Mexico: Examining the effects of congestion on subscriber experience

 

While some countries are starting to open up after being closed for a year due to the pandemic, people in many parts of the world are still cooped up in their homes working, studying, shopping through their phones and laptops. This increased dependence on existing telecoms infrastructure can result in overloaded networks, leading to congestion and an unsatisfactory subscriber experience. 

In times like these, when people depend on a sturdy network not just for entertainment purposes but for more important reasons such as keeping in touch with loved ones or gaining access to medical information, mobile network operators play a critical role in keeping people connected. For operators and regulators, insights on when and where networks are congested help to make informed investment, repair and optimization decisions.

To examine the impact of congestion in Mexico, we used Tutela’s crowdsourced data to investigate congestion issues for major mobile network operators (MNOs). Data used for this analysis has been collected on a 3G, 4G or 5G connection between January 1st and March 31st, 2021.

 

Key findings

  • At a national-level AT&T’s network suffers from the worst peak-hours slow-down. While all three operators show a similar decrease in median speeds during specific times of the day, AT&T experienced a higher decline than others, dropping by 40%, with a median performance below 10Mbps during busy hours.
  • America Movil’s Telcel network is least affected by congestion and delivers the best median download speed at all times of day. Although, like other networks, performance drops during busy hours, Telcel’s performance drop was less than the others, dropping by 28.8% during peak hours, compared to 36.2% for Movistar and 39.5% for AT&T.
  • The worst affected Cities were Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Durango. While Mexico City performed better, speed drops were still problematic and ranged from 17% to 35% between the operators. 
  • Deployment of additional spectrum including 5G rollouts, as well as building new infrastructure such as towers, have the potential to mitigate these problems - however, they require precise analysis of localized congestion issues to maximize user experience impact and ROI.

 

 

America Movil’s Telcel had the highest median download speed throughout the day while AT&T experienced a higher decline than others 

On a national level, the median download throughput observed for each hour was highest during early morning hours between 2 - 5 am, going down steadily throughout the day except between 3 - 5 pm. This steady decrease might be an indication of lower congestion, most likely due to lower data traffic during those hours.

While all three operators showed a similar decrease in median speeds during specific times of the day, AT&T experienced a higher decline than others whereas America Movil’s Telcel had the highest median download speed throughout the day. 

 

Download speeds dropped by ~40% during peak hours

Assessing the percentage slowdown in download throughput during off-peak versus on-peak hours helps us identify instances when the drop in speed is being caused due to congestion. In Common Coverage Areas across Mexico, AT&T had the highest percentage slowdown in  average download speeds during on - peak and off- peak at 39.5%. 

Movistar had a slowdown of 36.2%, while Telcel had the least observed slowdown in average throughput during on-peak vs. off-peak hours at 28.8%. It is noteworthy to see that the gap between AT&T and Telcel for slowdown in average download speeds is about 10% which is a considerable difference when it comes to network performance. 

This trend among operators is also substantiated in the above chart comparing download speeds. While AT&T did have higher median throughput than Movistar during off-peak hours of the day, the decline in its median speed was much worse than the other two operators suggesting greater congestion issues.

This demonstrates how important it is for mobile network operators to identify times and locations when congestion is at peak on their network in order to mitigate these issues.

On a regional level, Telcel demonstrated a far better network performance in terms of lower congestion as compared to the other two operators

Deeper geographic analysis on a regional level across Mexico for the three major operators demonstrated which regions experienced more congestion than others. From the below maps, it can be observed that AT&T subscribers experienced congestion in more regions across the country than Movistar and Telcel. 

AT&T experienced higher slowdown in average download speeds in the North-Western and Southern regions of the country than compared to Northern and Eastern regions. Movistar in comparison experienced congestion in Northern states of Coahuila and Durango as well as some states in the South-Western part of the country. Telcel demonstrated a far better network performance in terms of lower congestion as compared to the other two operators with the issue concentrated mostly in a few regions in the South as well as the regions of Coahuila and Tamaulipas.  

In Mexico City, the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in the country, AT&T had the highest slowdown in average download throughput during peak hours at 35.4%. Movistar followed AT&T with a congestion of 32.4%, while Telcel subscribers experienced the lowest slowdown in average download speed during peak hours. This slowdown is likely a result of a high volume of data traffic leading to congestion.

Drilling down further geographically, although different municipalities that together form Mexico City had varying levels of congestion, the pattern on an operator level remained the same. Telcel subscribers experienced lower congestion, illustrated by green circles, in the majority of municipalities except for three  in the southern part of the city that saw higher percentages of congestion. Both AT&T and Movistar subscribers had some areas that were better than others; however, Movistar had more municipalities represented by Yellow and Green indicating lower congestion. 

Further, the size of the circle represents the number of observations as captured in Tutela’s database. Municipalities represented by a larger red circle show areas with particularly high numbers of observations which might be one of the reasons for the higher congestion experienced in those areas. It may also be an indicator of insufficient local network infrastructure which emphasizes the need for operators to invest their resources in bolstering infrastructure in these targeted locations.

 

Improvements on the horizon

Strengthening the existing infrastructure as well as building new network infrastructure are robust solutions to mitigate the network congestion. In that context, measures like deployment of additional spectrum and building new infrastructure among others would help achieve the above-mentioned infrastructure goals. 

Constructive steps are being taken in this regard in the country, one of which is the recently approved tender for 41 blocks of spectrum largely consisting of 4G bands. Mexico’s telecom regulator, The Federal Telecommunications Institute (Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones) approved the tender which includes 39 blocks in the 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz bands and two blocks in the AWS-3 and 1.9 GHz bands where winners in the bidding process are scheduled to be declared in October 2021. On the 5G front, while an exact timeline for the 5G spectrum auction is not yet known, it is planned to happen sometime this year. While AT&T already owns spectrum in the 3550-3600 MHz band used for 5G deployment, Telcel acquired 50 Mhz spectrum in the 3500 MHz band from Axtel in July 2020 bringing its total capacity to 100 MHz. 

Adding an additional boost to expanding existing network infrastructure in the country, Tower One Wireless was reportedly in the process of constructing 75 mobile phone towers in Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. 20% of its 193 total towers are located in Mexico. Further, all three operators have been given access to the 4.5G shared Red Compartida network after an agreement between the government and the Altan Redes consortium that’s establishing this infrastructure. This will help fill coverage gaps in areas with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

While all these are positive steps to alleviate current congestion issues, operators need to identify specific pain points where their capital investment will make the most quantifiable impact on subscriber’s network experience. In order to enhance benefits derived from deployment of valuable spectrum and establishment of other infrastructural assets, they need to use  targeted analysis of datasets to identify when and where their network needs the most upgrades.



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