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Quality and network speed vary widely with European mobile networks

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May 6, 2011

In the last few months, some wide and important discrepancies have been found between the network quality and overall speed of data throughput performance across the mobile broadband networks of no less than 94 wireless carriers in a total of 28 European nations. The findings are worse than what was initially hoped for. According to a recently published report by research firm ARCchart, which assessed the mobile broadband networks of wireless carriers across Europe for both download, upload, network latency and network quality performance, the overall variations in QoS (Quality of Service) is shocking.

And if you think that Europe is more advanced than the U.S. and North America when it comes to mobile communications, think again.

The ARCchart study is based on data speed and network latency measurements collected using a smartphone speed test application. ARCchart says millions of individual test readings from tens of thousands of users on virtually every mobile carrier in Europe were collected.

With data taking on an ever important role in telephony – even surpassing voice as people's number one concern – there has been a real surge of scrutiny on the quality of wireless carriers' broadband services, and many have been left wanting better quality and speed.

Some mobile carriers even reportedly achieved data speeds “two or three times faster than competing wireless carriers in the same market,” although such claims have not been analyzed in great detail.

For example, in Germany, T-Mobile shows the country's fastest download average of 1,459 Kbps while E-Plus manages just 649 Kbps. In the U.K., Hutchison's upload average is 646 Kbps, while Orange is 212 Kbps, according to the report.

Additionally, it is suggested that multinational carriers perform inconsistently in their respective European territories. For example, T-Mobile's download average in the U.K. is just 676 Kbps while T-Mobile Slovakia's average is almost three time that much at 1,743 Kbps.

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Separating the best from the worst, ARCchart's study says Hutchison in Denmark and Mobilkom in Austria top the league tables while Belgium's networks are the weakest. At the same time, the U.K. and Germany score almost as low as Belgium, while Bulgaria, Croatia and three Scandinavian countries rank top, which is really surprising.

While naming the various European wireless carriers that didn't do so well, the report also digs up some rather interesting metrics related to smartphone utilization across Europe. Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland have the highest smartphone penetrations, says the report, while Turkey, Portugal and Serbia have the lowest.

Mobile email growing rapidly in popularity

According to a new report published by research firm comScore, mobile email is growing rapidly in popularity while the traditional use of Internet-based email is dropping. And the trend has been building for the past few months.

While analyzing the month of November, ComScore found that the number of people sending email on a mobile device was up 36 percent from November 2009. Over the same period, the number of visitors to Internet-based email sites fell by 6 percent.

Furthermore, users who visited Internet-based email sites spent even less time doing so. The amount of time spent at such sites dropped 9 percent in November year over year, while the number of total pages viewed fell 15 percent.

The numbers are especially revealing as far as advertisers and Web marketers are concerned. For the mobile email numbers, ComScore is counting people who use a dedicated email client on a mobile device as well as those who just sync mail from Gmail, Hotmail or another online account to their phones.

Those numbers also include users who access Webmail accounts from a mobile device. For the Internet-based mail stats, ComScore is referring specifically to users who access Webmail through a personal computer.

"From PCs to mobile devices, whether it's email, social media, instant messaging or texting, mobile users have many ways to communicate and can do so at any time and in any place," said Mark Donovan, ComScore senior vice president of mobile.

"The decline in Internet-based email is a byproduct of these shifting dynamics and the increasing availability of on-demand communication options," added Donovan.

But despite the move toward mobile, email is still one of the most popular activities on the Internet, with more than 70 percent of online users accessing their messages via cyberspace each month. For November, ComScore reported that 153 million people checked their Internet-based e-mail accounts in both categories.

That compares with 70.1 million mobile users (30 percent of all mobile subscribers) who accessed email through their mobile devices.

Nevertheless, the growth in mobile email utilization is significant. ComScore found that 43.5 million people used their mobile phones for email on a daily basis in November, an increase of 40 percent from 2009.

As can be expected, the disparity between mobile and the Internet was even greater among the younger crowd.

People with ages 25 to 34 were 60 percent more likely to check mobile email than the average mobile subscriber, while those 18 to 24 were 46 percent more likely.

In contrast, the use of Internet-based email service fell 24 percent among those 12 to 17, while the total amount of time spent checking their Internet email dropped 48 percent.

ComScore based its results for this study on data from its Media Metrix and MobiLens services. comScore is expected to produce its next mobile email utilization report in April.

The general picture

Mobile users' overwhelming demand for email and other data-intensive content that is provided by some mobile apps is starting to create issues with some wireless carriers, and some apps have a tendency of slowing down networks during peak hours of the day and on a few cases, on evenings.

As MIDs (mobile Internet devices) and smartphones get a lot more powerful as they are now, and as wireless carriers are opening up to more and more Wi-Fi utilization and eventually 4G networks, there appears to be some network latency during those peak hours, bogging down some messages, but mostly affecting video streaming apps and such.

It isn't so long ago when wireless carriers were asking their subscribers to consume more and then pay for all data. About a year ago, and because of the low speeds delivered by 2G networks, mobile service carriers had a tough sell of trying to convince their customers of the value proposition of mobile data.

Global spending on mobile apps to hit $6.2 billion in 2011

According to market research firm Gartner, global spending on mobile apps is expected to hit $6.2 billion this year, while ad sales will hit only $600 million.

Overall, global apps store download sales hit at least $4.2 billion last year.

"Average growth in smartphone sales won't necessarily mean that mobile consumers will spend more money, but what it means is that it will probably widen the addressable market for a wireless service offering that will be advertising-funded," said Stephanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner, in a statement.

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"The value chain of the application stores will evolve as rules are set and broken in an attempt to find the most profitable business model for all parties involved," added Baghdassarian.

Gartner expects 4.5 billion apps to be downloaded this year, about 79 percent of which will be free to end users.

Free downloads will account for a little over 86.7 percent of downloads in 2013. Gartner added that games continue to be the most popular mobile app, with shopping, social media, utilities and productivity tools all growing in overall. popularity.

"Application stores will be a core focus throughout this year for the mobile industry and applications themselves will help determine the winner among mobile device platforms," said Carolina Milanesi, research director at Gartner.

"Wireless users will have a wide choice of stores and will seek the ones that make it easy for them to discover mobile apps that they are interested in and make it easy to pay for them when they have to. Mobile developers will have to consider carefully not only which platform to support the apps but also which store to promote their applications in."

Although mobile advertising currently comprises a small share of overall apps revenue, Gartner says ad-sponsored mobile applications will generate about 24.8 percent of all app store sales by 2013.

The mobile apps market is expected to grow to almost $30 billion by the end of 2013, including spending on paid-for applications and advertising-sponsored free applications.

Gartner's next mobile advertising market estimates are expected in May.

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Source: ARCchart Mobile Market Research.

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