A Cellular Network Radio Access Performance Measurement System: Results from a Ugandan Refugee Settlements Field Trial
12 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 17 Aug 2018
Date Written: March 16, 2018
Mobile network diffusion has provided a ‘piece of the puzzle’ for international aid agencies seeking a digital platform through which they can offer services to their beneficiaries. Despite limitations (e.g. network coverage, handset ownership), in recent years digital cash via mobile, health services via mobile or simply using mobile for critical communications, such as emergency weather alerts, have been deployed even in remote areas. As these systems evolve and mature, and service is improved, aid agencies are trying to gain a better understanding of where in their service areas wireless service is unavailable. Fundamentally, this points to increasing need for transparent quality of service (QoS) measures, beyond the realm of mobile network operators and regulators. At the same time, aid agencies also experience for themselves as well as their beneficiaries, a lack of electrical power, necessary for operating and charging digital devices. This research reports on an integrated data collection system for analyzing wireless network with consideration of power availability. The system relies on active assessments by humans through interviews, visual inspection and photography, as well as passive measurements through radio interfaces. For wireless networks, it specifies techniques for generating coverage maps using free and open source software, appropriate for use in low resource contexts. As such, it presents an alternative to expensive commercial network detection equipment used for ‘drive tests.’ It also provides guidance on the types of power systems and important configurations and operating parameters to assess, particularly for wireless system operation. The system is tested during a 10 day field trial in three Ugandan refugee settlements conducted in March 2018. The wireless network detection system is comprised of handsets, mobile applications, data extraction and export procedures, mapping software and processes. A partial output (3G wireless coverage map) generated by the system is depicted in Figure 1. The power system assessment is comprised of a checklist of essential elements of power systems typical in remote areas (generators, solar). The integrated system trial demonstrated its feasibility as well as some limitations. This paper provides detailed specifications of the system’s components, operating parameters, cost estimates and capacities for field and desk personnel and a discussion of scaling. The system’s implications are evaluated relative to its input to the assessment process used by the Smart Communities Coalition, a program of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Master Card Foundation. The program’s goal is extended network access and financial services for refugees. The role of the system’s output in the planning process will be presented, including its uses in prioritizing sites for network deployment and in requests for mobile network operators to extend network coverage. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of the system as it relates to the ITU’s March 2017 ‘Framework for Monitoring the Quality of Service of IP Network Services.’ In particular, we discuss the potential for the system to contribute to radio coverage availability, which unlike many other parameters of QoS, is reported to require further study.
Keywords: QoS, wireless networks, low income countries, humanitarian aid
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