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Troubleshooting mobile handset performance at network level

Stuart Waine of Spry Fox Networks explains why a strong mobile signal is futile if end user devices are unable to deliver satisfactory Quality of Service (QoS)

In a world dominated by technology, reliable mobile coverage for high speed voice and data services is taken for granted regardless of location and its usage is no longer limited to conventional communications. Ubiquitous mobile connectivity is one of the primary enablers underpinning process automation. With the much-anticipated rollout of 5G and the M2M communications benefits it promises to deliver, combined with exponential growth of self-help services to reduce in-person contact in the aftermath of Covid-19, demand for seamless mobile connectivity and resilient ICT infrastructures, particularly inside buildings, has never been higher.

 Causes of poor signal strength

However, irrespective of device type, a mobile handset is only as good as quality and strength of the mobile signal(s) it is able to receive. A range of factors can interfere with reception levels including terrain, topography, physical location, electromagnetic spectrum and adverse weather conditions. Building structures are particularly detrimental to signal strength and quality because their complex layouts and glass/metal/concrete facades are the ultimate mobile signal blockers. This is particularly true for the higher 4G and 5G frequency bands needed for super-fast Internet access.  Another factor, often completely overlooked, is the device itself. The make, manufacturer, model and mobile operator all affect performance, and a lousy phone signal whether your indoors or outdoors equates to poor QoS.

The truth about bars and masts

Performance issues are often caused by devices not dynamically connecting to the best available signal source, a problem that is exacerbated within buildings. Equally, signal reception levels (indicated by number of phone signal bars) are totally arbitrary due to discrepancies between the different mobile operators and devices.

Smartphones are designed to automatically connect to those phone masts with the strongest signal, within parameters set by the mobile network. However, if there is a capacity issue for example, the device will often be instructed by the mobile network to look for an alternative signal source and not necessarily revert back to the mast with the strongest signal once this has been resolved, again controlled by the mobile network.

Signal reception challenges are not only frustrating for an end-user perspective. A dropped call or a lost internet connection can mean the difference between winning or losing a major business deal. The consequences are not just user-related either, they can impact wider applications that are mobile-signal dependent such as access control, lights, CCTV systems, contactless payments as well as sensor-driven processes.

Overcoming seamless connectivity challenges

With more and more businesses opting for mobile only strategies for performance and operational reasons inside their respective premises, they are totally dependent on seamless mobile connectivity, so optimal signal strength and device performance levels must be maintained 24×7.

Wi-Fi 

An obvious solution to the in-building connectivity challenge is to install an ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi network and while this goes a long way to providing the levels of coverage needed, it does not resolve the seamless connectivity challenge in its entirety. The entry point to many Wi-Fi systems is via copper cabling which, if damaged, is prone to leakage, thus impacting upload and download speeds. Additionally, In-building Wi-Fi is propagated via a series of access points and QoS for all connected devices is dependent on their proximity to those access points. Not only that, due to their makeup, Wi-Fi systems cannot usually guarantee the levels of security needed in business, putting companies at risk to cybercrime.

Mobile repeater systems

Another possible solution to the in-building connectivity challenge is to make use of mobile repeater systems or femtocells. But these don’t totally solve the problem either. Although such systems and technologies are able to improve the quality of the different signals they’re broadcasting, they cannot guarantee that the end user devices they are supporting are receiving the highest levels of coverage. Furthermore, whilst there are a range of off-the-shelf service assurance apps readily available, most of them are device-specific and do not resolve the performance and QoS challenges at a network level. As a result, many organisations are still reliant on round the clock network monitoring which is not only resource-intensive, but with coverage issues not being detected in advance, troubleshooting initiatives are reactive rather than proactive.

Safety critical communications systems

The need for seamless connectivity and QoS are taken to the next level if a mobile repeater installation is being used to facilitate safety critical communications, as is often the case in basement locations. With the UK set to migrate its existing public safety communications network from the Airwave network to the new 4G-based Emergency Services Network (ESN), all commercial properties will be obliged to review their in-building mobile coverage strategies because without a reliable 4G signal, first responders and blue light services will not be able to effectively co-ordinate an emergency situation. Not only does this put lives at risk, it poses the question of who would be culpable in the event of a public enquiry!

 Mobile repeaters in isolation do not assure QoS 

As well as installing supplementary mobile repeater equipment to improve in-building mobile signal strength, commercial entities need an efficient means to meticulously monitor the different services and networks being supported, so issues such as outages or capacity can be swiftly identified and resolved before they become problematic. Not only does this offer service assurance, it dramatically cuts down on support and monitoring costs associated with larger networks.

The future of 5G and digital automation, as well as the success of the UK’s new ESN are all dependent on seamless in-building mobile coverage and QoS assurance. Futuristic IoT-driven applications still need to align with existing protocols and methods, and dynamic network monitoring to assure the fastidious performance of all connected devices will be instrumental in optimising cost-efficiency, safety and security as well as ensuring coverage levels are maintained for both M2M and person to person applications.

About Spry Fox Networks

Based in Swindon, Spry Fox Networks specialises in developing and commissioning end-to-end communications to enhance in-building mobile coverage for a range of industries including healthcare, care homes and local government organisations. Services include providing mobile coverage solutions, technical consultancy and system design, development and deployment.  In particular, in those areas where W-Fi security cannot necessarily be trusted or guaranteed, the deployment of such solutions ensures secure connectivity over one of the trusted UK mobile operators.

http://www.spryfoxnetworks.com/

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2020