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2019│04│02 – The Mobile Network Test in The Netherlands 2019

P3 and connect have been testing the Dutch mobile networks since 2015. Given the high network performance, it is remarkable that the results still have improved over the years.
Another constant in the Netherlands are frequent mergers and acquisitions as well as similar changes in the market environment. How will the now three Dutch operators perform this time?

RESULTS IN A NUTSHELL

The P3 connect Mobile Benchmark in the Netherlands has traditionally shown strong results. This trend continues in 2019, resulting in three “outstanding” grades with two of the contenders keeping the high scores they achieved in the previous year and one of them even improving them.

P3‘s network benchmarks are widely accepted as being highly objective and defining the de-facto ­industry standard. The carefully designed methodology of the 2019 benchmark in the Netherlands combines drivetests and walktests for executing detailed voice and data measure­ments under controlled circumstances with a sophisticated crowdsourcing approach. This provides profound insights into the overall coverage of voice, data and 4G services, real-world User Download Speeds and Data Service Availability.

P3‘s holistic approach to network benchmarking includes both drivetest and walktest measurements as well as crowdsourcing. The drive and walktests ­allow for evaluating the cutting edge of the networks‘ ­capabilities. Crowdsourcing unveils the service ­quality, performance and coverage actually experienced by the users. We have thoroughly weighted these components in order to give a realistic and authoritative ­assessment of the rated networks‘ true potential and performance.

T-Mobile clearly leads in all tested disci­plines inclu­ding the newly introduced crowd score and achieves the highest score level ever determined in our Mobile Benchmarks. KPN shows the biggest score improvement in comparison to its results from the previous year. This operator scores slightly better than Vodafone in the Voice and Crowd categories and is particularly strong in the Voice tests in smaller towns and in the Voice and Data tests on ­connecting roads. Vodafone slightly outperforms KPN in the data category and shows strong results in the walktests in bigger cities.

Especially in the data measurements conducted on Dutch trains, the operators leave some room for improvement – however, compared to some ­neighbouring countries, they still perform very strong in this discipline.

T-Mobile takes the overall win, KPN and Vodafone show effectively the same level of performance

For the fourth time in a row, T-Mobile is the clear winner of the P3 connect Mobile Benchmark Netherlands. KPN and Vodafone follow at some distance, but also achieve the grade “outstanding”. With their scores only two points apart, they show practically the same level of performance. Also, the fact that all three Dutch ope­rators are graded as “outstanding” emphasises the very high performance level of the Dutch mobile networks.

VOICE

Many customers use voice services less intensely than data. However, when actually taking or placing a phone call, they expect reliable connections. How do the Dutch mobile networks manage to fullfil these expectations?

All three operators in the Netherlands support Voice over LTE (VoLTE). VoLTE transmits voice calls as data packets over a 4G connection. This way, the otherwise necessary “circuit-switched fallback“, which forces smartphones to switch back to 3G in order to take or place a phone call, can be avoided. Also, VoLTE supports better audio codecs providing operators with the opportunity to deliver higher speech quality to their customers.

For the voice rating, each drivetest car and each walktest team carried one Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone per operator. The phones in the cars called a counterpart in one of the other cars. The phones carried by the walktest teams called a stationary counterpart. The connected testing equipment regis­tered success ratios, call setup times and speech quality. In order to simulate normal smartphone usage, data transfers took place in the background of the test calls.

Voice Results at a Glance

T-Mobile takes the win in the voice category due to overall high KPIs and especially high call success ratios in cities, towns and on the roads. Vodafone and KPN are ­following, scoring only one point apart. KPN offers the shortest call setup times in all disciplines. On trains, there is minor room for improvement. However, all three operators perform on a high level.

DATA

The volume of transmitted data is growing rapidly, which emphasises the importance of data connecti­vity. Which operator in the Netherlands ­manages best to keep up with the increasing demand?

Data connectivity is the most prestigious discipline in our benchmark and also in the operators’ marketing. All three Dutch networks claim to cover a large part of the population with LTE services – the claimed percen­­ta­ges all range in the high nineties. And all three ­operators are continuing to spend large sums on upgrading and expanding their networks to meet the growing demand – including the ­installation of early 5G network cells. Today, the Dutch operators have equipped their 4G networks to offer the combination of four or even five LTE carriers in different frequen­cy bands. This “carrier aggregation” is the tech­nical basis for the so-called “4G+” services which theo­re­tically ­support data rates up 1 Gbps.

The Samsung Galaxy S9, which we used for the measurements, is a so-called LTE cate­gory 18 device and can generally benefit from carrier aggregation with download speeds up to 1.2 Gpbs. However, T-Mobile and Vodafone use specific carrier combina­tions that were not fully supported by the Galaxy S9 with ­Android Oreo which was used at the time of testing. Users of these networks who upgrade to the latest Android OS ­version might ­enjoy even higher data rates. In general, ­users ­looking for the fastest pos­sible data rates, should ask their operator for specific device and firmware recommendations.

P3’s Scoring rewards high performance as well as the networks’ availability and stability

The benchmarking of web-page downloads as well as file downloads and uploads rewards fast data rates. Peak data performance was tested in uplink and downlink directions by assessing the amount of data that was transferred within a seven ­seconds time period. In order to support higher troughputs, these measurements have been conducted with three TCP sockets (see page 13 for more details) At the same time, P3 assesses the networks‘ availability and ­stability by examining success ratios. Above that, we determined the minimum data rates that are available in 90 per cent of the cases plus the peak data rates that would be surpassed in 10 per cent of the cases. YouTube evaluations concentrate on success ­ratios, start times and playouts without interruptions as well as the received average video resolution.

Data Results at a Glance

As in the voice category, T-Mobile also ranks best overall in the data category. In all drivetest scenarios, this operator achieved close to 100 per cent of the available points. Vodafone and KPN follow at some distance, but
rank closely together. Vodafone shows the best performance in the big cities walktests, while KPN achieves a particularly high score on the roads.

T-Mobile

In 2000, Deutsche Telekom bought a minority of the Dutch mobile network operator Ben, which was later extended to a 100 per cent ­acquisition. In 2003, Ben was renamed T-Mobile Netherlands, with the brand “Ben“ be­coming a “no-frills“ offer within its portfolio. In 2007, T-Mobile NL additionally acquired Orange.
At the end of its fiscal year 2018, T-Mobile Netherlands repor­ted a revenue of 1.3 billion Euros. At the same time, the company completed its ­acquisition of the smallest Dutch mobile operator, Tele2. By this step, T-Mobile‘s ­customer base of formerly about 3.2 million mobile sub­scribers was ­amended by former Tele2 customers, resulting in a total of 4 million ­­subscribers. At the time of testing, the technical integration of Tele2‘s infrastructure into T-Mobile‘s network had not yet begun – as a first step, former Tele2 customers benefit of national roaming with T-Mobile‘s
cells. As Tele2 did not legally exist anymore, we used SIM cards of T-Mobile only for our mea­surements. T-Mobile‘s network offers 2G mostly at 1800 MHz, 3G at 900 and 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE at 900, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz. The company claims a 4G coverage of more than 99 per cent of the population and has been offering VoLTE since October 2017.

Vodafone

The Dutch subsidiary of the international ­Vodafone Group acquired the operator Libertel in 2003, forming Vodafone Netherlands. In 2016, it merged with the cable and ­fibre operator Ziggo. Today, 50 per cent of the joint company Vodafone Ziggo is owned by the Vodafone Group and another 50 per cent by ­Liberty Global. VodafoneZiggo is the second largest mobile operator in the Netherlands with about 5.2 million ­mobile cus­to­mers. The company also specifies 3.9 million video, 3.3 million fixed broadband and 2.5 million fixed tele­phony subscribers. For the ­calendar year 2018, Vodafone Ziggo announced a mobile revenue of 3.9 bn Euros.
The company operates 2G networks at 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G at 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE at 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz. It was the first Dutch operator to announce that it will phase out its 3G network by 2020 in order to devote its spectrum to 4G. Vodafone claims to offer more than 98 per cent population coverage with 4G and to ­offer up to 1 Gbps with “4G+“ (carrier aggregation). VoLTE was introduced in November 2016.

KPN

The Koninklijke PTT Nederland N.V. emerged from the privatisation of the formerly state-owned PTT in 1998. For the fiscal year 2018, the com­pany reported a total ­revenue of 5.7 billion Euros as well as a customer base of 5.5 million consumer and business postpaid subscribers plus 1.3 million fixed-mobile phone plans. By these numbers, KPN is clearly the largest Dutch ­mobile operator. In addition, KPN reports 2.9 million fixed broadband and 2.2 ­million ­interactive tv ­customers plus 610,000 “business ­multiplay” workstations. The company focuses on marketing its KPN brand, however with ­Simyo, Telfort and Ortel it also has offerings in the “no-frills“ ­segment.

KPN operates 2G/GSM at 900, 3G/UMTS at 900 and 2100 MHz and 4G/LTE at 800, 1800, 2100 and 2600 MHz. 3G is scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2021.

KPN claims a 99.3 per cent coverage of the Dutch population with 4G. Recently, KPN has started to combine all of its LTE frequen­cies by “4 carrier ­aggre­gation” (4CA), which enables theore­tical download speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Furthermore, KPN has offered VoLTE since ­October 2016 and introduced 4×4 MIMO in March 2019.

CONCLUSION

T-Mobile is the overall winner – for the fourth time in a row. KPN shows the biggest score improvement in comparison to the previous year, while Vodafone keeps its high performance level.

For the fourth time in a row, T-Mobile is the clear ­winner of the P3 connect Mobile Benchmark ­Netherlands – and it ranks at the highest score level which has ever been achieved in a P3 ­connect Mobile Benchmark.

KPN and Vodafone follow behind the winner at some distance. With their scores only two points apart, they show practically the same level of ­performance. And the fact, that all three Dutch ­operators achieve the grade “outstanding” clearly emphasises the very high performance level of the Netherland’s mobile networks.

On this very high level, the Benchmark at hand ­reveals some differences: While
T-Mobile leads in all three ­assessment categories, KPN performs slightly better than Vodafone in the Voice category, while the ranking order is vice-versa in the Data category. In the Crowdsourced evaluations, Vodafone loses a few points due to a
sligthly ­elevated level of service degradations in August, September and October 2018. This time, KPN showed the biggest score improvement over its result from the ­previous year. ­However, next year the race is open again.

1 T-Mobile

The overall winner of the 2019 P3 ­connect Mobile Benchmark in the Netherlands is T-Mobile –achieving the highest score level ever determined in our Mobile Benchmarks. T-Mobile clearly leads in all tested disci­plines including the newly introduced crowd score and also leads the field in most of the ­single ­categories of our assessment.

2 KPN

KPN shows the biggest score improvement compared to its results from the previous year. In a neck-and-neck race with an after all equally strong Vodafone, KPN scored slightly better in the Voice and Crowdsourced categories. KPN scores ­particularly strong in the Voice tests in smaller towns and in the Data tests on ­connecting roads

3 Vodafone

Effectively, the performance of Vodafone is on a par with that of KPN. Vodafone scores slightly better than KPN in the data category and shows particularly strong results in the walktests ­conducted in bigger cities.
An elevated level of de­gra­dations observed during the summer of 2018, costs this operator some points in the crowd score.