Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland. Report for The Scottish Government

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1 Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland Report for The Scottish Government September 2013

2 Table of Contents Executive Summary Introduction Background Research Methodology Findings Conclusion Recommendations Appendix A: Detailed Research Methodology Phase Phase Phase Phase Phase Appendix B: Stakeholder Engagement Appendix C: Customer Experience Appendix D: Glossary of Terms A report for the Scottish Government by Red Review Ltd in partnership with Edinburgh University Informatics Forum and Epitiro Ltd. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 2

3 Executive Summary Introduction Scotland s Digital Future: Infrastructure Action Plan 1, published on 31 January 2012, is explicit that achieving improved mobile coverage in Scotland is a key ambition of the Scottish Government (SG). This research reviews mobile performance and coverage in Scotland: assessing gaps, and determining the poorest served Local Authority (LA) areas for both 2G and 3G. These are presented as coverage maps in this report. Background Ofcom s current published data on coverage is for outdoor reception only, based on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) predictions of reception at a granularity level of 200 metre square pixels. This data indicates that 91.6% (2G) and 68% (3G) of Scottish premises have mobile coverage from all operators. These figures are population-based; measurement of geographic coverage only results in 27.5% of Scotland having no 2G coverage from any operator. 2 DCMS and Ofcom 3 recognise that signal strength-based technical assessment of coverage may not fully reflect consumers experience of mobile services. As measures evolve to cater for this real need 4, thresholds of acceptability are also changing. This is evidenced in Ofcom s raised measurement minimum threshold by 6 dbm in its 2012 Communications Market Report, compared to Methodology It was considered important that the research methodology chosen was consistent and comparable with analysis undertaken by both DCMS and Ofcom. A five-phase methodology was developed to measure the true customer experience in a range of levels as described by Ofcom. Evidence-based, it was able to tap into a combination of drive-by measures from Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and ScotRail, and crowdsourcing from Epitiro: reliable sources that allowed us to take a 12-month view. A quality assessment sample was undertaken by Edinburgh University Informatics Forum (EUIF) as was the data reconciliation between sources and mapping of the results. The creation of a new 3G prevalence measure allowed historical Ofcom data to be compared to that gathered for this project. In all, 85,000 samples were used for the proof of concept and 17,000,000 samples used for the main analysis with only six postcode sectors not returning data. A full 1 2 Source Ofcom Communications Market Report See main report Section 3 4 The real need is recognised here as the when and where people want to use their mobile devices Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 3

4 description of how these data sets were analysed is included at Appendix A. The original research scoping paper was communicated to a range of parties to ensure the research was credible and supported by stakeholders. Findings Not Spots 5 are generally found in areas where it is not commercially viable for the MNOs to provide their services, for example rural areas with scattered and remote premises. The results of this research, however, confirm that Not Spots are also frequently found in the urban environment. Detailed maps of the varying coverage in Edinburgh and Glasgow can be seen in Figs. 5 & 6 of this report. ScotRail research indicates that existing main rail routes have many sections of restricted coverage while comprehensive data provided by SAS has indicated that most of the main arterial roads have at least reasonable coverage. Country roads (A 3-digit and B roads), however, are similar to many of the rail routes with recorded Not Spots of both 2G & 3G, and the high probability that a call will cut out more than once during the journey. Industry and academic comment was sought on reasons for the findings and is set out in sections 4.2 and 4.6 of this report. Factors identified include high indoor usage trends, as measured by NTT NoDoCo and Cisco, as well as mast placement and planning permissions. Testing at postcode level reveals that in certain locations, some parts of the postcode can be a Not Spot while coverage in other parts of the postcode ranges between good to partial service. Independent verification from volunteer results matched in over 85% of the original data sets providing credibility to the earlier analysis. Conclusion In considering the research and its associated outputs, it became apparent that the evolution of the mobile business is stretching the mobile operators in two different directions. These are: The mobile as a form of personal communication that can be carried with you; and, The mobile as a form of data instrument. 5 For clarity, this research aligned its ultimate definition of a Not Spot with the Ofcom definition of 2011 as an area of 200 m by 200 m that has no service from any supplier with 'no service' being measured as a signal strength of worse than -100 dbm for 3G and -92 dbm for 2G. It is noted that while this report has been under construction Ofcom raised the 2011 levels by 6dBm. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 4

5 The conclusions reached were: i. This research has identified a large number of 2G and 3G Not Spots (2552 covering 352 postcodes) plus partial service areas spread across many parts of Scotland. These range from small rural communities to areas within the major cities. ii. iii. iv. Significant improvements will be required before mobile communications in Scotland can fully meet customers aspirations, particularly with the massive growth in use of smartphones and tablet devices. Based on user measurements, indoor coverage in Scotland is a cause for concern. As mobiles typically revert from 3G to 2G when signal quality deteriorates, poor indoor coverage is reflected in the relative measures for each generation (see Section 4.1, Figs 1 and 2). The perception that 4G rollout in major cities will improve the 2G and 3G performance in Scotland may only be realised as 3G customers migrate to 4G, thereby removing the contention currently experienced. This is likely to last only a short time, as the customer demand for accessing data increases. v. The investment profile proposed by DCMS for improvements to voice coverage through the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) is recognised by all parties as a welcome development. However it is anticipated that on its own, MIP is only likely to have a limited impact on mobile connectivity in Scotland. vi. vii. viii. The Local Authority (LA) coverage table (Fig. 11) provides an early indication of which LA areas should be considered for potential improvements to mobile coverage and performance. More widespread inter-network roaming arrangements, of the type utilised by EE during its network integration process, and also of the type used in the current roaming agreement for calls to emergency services, should be seriously considered (see also section 4.2). This research should be viewed as a starting point in supporting the development of a mobile strategy for Scotland. The recommendations below are intended to assist SG in meaningful discussions with Ofcom and the MNOs to determine practical steps to improve mobile performance and coverage in Scotland. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 5

6 Recommendations In reviewing the research findings, considerations and conclusion, there are a number of recommendations that should be considered by SG: 1. Share the research findings with Ofcom and MNOs, compare with their coverage maps and determine practical steps that would improve mobile performance and coverage in Scotland, including how the current regulatory regime may inhibit investment. 2. Undertake an assessment of the complete mobile Notspots in Scotland expected to remain following the implementation of MIP and work collaboratively with MNOs to develop a practical solution by which this issue can be overcome. 3. Review the planning system, and its implementation at local level, to ensure that it is proportionate and does not unduly inhibit the roll-out of mobile networks, particularly 4G. 4. Engage with MNOs on potential use of alternative technologies to address mobile performance issues. This could include femto and other small cell technologies to extend service coverage or increase network capacity. 5. Utilise the SG Demonstrating Digital programme to showcase new or emerging technologies that enhance mobile performance and coverage. 6. Working with Ofcom and MNOs, consider commissioning further research into mobile performance e.g. Cell Capacity Management (CCM), Quality of Experience etc. to produce a realistic set of customer measures. 7. Examine the radio performance of new mobile devices (e.g. smartphones and tablets) to establish its impact on mobile performance (particularly indoor coverage). 8. Engage with Ofcom and MNOs to consider the development of a mobile roaming facility across Scotland to improve mobile coverage and performance using the existing CTIL and MBNL infrastructure. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 6

7 1. Introduction Scotland s Digital Future: Infrastructure Action Plan 6, published on 31 January 2012, is explicit that achieving improved mobile coverage in Scotland is a key ambition of the Scottish Government. In support of this objective, this piece of research was commissioned by SG to review mobile performance issues in Scotland, assessing gaps and determining the poorest service LA areas for both 2G and 3G coverage. It was considered important that the methodology chosen was consistent and comparable with analysis undertaken by both DCMS in connection with MIP, and also with Ofcom s more general and ongoing analysis on mobile coverage. Ofcom commissions referred to in this work include reports from PA consulting 7 (2010), Illuminas 8 (2010), CFRS 9 (2011) and Mott MacDonald 10 (2012). In researching these sources it was recognised that definitions are changing as more intelligence is gathered and technology progresses (see also Ofcom s Update on Research ) 11. As a result, the methodology has taken this evolution into account as detailed in section 3 below. The main output from this research is the production of performance and coverage maps Definition: The issue of mobile Not Spots is a multifaceted one. This report identifies five distinct types of problems complete Not Spots (no coverage at all), 3G Not Spots (no mobile broadband coverage), partial (operator-specific) Not Spots, interrupted coverage on the move and indoor coverage. Distinguishing these issues is important, because the potential for commercial solutions to them varies, as does the nature and potential benefit of actions we might take. (Source: Ofcom Mobile Not Spots Update on Research.) highlighting both 2G and 3G Poor Service and Not Spot areas. These provide SG with a more comprehensive picture of performance and coverage issues than currently exists for Scotland to help inform future policy development PA Consulting Group: Not Spot research, impacts, causes and potential solutions for areas of poor coverage. Published April 2010: 8 Illuminas: Not Spots Research: November 2010: 9 CFRS: MobileNot Spot measurement campaign: February 2011: 10 Mott MacDonald: Rail 'Not-spots' - Technical Solutions & Practical Issues: January 2012: 11 Ofcom: Update on Research, a one page report: November 2010: Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 7

8 2. Background Ofcom s current published data on coverage is for outdoor reception only, based on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) predictions of outdoor reception at a granularity level of 200 metre square pixels. Published coverage figures are population-based; measurement of geographic coverage only results in 27.5% of Scotland having no 2G coverage from any operator. In terms of premises covered in Scotland, the evidence from customers is that whilst the data from the MNOs suggests 91.6% (2G) and 68% (3G) of all premises have mobile coverage from all operators, it does not truly highlight the issue of signal strength for outdoor and indoor coverage in both urban and rural areas. Indeed, Ofcom s Infrastructure Report 2012 Update 12 recognises the need to increase the minimum acceptable signal level by a factor of four over the 2011 figure to reflect a realistic service to the end user. There are many anecdotal statements (see Appendix C) about poor coverage (particularly on main commuter train routes) and the true coverage status in a selection of locations has been confirmed using the mobile testing processes. Indoor coverage, as a service (buildings as well as trains), is recognised by all informed parties as being difficult to provide consistently. Depending on the location within the premises that the user requires the signal, measurement via modelling or drive-by cannot provide an accurate picture for planners to use. During the data collection process the mobile operators understandably were hesitant to commit resource to new infrastructure till the commercial position post 4G auction was clear. In February 2013, Ofcom announced the conclusion of the 4G auctions (800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands). This is expected to lead to significant UK-wide investment in network infrastructure by the MNOs. The extent to which this investment will provide coverage in areas where there is currently none (i.e. complete not spots) is unknown but ongoing meetings between SG and the mobile operators are monitoring the investment outcomes. 12 Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 8

9 3. Research Methodology DCMS in its MIP Industry Stakeholder Engagement paper 13 (January 2012) quotes Ofcom s Infrastructure Report on signal strength where it sets out a number of reasons why its signal strength based technical assessment of coverage may not fully reflect consumers experience of mobile services (see paragraph 4.9 of the Ofcom Infrastructure Report). As a result, Ofcom recognises that while the level of signal strength used for the analysis provides a useful maximum level of predicted coverage in each area, it may, for a variety of service quality factors be set too low. Ofcom therefore intends to assess coverage at a range of different signal levels to give a more informed indication of consumers actual experiences. DCMS adds An important part of the MIP engagement is to consider with industry the minimum consumer experience below which an area would be considered a complete not-spot. As previously stated, the research methodology chosen was comparable with existing DCMS and Ofcom analysis. This research provides a significant set of performance and coverage outputs from a range of data sets to enable further discussion and research on mobile performance in Scotland. The following methodology is designed to build upon Ofcom s established published research and reflects the thinking quoted above seeking to measure the true customer experience in a range of levels as described by Ofcom. It is evidencebased, relying on a combination of customer testing, public sector research and supplier data resulting in a large volume of mobile testing data sets for Scotland. 13 DCMS: Mobile Infrastructure Project Industry Stakeholder Engagement: January 2012: Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 9

10 3.1 Planning The development of an independent, logical and sustainable process was key to delivering suitably robust data. In the early stages of the research, a number of methods were evaluated. These included: 1. Drive-by testing via spectrum analyser (akin to the drive tests in Devon previously undertaken by Ofcom); 2. Taking previously identified not spots and anecdotally identified areas with focused testing in these areas including requests to enter premises to deliver indoor results; and, 3. Production of an App and associated PR campaign to obtain a wide base of user type mobile instrument delivering quantifiable real time user data in sufficient quantity to provide a 'mobile census' database. These methods were not pursued on cost and timescales allowing the research team to focus on the following five-phase methodology supported by the flowchart in Fig A1 in Appendix A: Phase 1 a) Testing Specifications b) Proof of Concept Phase 2 a) Data Collection b) Data Analysis Phase 3 a) Performance and coverage Maps b) Comparison of Data Sets Phase 4 a) Quality Assurance (QA) Testing Phase 5 a) Identification of Poor Service Areas The detail for each of the Phases is shown in Appendix A. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 10

11 4. Findings Following the five-phase research approach, a number of key findings/results were produced. These are both technical and financial and are shown below: 4.1 Identification of Not Spots 14 Current thinking describes Not Spots as generally in areas where it is not commercially viable for the MNOs to provide their services. These are generally perceived as being predominantly rural areas with scattered and remote premises. This is borne out by the location of the Road and Rail Not Spots identified through SAS and ScotRail testing, and illustrated in Figs. 3 and 4. Determining an overall picture of mobile coverage across Scotland, however, required full user input across the country. Having analysed the various approaches, the research team concluded that the most resource-efficient way of amassing suitable data was through a combination of ongoing App testing; crowdsourcing data provided by Epitiro; ScotRail data (shared by Transport Scotland) from its own recent mobile testing study; and, Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) data from its ongoing data collection records. Collectively, these sources elicited over 100 million data points. The data points, when analysed, provided quality information pan-scotland covering urban and rural locations. The data contained measurements down to unit postcode level of signal strength for 2G and 3G, as well as the mobile operator network used during the testing. Figs 1 and 2 show the variety of signal strength at postcode level, while Fig 11 shows the percentage of Not Spots at LA level. It was important that any duplicate testing result/location was filtered out of the final data set, and that data points from the various sources were in a standard format to avoid conflicts. After close inspection of various data sets, the number of measurement samples used in the final analysis was narrowed down from 100 million to c. 17 million (see Fig 9 for the breakdown). Over 50,000 results were independently verified by volunteers, who were tasked with going to randomly selected postcode areas to perform testing. This exercise produced matched results with over 85% of the original data sets. 14 For clarity, this research aligned its ultimate definition of a Not Spot with the Ofcom definition of 2011 as an area of 200m by 200m that has no service from any supplier with 'no service' being measured as a signal strength of worse than -100dBm for 3G and -92dBm for 2G. It is noted that while this report has been under construction Ofcom raised the 2011 levels by 6dBm. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 11

12 The following two maps show 2G and 3G coverage, by postcode sector, based on the combined dataset. Fig 1: 2G Coverage by Postcode Sector (Data sources used: Combined Epitiro, Scottish Ambulance Service, ScotRail) Level Colour 2G (dbm) Notes Excellent Green > -77 Good Yellow -82 to -77 Average Blue -87 to -82 Fair Purple -92 to -87 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2012) Poor Red < -92 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2011) The percentage of Not Spots by LA are listed in Fig. 11. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 12

13 Fig 2: 3G Coverage by Postcode Sector (Data sources used: Combined Epitiro, Scottish Ambulance Service, ScotRail) Level Colour 2G (dbm) Notes Excellent Green > -85 Good Yellow -90 to -85 Average Blue -95 to -90 Fair Purple -100 to -95 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2012) Poor Red < -100 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2011) Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 13

14 In terms of road networks, the comprehensive data provided by SAS indicates that most of the main arterial roads have at least reasonable coverage. The country-type roads (A and B roads) have recorded Not Spots for both 2G and 3G. The research findings indicate that coverage on country roads is a significant problem. Testing highlighted that routes, such as A198, A941, A917, B738 and B709, were prone to insufficient signal or, in some cases, dropped calls. A prime example is the B709, where no 2G or 3G signal can be found for 90% of the road journey time (45 mins). Fig 3: Road Not Spots Data from ScotRail s recently undertaken research indicates that the main rail routes in Scotland (including Edinburgh Glasgow) have many sections of restricted bandwidth and coverage across all mobile operators with the high probability that a call will cut out more than once during the journey. The main commuter routes (i.e. Edinburgh Glasgow, Edinburgh Aberdeen) will be suitable for WiFi provision, but will require increased backhaul capacity to improve the customer experience. It is acknowledged, however, that provision of mobile services on rail routes presents additional challenges for MNO. These challenges include the rolling stock itself especially newer trains whose construction inhibits the penetration of mobile signals into the carriage. Fig 4: Rail indication of complete Not Spots The results of the crowdsourcing research (Epitiro) confirm that, contrary to traditional thinking, Not Spots are also found frequently in the urban environment evidencing the anecdotal reports. The 3G maps in Fig 5 and 6 illustrate the urban situation, focusing on performance in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Coverage at postcode level highlights a decidedly worse Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 14

15 position than expected. Note: Ofcom data on Not Spots in its Infrastructure Report (published November 2011 and updated July 2012) defines complete Not Spots as an area where no service provision is available from any mobile operator this is mirrored in these maps. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 15

16 Fig 5: Glasgow city centre with an insert showing the wider area (non-'key' colours are where no data was produced) Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 16

17 Fig 6: Edinburgh city centre with an insert showing the wider area and another showing the coverage for data signals on the roads (non 'key' colours are where no data was produced) Aberdeen (not shown here) was also analysed at this level of detail. Many areas in all three cities examined have average to poor performance. Possible reasons for these findings are highlighted in section 4.2. Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 17

18 In terms of the more rural areas Clackmannanshire is used as an illustration (see Figs 7 and 8). Although not one of the most poorly served LAs overall, large areas with poor coverage are prevalent. Fig 7: Clackmannanshire 3G Coverage Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 18

19 Fig 8: Clackmannanshire 2G Coverage Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 19

20 4.2 Performance Many of the findings from the research, particularly those relating to coverage in cities, do not reflect traditional thinking. These were discussed with key stakeholders, who were asked to highlight possible reasons and contributory factors. Mast placement and associated difficulties in obtaining planning permission were cited, along with the following issues: Cell Capacity Management (CCM), also known as cell breathing : 3G cells are configured to handle a particular capacity dependent on their location (e.g. urban or rural). As a cell load increases, the boundaries of that cell effectively shrink. The network automatically seeks to move some users into an adjacent cell (if there is capacity) at which time the signal level can perceivably drop in an area that is normally considered 'strong'. If coverage is measured during low usage, fewer not spots will be recognised and conversely, if measured during a period of high usage, a larger area of not spots will be found. This may have had an impact on some of the testing undertaken during this research. As might be imagined, cells in urban areas will require higher capacity and, therefore, will be designed as smaller cells to enable them to gain higher data rates. Further work is needed before a definitive judgement can be made on the impact of CCM in Scotland. It will be dependent on the type of manufacturer equipment in use in Scotland, as well as factors relating to downlink power. Additional background information is available in Ofcom s 3G Rollout Obligations Statement. 15 Indoor Coverage: Research undertaken by Cisco attributes 80% of mobile use to indoor activity Globally, 33% of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network through Wi-Fi or femtocell in Without offload, mobile data traffic would have grown 96% rather than 70% in This type of user activity demonstrates why the research showed the levels of both 2G and 3G to be lower than expected, as approximately 35% of the readings used were taken indoors. Roaming: Ofcom recently highlighted an important observation on roaming, which is relevant to our findings. As an operator, EE coverage levels are better than the coverage levels of its previous constituent companies (Orange and T-Mobile). This suggests that the national roaming implemented by EE during its network integration process, although acknowledged to have been a technically challenging process, has resulted an increased coverage and performance to that of the original standalone companies. Furthermore, in the UK today, roaming between all networks already exists for calls to emergency services. This suggests that barriers to using roaming as a way of improving coverage by all operators in a specific area are commercial in nature, rather than technical. Measurements: The distribution of measurements does not reflect the population base of the country. When we look closely at measurements by postcode, we see that, while the areas of higher population have on average between 6,000 and 40,000 samples, some of the other postcode areas can also have up to 6, Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 20

21 samples while some areas of lower population within Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross and Highland returned over 40,000 samples. There were six postcode areas (these were Jura, Coll, Raasay, the south shore of Loch Hourn, Iona and part of the Isle of Mull) that had no samples returned. Fig. 9 illustrates the distribution of samples across Scotland. Local Authority (LA) Total 2G 3G Measurements Measurements Measurements Measurements per 1000 people Aberdeen City 751,122 77, ,523 3,461 Aberdeenshire 218, , , Angus 106,629 24,138 82, Argyll & Bute 73,359 24,594 48, Clackmannanshire 25,968 11,939 14, Dumfries & Galloway 220,650 89, ,978 1,491 Dundee 281,444 31, ,180 1,954 East Ayrshire 134,509 34,641 99,868 1,121 East Dunbartonshire 154,811 25, ,697 1,474 East Lothian 122,331 33,404 88,927 1,248 East Renfrewshire 146,976 23, ,226 1,633 Edinburgh City 1,960, ,549 1,727,653 4,033 Falkirk 241,529 61, ,513 1,579 Fife 726, , ,008 1,990 Glasgow City 1,789, ,391 1,607,036 3,018 Highland 379, , ,955 1,711 Inverclyde 121,589 12, ,491 1,520 Midlothian 130,993 28, ,633 1,617 Moray 128,789 62,074 66,715 1,464 North Ayrshire 196,311 35, ,242 1,454 North Lanarkshire 321,640 54, , Orkney Islands 8,127 6,740 1, Perth & Kinross 238,328 85, ,386 1,610 Renfrewshire 389,820 50, ,738 2,293 Scottish Borders 93,621 53,384 40, Shetland Islands 18,333 16,296 2, South Ayrshire 172,217 30, ,883 1,552 South Lanarkshire 450,881 96, ,286 1,445 Stirling 157,886 44, ,307 1,754 West Dunbartonshire 169,377 17, ,104 1,861 West Lothian 401,631 73, ,602 2,335 Western Isles 11,261 10, Fig 9: Distribution of samples by Local Authority Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 21

22 3G Prevalence: A key element of the research was to measure 3G service availability. To compensate for the fact that Ofcom s model-based coverage analysis and measurement-based data sets are not directly comparable, a new measure termed 3G prevalence has been developed by EUIF that addresses both sets of data. The 3G prevalence measure aims to estimate how common it is for a given area to have 3G service relative to having only 2G service. Having 3G service implicitly means 2G availability as well. With measurement data, 3G prevalence estimation is based on the number of 3G and 2G measurement samples within the area of interest. Fig 10 below shows the prevalence coverage at LA level, with more detailed analysis (with illustrative maps) of this measure explained in Appendix A (Figs. A4 to A7). Fig 10: 3G Prevalence map by LA. Note: Prevalence data uses different colour key Colour 3G (dbm) Notes > -85 (The map shows variations between the colours, -85 to -90 e.g. orange is between yellow and red) -90 to to -100 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2012) < -100 Insufficient for good quality connection (Ofcom 2011) Mobile Performance and Coverage in Scotland 22

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