Q: How do I know if I'm buying the right mobile service for my business?
A: It's one thing to make a bad technology-buying decision. It's quite another to make one that you have to relive--and pay for--month after month. That's essentially what's at stake when buying mobile devices and services these days, thanks to the countless, complex options facing business users--not to mention the dreaded two-year service contract that keeps you locked into a bad decision to the tune of more than $3,000 over its lifetime.
RootMetrics may be uniquely qualified to address this question. The Seattle-based company comprehensively tracks real-world performance of mobile networks and devices, tracking signal strength, dropped calls and data throughput by capturing data from millions of real-world users in cities across the country.
According to RootMetrics CEO Bill Moore--a technology and dotcom veteran, who, by the way, invented the Frappuccino as former head of food and beverage at Starbucks--there's no one answer to how to choose the best device on the best network at the best price. It depends where you live and work, but perhaps more important, how you plan to use your mobile device, Moore says.
Customers typically use their phones for three services: voice, texting and data. But it's that last capability, using your phone to access the mobile web and mobile apps, where things are moving fastest. Mobile operators are going through a transition from so-called 3G to 4G services, offering data speeds that begin to reach what users are accustomed to on their desktops. But 4G is more of a marketing term than a cut-and-dried service level, and mobile customers today get hit with an array of technology acronyms--such as WiMax, LTE and HSPA+--that confuse more than help the situation.
"First thing people need to understand is that 4G is only about data services. It has no effect on voice service today at all," Moore says. "If you're in a retail store and someone tells you 4G makes better phone calls, it's just not true." But even with data service, things can get complicated. Carriers typically tout "theoretical speeds"--for instance, T-Mobile's HSPA+ today at 21 Mb/s and Verizon's LTE at 50 Mb/s--but you're likely to get less than that in a real-world environment, especially as 4G networks get more crowded, Moore says. Further, he notes that few markets will have 100 percent 4G coverage anytime soon, so when you're on the move, at times you'll find your phone "falling back" to 3G speeds, which makes the detailed coverage maps that RootMetrics offers (at no charge) so useful.
Also complicating matters are changes in how operators charge for mobile data services. Just a year ago, most operators offered unlimited data services for one fee; today, most offer data tiers that provide different levels of service at different prices. Again, it helps to know how you want to use your mobile device, Moore says, and to realize you'll need to keep an eye on usage. More speed can enable faster downloads, which could lead to more bandwidth consumed--and greater costs when measured by the bit.
"Technology is moving very rapidly now," Moore says. "Every six months mobile networks are seeing massive changes taking place. That's good news in terms of performance. But it's also bad news, because if you aren't careful, in six to 12 months you could fall very far behind the curve."