At GWS, we aim to test wireless networks in a way that mimics how people use their phones on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes this involves walking around Chicago in the middle of winter, and other times, it involves catching a baseball game in D.C. You can imagine which scenario our testing teams prefer!
Earlier in the season at Nationals Park, we watched the Washington Nationals play a night game against the Seattle Mariners. While at the Park, our specialists conducted tests at various locations before, during and after the game to accurately replicate a fan’s experience. This included walking around the concourse levels to different concession stands and seating areas. After the game, they hurried to the metro station just as a Nationals fan might have done on game night (testing along the way).
By the end of the night, the Washington Nationals had won the game while our network testing wrapped up with some interesting results. For example, when measuring potential capacity download throughputs, we were surprised to find that during the game the in-stadium WiFi network provided faster data speeds than all four major carriers. The WiFi network was capable of delivering an average speed of 32 Mbps, while AT&T, the fastest cellular network, averaged 25 Mbps. Major League Baseball’s $300 million program to upgrade Wifi networks in all their ballparks has clearly paid off!
However, it’s not all about having the fastest connectivity because if it’s unreliable, then the customer won’t be reaping the benefits. As such, all four cellular networks we tested were nearly 100% reliable, while WiFi was several percentage points behind.
We also saw some variance with Internet speeds on cellular networks. Verizon slowed noticeably as the game went on with download speeds (for tests similar to watching a short video clip) dropping from 2.8 Mbps before the game to 1.6Mbps during the game. Meanwhile Sprint started out the slowest and gradually improved; during pregame activities it took 36 seconds longer to upload a video on Instagram on Sprint’s network than the in-stadium WiFi network (which was the quickest at 4 seconds).
In addition to data, we tested voice calls and, for the most part, the results were good. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon had 100% reliability throughout the night with AT&T and Verizon using VoLTE the entire time. T-Mobile, also using VoLTE, wasn’t far behind but they did experience 1 in 12 calls failing before the game started.
So what does all this mean? Consumers want reliable, reasonably fast connectivity wherever they are — at home, out and about, or at an event. Fans don’t want to wait long to add or view online content when they’re at the ballpark watching the game and enjoying a night out. Measuring data and voice performance at events like this is critical for operators if they want to understand how well their network is operating and what can be done to further improve or optimize performance. And conducting these tests in a way that emulates a true consumer experience is just as important. After all, the night should be remembered by who won the game rather than how long it took to post a selfie.