Freq.ie’s App automatically gathers anonymous data about your mobile network’s performance, allowing it to be analysed for any issues. They can then work with operators to help improve network performance. They are now in trials with several mobile companies and they have recently launched an online coverage map where you can see real world network performance for all the providers in Ireland. Rather than just complain about the problem they are determined to help eliminate offline moments – one blackspot at a time.
We spoke with Ben McCahill to find out more about this excellent new service.
Q1 Hi Ben. Can you tell me about your App and what service it performs?
Our service helps improve mobile phone performance by automatically reporting and analysing your phone connection. Think of it like a stethoscope – the agent on the phone is like the business end (which listens for signals) and this connects to the doctors ears, which in our case is an analytics engine that sits in the cloud.
We analyse these performance issues, across groups and across networks, to produce a series of experience scores as well as technical reports which are then used by mobile operators to help improve performance. Because we look at the user and application point of view instead of the traditional step by step process we have valuable insight into problems that may not otherwise be so obvious.
We have just released a demonstrator webpage which breaks down performance by population centre and road route to demonstrate the type of information we are working with.
Q2 What advantages does your App have over traditional signal reporting methods on phones?
The ‘five bars’ method is pretty meaningless, as it only reports the total raw signal received by the phone. If there are conflicting settings in the network, or problems further in the network, then your vital traffic will not reach its destination.
We analyse across users and across networks, which helps isolate performance issues – how many users are affected, if it is all networks then it is more likely an app issue, and so on.
Q3 For people who might be concerned about privacy, can you explain what data is being collected?
We collect performance parameters, such as signal strength, cellID and so on. We scramble or ‘obfuscate’ all information. We do not record the mobile number, the phone ID or keep track of any sites visited, messages sent or received and so on. We go out of our way to avoid anything which will identify the user with the metrics that we collect.
We want to be the Neilsen of Networks – we do not have a view on the content or activities, we are only interested in performance.
Q4 What type of impact has the App on battery life?
Typically the usage is less than 5%, we are targeting 3%. Low impact is really important to us and we are always striving to improve this. As Android has evolved we are getting better and better at this. It can occasionally get higher if there is a lot of network activity and nothing else going on in the phone, but over a 24 hr period our data shows averages of 5% or less.
All the power-hungry analysis takes place in the cloud, all we do on the phone is note key metrics when the phone state changes, scramble and anonymise them, send them to the cloud.
Q5 I appreciate you can’t give details but are the mobile networks in Ireland actively utilising the data you are collecting?
Yes there are, here and across Europe. We have found the operators to be very interested as we are not trying to beat them up – but to help them measure end user experience from the outside-in. This turns the network view upside down, and it is very, very interesting for operators as it allows a different perspective. The Internet is dissolving everything, and refocusing things around you the customer. This is just one more example, and we have only started.
The explosion in data services is new to everyone, and optimising for this phenomenon is in everyone’s interest. All of the operators we have approached are focussing really hard on these new perspectives and user experience measures so it is win-win all around.
Q6 The App is currently available on Android in the Play Store. Do you have plans to expand the service to other platforms?
We have version 1.0 on the iPhone now, and we are increasing our efforts in this area to get the iPhone reporting on a par with Android.
Q7 Moving away from the consumer side, in what areas do you believe your service can help businesses?
Smartphones are the remote control for business life – without a good connection wherever you are your business will die – and before business can look at rolling out mobile- and cloud- enabled apps they need to be sure the network can deliver. We provide performance reports for inside and outside premises, by phone type, and we can deliver daily reports broken down by department, so that IT staff can get a good headstart on whether their proposed move to cloud services will work on the ground.
This helps business to work with their service provider to get ready for the wave of cloud services, to highlight any problem areas and work together to get fixes prioritised and in-place, because the first step to improving things is to measure them. In that way there can be a sensible discussion around what needs to be done, and it can be independently tracked to a successful conclusion.
Q8 How much does the service cost?
The service is free for consumers. For businesses we are in Beta so contact us to get on the (free) Beta test list.
Q9 Can you tell me some more about the team behind Freq?
We are a collection of design and operations personnel from companies who have supplied and helped operate some of the biggest mobile networks in the world. We also have backend guys who have helped build some of the largest online auction and social communications systems in existence.
We also are working with the Dept of Computer Science and Statistics in TCD, they are helping us with tuning some of the cutting edge algorithms we use for predictive analytics.
Where analytics and performance meet mobile networks is a really exciting place to be.
Q10 What’s the best way for people to find out more?
We are evolving rapidly – so keep in touch!
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