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Monitoring mobile coverage

Starting: 09 Oct Ending

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Monitoring mobile coverage

BEREC CN(17)63

DRAFT

P1
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

In the fulfilling of their duties, a number of National regulatory authorities (NRAs)  are monitoring mobile coverage[1]. There are a number of reasons why mobile coverage monitoring is necessary, for example:

  • To provide independent and reliable information on the state of mobile coverage in their respective countries. Such information is often made available by the NRAs to consumers, respective national governments and the European Commission. Besides, by communicating mobile coverage and publishing maps or data at regular intervals, NRAs inform consumers about the coverage of their MNO, give an overview of national networks development and consequently contribute to more competition and investment. Publishing comparable metrics or maps increases transparency and helps consumers to make informed decisions before subscribing to a MNO and thus promotes competition.
  • To ensure mobile network operators (MNOs) meet their coverage obligations. NRAs monitor the mobile coverage so as to assess if the operators comply with the conditions and obligations set out in the licences. This can help increasing spectrum efficiency through greater geographic and population coverage with positive impact on the reduction of the digital divide.

This document contains the outcome from a first BEREC assessment addressing how mobile coverage measurement and publication are achieved by some European NRAs. This assessment focuses on the objective of some NRAs to provide independent and reliable information. It does not intend to change the way NRAs monitor mobile coverage to ensure mobile network operators (MNOs) meet their coverage obligations set out in the licences/right of use (RoU) of the mobile operators (second point above).

The document draws on first exchanges of experiences between NRAs and from information provided by NRAs in response to a questionnaire from the Institute for Management of Innovation and Technology (IMIT).

The document gives the high-level characteristics that are essential to the provisioning of mobile coverage information to consumers, policy makers and industry. More specifically, the document covers the following aspects:

  1. Define a common vocabulary for mobile coverage;
  2. Describe the main characteristics of mobile coverage measurement and reporting, and some of the key standards used in this space;
  3. Highlight the main mobile services that are monitored by NRAs;
  4. Describe some of the key features of maps used by NRAs to report on mobile coverage; and
  5. Serve as a first step forwards future BEREC work.

 

[1] This document is focused on the experience of NRAs which are monitoring mobile coverage and does not cover the experience of other entities (public or private) which may perform similar activities.   

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P2
V02
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

This document highlights the following points:

  1. Variation in measurement metrics and methods: there are different ways of estimating and presenting mobile coverage. BEREC has noted that NRAs and the European Commission use different methods, all of which have the common aim of providing reliable mobile coverage information in the form of figures and maps
  2. These variations are due to the fact that there are different ways to measure MNOs mobile coverage. For example, theoretical modelling may be used to give coverage estimates. Similarly, actual RF measurements on the ground may also be used. Each technique has its own merits and shortcomings. In any case, all techniques invariably require statistical analysis in some form or shape.
  3. The different ways to measure MNOs mobile coverage can be explained by the fact that Member States have imposed different coverage obligations to resolve the specific coverage issues they deal with. Different coverage obligations may require different measurement metrics and measurement methods to best assess MNO’s compliance with those obligations.
  4. BEREC also notes here that variations in measurement metrics and methodologies across Europe can lead to the following:
    1. Difficulty in comparability of coverage of different European Member States: Those differences in the methodology can make it difficult to compare mobile coverage.
    2. Inconsistency across different Member States from the point of view of an individual MNO,
    3. Inconsistency across different Member States from the point of view of providers of innovative digital services for vertical use cases across Europe, for example, connected and automated transport system and 5G applications.

This document has also highlighted two key areas which are essential in the process of measuring and reporting on mobile coverage. The following gives a list of the two areas and highlights the areas of where some commonality already exists, areas where effort into achieving commonality is being undertaken and areas where effort could be directed in the future.

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P3
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

Performance metrics

P4

  • RF aspects: this relates to the received signal power and similar technical metrics. Whilst there is some consensus on the metrics across different mobile technologies, there is probably a need for further work in this area to explore the range of metrics NRAs use and the measurement methodologies.
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P5
V02
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

  • Quality of Service (QoS): this document focuses on two services namely, voice and Internet access service (IAS). With regards to voice telephony, generally use the same metrics with perhaps variation in the measurement methodologies. For IAS, this is related to IP layer three metrics and possibly higher layers as well. A great deal of effort is being undertaking to achieve higher levels of harmonisations for Internet metrics and methodologies under the BEREC Net Neutrality Expert Working Group [1].

 

[1] BEREC Net Neutrality Regulatory Assessment Methodology, published on October 2017.

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P6
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

  • Quality of Experience (QoE): no NRA currently uses QoE other than perhaps for information reporting.
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P7
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

  • Time availability: this study has highlighted variations in the practices of some of the NRAs. For example, some NRAs specify time availability whilst others do not. Furthermore, there is no common figure for time availably amongst NRAs who do specify time availability.
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P8
V02
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

Presentation of coverage

 

In this document, BEREC found that many NRAs employ maps as a useful tool for conveying mobile coverage to a wide audience and provide with a greater level of transparency. Indeed, some NRAs consider maps as an essential tool to promote competition amongst operators. BEREC found the following high-level set of quality indicators for coverage maps:

  • Accuracy,
  • Transparency,
  • Level of detail,
  • Level of granularity and
  • Accessibility for a wider audience.
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P9
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

To highlight existing commonalities and make maps easier to interpret and compare, NRAs could make their best effort to indicate the characteristics of the mobile coverage and consider including, as much as possible, the following indicators:

  • Type of service
  • User location
  • User equipment
  • Performance indicator
  • Service availability on a covered area

BEREC thinks that the following steps could also increase clarity should NRAs publish coverage maps:

  • NRAs could seek to improve the comparability between MNOs at mapping level – this would improve matters at least at the national level;
  • The maps should be with sufficient levels of details and accuracy. In particular, NRAs may want to consider publishing multi-layer maps, for example with layers indicating different levels of coverage, such as “limited”, “good” and “very good”.
  • In order to compare the maps of the different countries in Europe, it could be useful to determine a “minimum granularity” that shows a minimum of geographical precision.

Further development on monitoring mobile coverage ought to be undertaken to establish in detail the range of current NRA practices from which commonalities can be drawn. This goal is best served by the following programme of activities:

  1. Conduct a detailed survey of the practices of NRAs which covers mobile measurements, data processing, mapping, etc., in the context of their national circumstances, taking into account for example geographic factors, legacy and coverage obligations. This would help by bringing into one document detailed expertise drawn from the practices of the NRAs in this area.
  2. With the outcome of the survey, specify the metrics and methodologies, and design a recommendation for Best Practices which would contribute to a more consistent approach while preserving the ability to take into account particular national circumstances where necessary.
  3. Draw commonalities from the outcome of the survey.
  4. Further explore linkage with the European Commission’s broadband mapping initiative.
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P10
V01
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

This section reviews the essential elements needed to measure and present mobile coverage information in the regulatory domain. It also provides a high-level description of the techniques used by NRAs for coverage estimation and presentation.

In mobile communications, mobile applications, as the means to deliver digital services, often need to communicate with two or more end points in order to fulfil their tasks, and the role of a mobile network is to furnish the supply of connectivity and QoS to enable the workings of such applications.

In principle, mobile coverage is an expression of the extent to which mobile connectivity in support of mobile applications can be enabled, as a percentage of a given geographic area (national, indoor, outdoor, road, etc.) or population.

In general, mobile networks deliver the following types of services, namely:

  • Vertically-integrated SMS and MMS;
  • Vertically-integrated voice telephony (including VoLTE);
  • Vertically-integrated specialised services; and
  • Internet access service.

Usually, NRAs monitor the mobile coverage for voice telephony and IAS, and hence this document mainly focuses on these two main types of services. It is noted that some NRAs are also monitoring coverage for Internet of Things services provided by mobile networks, those services being usually delivered through IAS or vertically-integrated specialized services.

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P11

One of the characteristics of mobile networks is to provide services to consumers in different locations such as in rural areas, in urban areas, in road vehicles, on trains, etc. It follows that the users can be located in an indoor or outdoor environment, can be static, in slow or high movement. User locations may be categorised in the following ways:

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P12
V04
Author: Savvas Andreadis Berec Office Date: 10 October 2017

  • Indoor: this means inside buildings or places in which there is typically an extra shielding of the radio signal compared to the outdoor usage. Depending of the indoor location of the user the received radio signal varies. The extra shielding attenuation is highly dependent of several factors such as the type of materials, walls, height, etc. Indoor mobile communications represent the majority of user cases.
  • Outdoor (static or slow movement): this means outside buildings or places where typically there is not an extra shielding of the radio signal compared to the indoor usage. Depending on the outdoor location of the user the received radio signal varies.
  • In transport (car or train, in slow or high movement): this means inside an automotive vehicle {1}[1] or a railway vehicle {2}[2] in which there is typically an extra shielding of the radio signal compared to the outdoor usage. Depending on the ‘in transport’ location/velocity of the user, the received radio signal varies.

Indoor and in transport situations render the evaluation of the mobile coverage more challenging because coverage in such locations depends on a number of factors such as the type of building materials, vehicle / train construction, location within building, vehicle and train, etc.

Therefore, many NRAs set higher requirements for outdoor conditions to make sure that mobile signal is available indoor as well. The indoor coverage is then evaluated in reference to the outdoor coverage immediately available outside a given building. For example, some NRAs set a predetermined attenuation (x dB) between the signal outside and inside buildings. However, a fixed attenuation cannot be accurate for all buildings, especially for example, for energy efficient buildings which attenuate radio signals more than conventional buildings.

BEREC and RSPG are also working on a joint report dedicated to mobile connectivity in challenged areas including indoor and in transport environments.

 

[1] Any vehicle as defined by Council Directive 70/156/EEC.

[2] As defined by Regulation (EC) No 91/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council.

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P13

There are many different devices used for accessing mobile services which can influence the mobile coverage of the serving MNO. Mobile phones, smartphones, tablets and wearables such as smartwatches or smart glasses are personal user equipment (handsets) which can influence the connectivity by the way they are handled.

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