New research suggests AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other wireless carriers are barring you from comparing their data service fairly.
SwayMarkets is Busting the Myth of ‘Full Bars’
SwayMarkets, a startup company with a mobile app that helps you understand which carrier has the best data service in your area, recently released a study conducted at a Red Sox game — when thousands of people were straining the networks covering Fenway Park. Its conclusion?
The number of bars you see on your phone provides almost zero insight into the quality of your data service.
Connection speed and network delays varied widely on all three major networks — Verizon, Sprint and AT&T — as a result of the heavy traffic. How much did the mobile Internet slow down?
“Viewing a page in a social networking app took just 6 seconds to load before or after (the game), but that same page would take more than 20 seconds or fail outright if opened at any time during the game,” explains Nick Chory, co-founder at SwayMarkets.
The kicker? Even while data speeds dropped dramatically, the standard iPhones used to test network quality throughout the game showed full bars the whole time.
Why Comparing Service is Too Hard for Us
“If you’re looking at the bars on your phone as an indication of your ability to use the Internet and do other data-intensive activities on your phone, you shouldn’t,” says Andrew Johnston, another co-founder at SwayMarkets.
According to Johnston, if your call strength is very low, data service quality could be reduced, but if you have more than a couple bars there’s probably no statistical relationship between the bars on your phone and quality of your data service.
Of course, you probably still want to ask your friends about the number of bars they usually have in your area to compare call quality across providers, but the truth is that’s not enough.
“The problem, for customers, is that this makes it really hard to understand which carrier is best for them. Of course you want to pick a carrier that has good service where you work and live. But if you ask your co-workers how good their Internet connectivity is at the office, they can only say it’s good or bad,” says Johnston.
In other words, if bars don’t reflect Internet speed, it’s hard to compare data service across carriers.
That’s where SwayMarkets’ mobile app, CarrierCompare, comes in.
CarrierCompare: Helping You Make the Right Choice
With the free CarrierCompare app, available for iPhones on the iTunes store, you can test the quality of your iPhone’s Internet connectivity in real time — from the locations you spend most of your time in.
After CarrierCompare tests the strength of your connection, it also tells you how competing carriers compare based on tests by other users in your area.
According to Nick, Andrew and the third co-founder, Amos Epstein, SwayMarkets plans to have a similar app available for Android phones as well as a web-based version soon. There’s no firm timeline, but keep an eye out for them by the end of the summer if you have contracts expiring.
Do you find your data connection fluctuates a lot? How did you decide which wireless carrier was the best value and quality? Share your thoughts below.