Restaurants and gyms: the case for connectivity
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Paul Carter, CEO and founder of Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), speaks to Sam Fenwick about consumers’ need for connectivity and its implications for venue owners

Paul Carter founded GWS back in 1996 and, four years later, it began nationwide mobile network benchmark testing in the US. Roughly 12 million miles of drive- and walk-testing later and it is still playing a key role in the mobile industry ecosystem, having in recent years expanded its network benchmarking portfolio to cover large events and introduced a metric to assess mobile networks based on business users’ requirements.

He says that in addition to recently testing the wireless connectivity of 30 gyms in London – inspired by the number of gym-goers who take selfies as part of their workout routine – GWS has also tested 50 of the capital’s most ‘Instagrammable’ restaurants. For these studies, the company also commissioned surveys from OnePoll to get a feel for consumers’ attitudes with regards to connectivity in both settings.

One thing about the results that Carter has been surprised by is that, while it is clear just by the way most people are on their smartphones when waiting for a train that “our devices are important to us, people are now describing their experience as being ruined if they don’t have the mobile phone experience they’re looking for to do basic things, to check their emails or to surf the internet or to share photos”.

According to the results of the survey, 18 per cent of Londoners said their restaurant dining experience has been ruined by poor mobile connectivity, and another 13 per cent said they would leave a restaurant before ordering if they didn’t have mobile service.

Carter adds that part of the issue is that “you find a lot of restaurants are in basements”, with the worst-performing restaurant being several floors below street level, while being on the 30th or 40th floor of a skyscraper also can result in poor connectivity. Gyms on the other hand suffer “ because it’s all about the exercise routine so much and not really about looking out the window; a lot of these gyms are in basements of buildings or in facilities without windows – concrete facilities that are quite challenged [from a coverage perspective] in many ways”.

In fact, GWS’s results show that mobile network coverage typically drops by 20 per cent upon entering a gym, and the same percentage of British gym-goers have felt forced to go outside to use their phones due to the poor indoor connectivity.

The promise of 5G
It’s worth noting here that while Wi-Fi might at first be the obvious answer, in practice things are a little bit more complicated. Carter says “about 23 per cent of Londoners expect restaurants to have free Wi-Fi, but only about 18 per cent of Londoners surveyed look for Wi-Fi when they dine out, and we found Wi-Fi performance to be a little bit spotty both within gyms and restaurants – in several of both, there was no Wi-Fi at all or it wasn’t working. The Wi-Fi speeds typically average roughly the same as the wireless networks, or perhaps a little bit worse. There are some cases where Wi-Fi is much better in certain restaurants, but on average you can’t necessarily rely on Wi-Fi.”

Carter stresses though that while “the promise of 5G and cell sites every few hundred metres in an urban environment is a long-term solution, there are other helpful technologies such as Voice over Wi-Fi and through advances such as Wi-Fi 6, there is the potential that seamless roaming and ubiquitous Wi-Fi will help to provide robust indoor wireless service.”

He believes it will probably take 10 years to fully deploy 5G in the UK and the US, and highlights the effort required given predictions that in the US an additional 800,000 cell sites will be required (compared with the existing 350,000 sites that have been built up over decades). Carter also anticipates that we will eventually expect cellular networks to provide five or even six 9s availability, giving autonomous vehicles as one of the 5G use-cases that will drive demand for this.

I asked him if network slicing might cause GWS’s testing methodology any issues. “It all begins with coverage and so ensuring that there’s coverage is the first step always, and so whether or not that slice is delivered to you in an optimal way or not, you still need to understand whether there’s basic performance at a certain level; most of the testing we do allows us to collect network-level engineering layer 3 information as opposed to just application-level information.” He adds: “Each new technology brings new parameters and new considerations and new network build components but, fundamentally, it’s still about delivering robust, reliable service to the end-user, and so we have to be able to measure the parameters that best represent that.”

He notes with an understandable degree of exasperation the “incredible focus” on people reporting being able to obtain 1GBps download speeds on 5G-capable devices using speed test apps in those areas where 5G has just been deployed – “but what does that really tell you?” he asks. “[In] our surveys [of] business users, people care twice as much about reliability as they do [about] speed.”

The best laid plans…
As previously mentioned, GWS has been testing network performance at large events (it has a “Event-o-Meter” programme in the US) and Carter says one of the challenges for its OneScore ranking methodology, which is based on metrics such as throughput, voice quality and reliability, is trying to compare very different events, such as a basketball game in a stadium and a Mardi Gras street festival, and this is addressed through methods such as weightings.

While there is an expectation that mobile networks will perform well at large events, “from time to time, things do get tripped up”. He highlights the 2019 Women’s March in Washington D.C. – mobile operators deployed “all sorts of temporary facilities” including cells on wheels, but “the leaders of the march suddenly [changed] the route and where they were going to meet, and [attendance was much lower than expected]. All the preparations that the operators had made [didn’t] come to nought, but it just wasn’t as expected.” He notes that one complication for events like the Super Bowl (which moves from one stadium to another) is that depending on the participating teams, the degree to which visiting fans use one mobile network operator (MNO) over another can vary, “so it’s a constant challenge for the operators”.

RF energy harvesting
While GWS may be Carter’s primary concern, it isn’t his only foray into the wireless technology market. He started another company called Aeternum (meaning ‘forever’ in Latin), which is focused on developing low-power Internet of Things-style environmental sensors that can power themselves using renewable energy (strips of solar cells) and RF energy (using a both-in-one rectifier/antenna component that Carter refers to as a ‘rectenna’). “We’re looking at the sleep mode being powered by the RF source, but solar is the main form of energy,” he adds.

As far as backhauling the data from these sensors is concerned, Carter says “we’re currently doing this with LoRaWAN, we’ve deployed a few of these in Liverpool and we’re now looking at NB-IoT on the Vodafone network”.

He explains that with environmental air quality monitoring, there is a lot of interest around being about to attribute air pollution to specific sources, given that it often ends up far from where it was created, and once the source has been identified it is then a case of identifying appropriate migration methods such as green fencing or trees. Speaking of which, trees (or rather their foliage) help to lower ambient temperatures, and Aeternum’s Hab Remote micro sensors can collect temperature data, as well as data on ambient light, noise, barometric pressure, humidity, volatile organic compounds and gases.

Carter expects that once “IoT-based access technologies are more widely available and mechanisms for (low-power) charging are better developed, there will be a significant focus on environmental measurements (such as air quality, noxious gases, and so on), particularly as city councils want to make their local areas more attractive”.

Returning to the earlier point about consumers demanding connectivity in restaurants, while this must be mortifying for chefs who would presumably prefer their clientele to be focused on their food, the highly competitive nature of the hospitality sector suggests such views must be catered for. After all, as Confucius said: better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.

CV – Paul Carter
Dr. Paul Carter is president and CEO of Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), an independent benchmarking solution vendor for the wireless industry. Carter has more than 30 years’ experience in the cellular network industry. He founded GWS to provide operators with access to in-depth, accurate network benchmarking, analysis and testing. Prior to GWS, he directed business development and CDMA engineering efforts for LLC, the world’s largest independent wireless engineering company.

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