A new study released by mobile network testing agency RootMetrics paints an interesting picture of mobile network access and performance standards for voice, data and texting services across Canada.
Their Canadian National RootScore Report for the second half of 2015 includes their first-ever nationwide performance rankings of the Big Three major carriers, Telus, Bell and Rogers, as well as local carriers WIND and Vidéotron, across eight metropolitan markets, complemented by testing in many mid-sized and smaller cities, plus major roadways in between.
RootMetrics uses scientific testing and has an analytics team travel to specific cities, venues, airports, etc. to collect the information and analyze the data points, in this case completing more than 214,467 call, data, and text test samples over 28,356 kilometers, and in 505 indoor locations across Canada.
Tests were conducted using off-the-shelf devices to better replicate the mobile consumer experience, whether data, call, or text testing, in real life.
“Our results point to your ability to stream a movie, make an important business call, send a quick text to check in with your family, or any of the other countless things that you rely on your mobile phone to accomplish,” writes Patrick Linder in the report.
The summarized results just barely give Bell the edge over Rogers and Telus for Overall Performance across Canada, mainly owing to consistently higher speeds, particularly for roadway testing between cities, and somewhat better data reliability.
Of RootMetrics’ six categories, Bell won outright in three, Overall Performance, Network Speed, and Data Performance, and tied for top spot in the three others, Network Reliability, Call Performance, and Text Performance.
Nationally, across all six categories tested, Bell either won outright or shared top spot, while Telus and Rogers finished in a tie for second place overall, less than one point behind Bell.
However, it is worth drilling down into particular regional markets to see the particulars of local results.
It’s important to mention that even though the national focus of the report is on the Big Three, since those are the only carriers that have nationwide service, you might give a second look to Videotron if you live in Montreal, Ottawa or Quebec City markets.
Vidéotoron seems to have the performance edge on its rivals in those markets across all categories.
The RootMetrics report focuses on eight Canadian markets: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
Basically, everything depends on which metro area you’re in and how much time you spend using a mobile device in transit between them.
For example, if access to LTE network access is important to you, it might be important to know that Rogers appears to have the most mature LTE infrastructure in place, compared to its competitors.
And while Bell’s LTE access is excellent in most markets, it dips in Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City.
Telus managed to access LTE only 71.3% of the time in Ottawa.
If you spend a lot of time on the 401, it might interest you to know that Bell edged Telus slightly for reliability on major roads.
Despite the fact that Bell and Telus share a great deal of infrastructure in the form of spectrum and towers across Canada, there are important technical differences between how the two carriers handle traffic.
At the metro level, Rogers recorded the fastest median download speed anywhere in the country at 41.8 Mbps in Toronto.
Meanwhile, WIND still has a lot of ground to make up in the markets where it operates.
Their story is instructive when it comes to the highlighting the obstacles confronting new carriers hoping to challenge the Big Three in the Canadian marketplace.
In theory, more competition, and access to infrastructure for independent ISPs, should bring prices down and keep performance levels high.
But in practice, WIND’s performance is so consistently slower, almost 10 times slower in Calgary according to RootMetrics’ tests, that you’d be hard pressed to sign up for their service, except merely to spite the hegemony of the Big Three.
Then again, a quick search online for the names of the Big Three carriers reveals almost bottomless hatred and complaints from Canadians, so WIND may just pick up a bit of business based merely on that hate factor.
In the end, the striking thing about the nationwide results is how close they are. There isn’t much to separate the Big Three in terms of performance.
Bell’s edge came down to two primary factors: 1) Bell delivered top speeds more consistently than the other two, and 2) Bell offered slightly better reliability for data testing.
Surprisingly, though, for people who remain convinced that Canada has the short end of the stick compared to international mobile markets, the report finds that “when considering performance across all of the available operators, the speeds we found in the Canadian metros often outshined what we’ve seen in comparable American and UK cities.”
Probably the main upside to Canadian mobile service is that we enjoy comparably reliable spectrum to the U.S. and U.K. markets, but have a fraction of their population, which translates to a greater share of spectrum-per-user, meaning decent speeds and good reliability in the eight metro areas.