent on the wireless network in both our personal and work lives, the network needs to become more reliable. Crowd sourcing the network performance of the end devices enables the subscribers to analyze the performance of wireless networks in an objective manner. Until then, it’s a Barnum and Bailey network.

What can you do today?

  • Track your wireless carrier performance with apps
  • Start to ask your providers for performance level metrics
  • Formalize the tracking of user complaints

About Christine Ekman

Christine is a co-founder with Andrew MacFarlane at Mobile Pulse. Her years in telecommunications have spanned Ethernet, Frame Relay, Fiber LANs, xDSL and Cable data services. Mobile broadband is next generation of broadband service offerings. She has been advising startups and venture investors for over 12 years at Evolve Adapt Survive. Her clients have included SMARTS (now EMC), NGT (Comcast), Broadsoft, Grotech among many others. Previous to Evolve, Christine worked in mergers and acquisitions for Bay Networks (Nortel) and previous to that she worked as a broadband network design engineer at US WEST.