Mobile data throughput – agency or application?

redwirelessI’m no fan of “big government”, but I do like the idea of a government agency monitoring, reporting and holding accountable any company that sell products or services based on measurements – or an application that can do the same thing. In California there’s an agency called the “Office of Weights and Measures”. They make sure that 1 gallon of gas at the pump is actually 1 gallon – and that is actually costs what the posted price says it does; They also make sure that a grocery store’s scales accurately measure 1 ounce or 1 pound; they measure lots of things to make sure consumers get what they are paying for – but where’s the group that watches the wireless providers?

Lately I’ve been looking at the various wireless providers, reading blogs and phone1websites and trying to get an even comparison of prices vs. services, especially in the area of data transfer rates. “4G” doesn’t really mean “4G”. Depending on the carrier, it’s an amalgamation of different technologies that are pretty different, but are usually bundled into marketable terms like “3G” and “4G” to make it easier for consumers to understand (which I can’t really fault them for – it’s confusing looking at the different back-end technologies!)

With each service provider charging different prices for “the same thing”, I figure the service should be “the same”, no matter what the price is for their version of the service. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a watchdog group or government agencysatdish responsible for tracking and reporting some number and at least trying to keep the companies “honest”.

I’d like to see a series of tests run thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of times over a week/month/year and reporting the results to the public. Here’s some requirements I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Many different model of phones from each carrier;
  • phones would run exactly as they are activated by the carriers (i.e. no user-installed applications);
  • phones would send and receive the exact same files (small, medium and large) to & from a private server;
  • phones would run these tests in unison, at different times of the day (say, 8a, 12p, 5p and 8p);
  • phones would run these tests from specific locations around a city, state and across the country (as one carrier might give great data service in one big city on the east coast, but terrible on the west coast).bluewireless

Of course, that scenario would cost a fair amount of money for hardware, services and people – and it probably should NOT be paid for (or subsidized) by the carriers so that there’s no question of the integrity of the reports.

HOWEVER… this could be a great project for some aspiring developers, students or  entrepreneurs who could build free applications for the various mobile operating systems, and then ask consumers (who would likely NOT have “clean” phones) to simply run the tests at any time, in any place. Those reports could be automatically and immediately sent to a server where the date, time, GPS location, phone status (what apps are installed, etc.) and any other useful information could be compiled into a usable database. That kind of anonymous data could be a great tool for consumers in choosing not only what carrier, but what devices give the best (and worst) overall performance – AND could be a great way to keep wireless providers honest about their data speeds and services.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea in lieu of a dedicated agency or watchdog group. Who knows, there could be a business idea in there somehow…