Bell South tests show GSM net equal to Telecom’s

Bell South has put its money where its mouth is and invested more than $1 million to to test and compare the coverage and quality of its network against Telecom's mobile networks. Results from tests during the past six months found that most main areas - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and eight regions in the North Island including Wairapa, Manawatu and Kapiti Coast - Bell South's GSM network has about the same coverage as Telecom's analogue AMPS, digital D-AMPs and dual-mode networks. The Bell South network fared better for voice quality.

Bell South has put its money where its mouth is and invested more than $1 million to to test and compare the coverage and quality of its network against Telecom’s mobile networks.

Results from tests during the past six months found that most main areas — Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and eight regions in the North Island including Wairapa, Manawatu and Kapiti Coast — Bell South’s GSM network has about the same coverage as Telecom’s analogue AMPS, digital D-AMPs and dual-mode networks. The Bell South network fared better for voice quality.

Bell South general manager of engineering Arthur Neeley says the cellular carrier wanted to dispel Telecom’s claims that its network had better coverage. So it bought two Comarco GEN II/4 test units worth $300,000 each and installed them in cars to do mobile tests along every road in the country.

The test equipment measures coverage, call set up, call retention and voice quality and so far Bell South has completed and mapped about 80,000 test calls. Calls are made continuously every 90 seconds under handheld conditions in a moving vehicle.

Cumulative results from the first three months of testing showed that 94% of calls on Bell South’s GSM digital were successfully initiated and 96% of calls were successfully completed while driving, with an average Comarco voice quality score of 85%. In contrast the next best performing network, Telecom’s D-AMPS network, registered 94% of calls successfully initiated and 96% of calls successfully completed with an average voice quality score of 78%.

Bell South is now doing a more detailed study of Wellington and Christchurch, as well as extending testing to Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel.

Neeley believes Bell South gained better quality ratings because Telecom’s digital network is overlaid on its analogue network.

“A digital network is different and really should be designed and built differently.”

Telecom spokesman Angus Barclay says Telecom’s digital network runs along side its analogue network and, in the case of dual-mode phones, if the phone can’t pick up a digital site it will go to an analogue site.

He questions whether Bell South’s coverage results will be so positive once testing starts in rural areas.

“You just have to compare our customer base with theirs to see that New Zealand customers have made their choice about who has the best network,” he says.

Bell South currently has about 15% of the cellular market but national sales manager Andrew Barton, says the revenue share is “significantly higher”. He says Bell South has a high proportion of high-value customers and a high take-up of its paid value-- added services.

New Zealanders tend to have very high expectations of their land and mobile tele-phone services, says Neeley. According to Bell South customer surveys, if they have to choose between not making a connection and dropping a call part-way through, the vast majority of customers would rather not make the call in the first place.

“They don’t mind hitting the send button a couple of times but they hate it when they lose a call.”

When it comes to sending data over the cellular, quality becomes even more important.

Neeley says the take-up of cellular data services is still very low.

Malcolm is Computerworld’s networking editor. Contact her at andrea_malcolm@idg.co.nz.

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