By Brendan Gill, CEO of OpenSignal
Consumer trust, or rather the lack of it, has been making headlines across all industries and the telecoms sector is no exception.
A recent survey conducted by Broadband Genie found that 62 percent of British broadband users feel that broadband advertising is dishonest.
It gets even more harrowing: 30 percent think they have been actively misled by broadband providers in the last 12 months.
What are they most upset about? Speed.
Seventy four percent of respondents feel they have been misled because the service they experienced was slower than expected.
Just a week after the survey results were made public in January, Ofcom revealed its rankings for the most complained about mobile and broadband firms across the nation.
Numbers have remained fairly steady in comparison to last quarter yet the regulator believes “providers need to up their game in service quality and complaints handling”.
Although operators are gradually accepting that understanding true experience on their services is key to keeping their subscribers satisfied, it seems regulatory intervention is inevitable.
Last year, we saw the first signs of what that intervention might look like for players in the wireless industry.
Ofcom and CAP (Committees of Advertising Practice) issued rulings in October that set new guidelines for how ISPs market speed claims for their fixed line broadband services.
Those rulings may be stepping stones to similar guidelines for mobile service providers in the coming years.
The same month, Ofcom announced updates to its code of practice requiring ISPs to inform customers they may experience slower network connections at peak times of day.
In November, CAP announced advertising guideline changes requiring "average” network speed claims used in advertisements to be based on the download speed available to at least 50 percent of customers at peak times.
As a company committed to reporting actual versus approximated subscriber experience, we applaud decisions like these that bring greater transparency to the telecoms industry.
Based on our reporting, we see important implications for mobile ISPs that may be subject to similar guidelines in the future.
In September, we examined both average speed* and peak speed** results for the UK's major mobile operators.
While EE had both the fastest average LTE speeds and the highest peak speed in our consumer tests, results for the other operators we examined left more room for interpretation.
For example, we found that Vodafone had higher peak speeds than Three, which would indicate Vodafone had the capability of providing faster speeds at optimal times.
But Three had faster average 4G speeds than Vodafone in our tests.
A network capable of delivering higher speeds doesn't necessarily equate to a fast overall experience.
If we were to only report on the optimal speeds a network can deliver, we would be doing consumers a disservice.
Our results are illustrative of the range of network speeds referenced in the Ofcom and CAP decisions, and why setting benchmarks that help users unravel the mystery of network performance are so important.
For all operators, unravelling the mystery of mobile experience starts with understanding the source of consumer frustration.
It’s not necessarily because users don’t get a 4G signal when trekking in remote locations, or that their speeds are fluctuating during the average day.
Satisfaction, or frustration, is the result of the difference between expectation and experience.
In telecoms, the gap between the two is magnified through high claims users are expecting, but never experiencing, based on operators’ best-case-scenario speed claims.
Inflated speed claims might make catchy advertising copy but they can also backfire: they elevate expectations only to leave users with the sour aftertaste of frustration when the headline claims of 40MBps network speeds never materialise.
As internet connectivity is gradually evolving to become a basic consumer right, operators have an opportunity to step up their trust game.
It starts with transparency, clear language and honest speed claims.
*Our 4G average speed metric measures our users' typical everyday 4G experience.
**Peak speed measures 4G connections at their best — when devices are able to access the full capacity of the network unfettered by congestion or other technical limitations.