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Status Check: Mobile Data Experience in Train

I am a heavy-user of data services and basically hooked – not addicted – to web, email and cloud services. To succeed in my job, I just need always-on connectivity. Our business moves fast, and to stay on top of it I need to be a bit faster!

Finland: Good Coverage, Ample Capacity

Mobile networks in Finland are in extremely good shape (see for instance our latest survey, over 40Mbit/s on average). We have 3G practically everywhere and LTE widely available as well. The ongoing LTE800 rollouts are further improving the situation. People in Finland enjoy generally good coverage with ample capacity. This is what we expect!

In-train Mobile Data Needs

At home and at office I mainly use WiFi. Practically the only time I regularly need mobile data is when I am commuting to/from work.


hyvinkaa train office 02

I live in Hyvinkää and travel the 50km trip with train on daily basis. The trip takes up to an hour per direction, so I will sit in the train approximately two hours each working day during the morning and evening rush hours. And it is exactly those two hours when I most desperately need my mobile operator’s data services.

Sizeable Segment: The “Passengers”

To put it simple, the mobile data experience in train basically represents my whole customer experience of mobile data services. And believe me, I am not alone! Working in Helsinki and living in surrounding cities is very popular. My regular train route transports over 4M trips annually. The morning traffic of last 20 km to Helsinki is served by 35 trains in between 7:00-9:00 am. That’s a full train every 4 minutes.

And what people typically do in the train? They try to suck each and every single bit available from the surrounding cell towers with their laptops, smartphones and tablets. The network is basically under a constantly ongoing stress test.

Be-the-Customer Status Check

This is the reason for writing this blog post: The mobile data experience with my service provider does not work well in my regular train route and I think something needs to be done. In fact, I cannot access the services I need at all in a reliable fashion.

To see if it’s just me and to quantify the true status with all operators, I decided to make a complete reality check. Are all operators equally bad?

One of our technicians configured a robust engineering grade test setup for me:

  • Three iPhone 5s terminals with commercial SIM cards
  • WWW browsing test script to access news sites in periodic fashion
  • Anite’s NEMO CEM software to record test logs for post processing

I was ready to test the three operators DNA, Elisa and Sonera in a true be-the-customer fashion.

iphone hbl hs il is kl

Results: Operators Not Capitalising on “Passengers”

Compared to reference cluster measurements, where nearly 100% of WWW page retrievals are successful, with in-train measurements only 77% of web page trials are completed (Number of trials =1090).

Another conclusion one can draw is the fact in train there are sizable quality differences between operators. In typical conditions all Finnish operators are usually neck and neck and performing almost equally well.

www success rate

Browsing is of course not only about successes and failures, but it’s also the www browsing speed defining the customer experience. The results show that in-train web page retrievals take about twice the time they take in the reference cluster.

www waiting time

If people are sometimes unhappy with the mobile services in general, the results show that in-train customer experience is certainly not in par with typical end-user expectations.

To me it looks that Finnish operators are not capitalising on the business opportunity. As operators are constantly looking ways to differentiation, I think this would be a great opportunity:

  1. Make the QoS on acceptable level
  2. Make a sharp and focused marketing campaign
  3. Enjoy the increased market share!

A Few Thoughts

While minding the network performance on average level is indeed mandatory, I think that operators could be more customer (segment) centric in terms of network development and also their marketing.

Average QoS tells you the overall competitive positioning between operators, but it easily (and by definition) averages out the experience of different subscriber segments. Different segments often have very different needs and traffic patterns. The illustrated “Passenger” segment is only one example.

So, make sure my services work better in the future, me and my fellow passengers have plenty of interesting blogs to read!