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Wireless network problems higher in urban areas

Wireless customers living in urban areas experience the highest number of overall network problems and have lower tolerance of those problems, according to the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study—Volume 2. The finding underscores the importance of continued investment by carriers in urban areas as the use of 4G LTE compatible smartphones grows and customers expect faster data speeds.
Now in its 14th year, the semiannual study is based on 10 problem areas of the customer experience: dropped calls; calls not connected; audio issues; failed/late voicemails; lost calls; text transmission failures; late text message notifications; Web/app connection errors; slow downloads/apps; and email connection errors. Network performance issues are measured as problems per 100 (PP100) connections, with a lower score reflecting fewer problems and higher overall performance.
According to the study, customers living in urban areas experience the highest number of overall network problems, at 15 PP100 vs. 12 PP100 among those living in rural areas and 10 PP100 among those living in suburban areas. The high level of problems in urban locales exists across all network problem areas. For example, customers living in urban areas experience more calling problems than those living in rural or suburban areas (19 PP100 vs. 13 PP100, respectively); messaging problems (8 PP100 vs. 5 PP100); and data problems (20 PP100 vs. 15 PP100).
Also contributing to the high incidence level is that urban areas have a much higher proportion of younger wireless subscribers. The overall number of network quality problems is 17 PP100 among customers 18-34 years old vs. 10 PP100 among those 35 years and older. Younger customers experience higher rates of problems because they are heavy users of their devices. For example, customers 18-34 received, on average, 39 text messages during the previous 48 hours vs. 14 text messages among those 35 years and older. Similarly, customers 18-34 connected to an app on their phone 15 times, on average, during the previous 48 hours vs. seven times among those 35 and older.
“Enhancing network performance to ensure customers consistently experience a high-quality connection—especially those living in urban areas—can substantially improve loyalty for wireless carriers,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director and technology, media & telecom practice leader at J.D. Power ( “This can be accomplished by improving bandwidth efficiency, data connection speeds and reliability. To retain customers, carriers need to proactively expand and upgrade networks to align with the latest generation of services and devices, particularly those that rely on data speed and consistent connections, such as broadband devices.”
This holds true knowing that urban customers are especially likely to defect when they experience a high number of network problems. More than one-third (37%) of customers in urban areas who experience overall network problems at a higher incidence than 12 PP100 say they “definitely will” switch carriers in the next 12 months, compared with 17% among suburban customers and 21% among rural customers.
Verizon Wireless ranks highest in five of the six regions, with typically lower PP100 scores than the regional averages in call quality, messaging quality and data quality. U.S. Cellular, absent from the study since 2014, ranks highest in the North Central region and excels in most network problem areas, especially call quality and data quality.
The 2016 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study—Volume 2 is based on responses from 43,300 wireless customers. Carrier performance is examined in six geographic regions: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, North Central, Southwest and West. In addition to evaluating the network quality experienced by customers with wireless phones, the study also measures the network performance of tablets and mobile broadband devices. The study was fielded January through June 2016.

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