Regulator calls for phone makers to come clean on radio quality

A grading system on smartphone radio quality would help consumers buy the best device

A top European regulator wants operators and vendors to work together on a grading system that tells consumers how good the antennas in their smartphones are, allowing them to take that into account when buying a new device.

Today, consumers want to know how many megapixels the camera has and which version of Android it uses, but they never ask about the quality of the radio reception and they should, according to Göran Marby, director-general at Swedish telco regulator PTS.

"What we have discovered, and it's not secret in the industry, is that the kind of phones people today choose don't have very good radio reception," Marby said.

Somewhere along the line people have forgotten it's actually a radio they are carrying with them, and radio reception also isn't something vendors tout in their smartphone marketing, according to Marby.

PTS doesn't have any hard data, yet. But at the end of last year an independent study was conducted in Denmark, and it concluded that the choice of mobile phone has a big effect on the quality of mobile coverage users get.

To address this, PTS has started a dialogue with the telecom industry to see if operators and phone makers together can come up with a way uniform way of telling users about the radio characteristics and quality of their device. How it's constructed isn't what's important, as long as it is easy to understand, Marby said. Consumers can then use the information to make a more informed buying decisions.

"If you live in an area with bad reception, maybe you shouldn't choose certain phones," Marby said.

The hope is that operators and phone makers will do this voluntarily, but if that doesn't happen Marby is open to putting in place tougher rules. Operators that lead the way could use it as way to differentiate themselves from the competition, and help improve the relationship with their subscribers, according to Marby.

"I think it would be greeted positively by consumers. It is difficult for consumers to rally behind something they don't know is a problem," he said.

The grading system won't be put in place overnight. But toward the end of the year, an embryo of something that would lead to better information for consumers will hopefully be in place, according to Marby.

As a regulator attending Mobile World Congress it is difficult to ignore the very vocal complaints operators have about the current regulatory environment in Europe, Marby noted.

"For some reason, operators in Europe are very traditional and sometimes spend more money on lawyers to defend revenue streams we know will disappear, instead of spending that money on business development," Marby said.

Mobile operators are heavily regulated and taxed and make huge capital investments in networks, while other players in the mobile ecosystem face none of those costs, Telefónica CEO César Alierta complained during a keynote.

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