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Digi explains about 4G LTE coverage signal measurement at -110dBm

In recent weeks, two Malaysian mobile operators have claimed that they have the widest 4G LTE network in the country, based on different minimum signal measurement.

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While in the past, Maxis has always claimed that it has the fastest network in Malaysia, including the widest 4G LTE coverage, recently, Digi also claimed it has the widest 4G LTE coverage in the country. 

Based on latest numbers that was officially announced, Digi claims it has the widest 4G LTE network with a 60% population coverage nationwide (from 50% in October 2015), measured at a minimum signal strength quality of -110dBm while Maxis also said it has the widest 4G LTE coverage in Malaysia at 62% (from 55% in October 2015), measured at a minimum signal strength of -98dBm.

Maxis said it would have a 4G LTE coverage of 71% nationwide if it measured its coverage at a minimum signal strength of -110dBm (same as Digi).

As for the other Telcos, Celcom has been silent about its 4G LTE coverage but recent internal data last seen by MalaysianWireless indicated that Celcom is targeting a 56% human population coverage by year end. On the other hand, U Mobile has not claimed to have the widest 4G LTE coverage yet but was recently named Malaysia’s Fastest Mobile Network by Speedtest.net, the world’s most popular broadband speed testing platform.

From a technical perspective, a wireless signal strength reception at -98dBm is much stronger (better) than -110dBm. Better mobile signal strength ensures minimum drop call rate, better call quality, faster mobile Internet speeds and good smartphone battery life.

“We designed our network to deliver a minimum signal strength quality of -110dbm”, according to Kesavan Sivabalan, Digi’s Chief Network Officer.

He said Digi customers are able to experience a minimum signal strength of -110dBm “at the edge of our 4G LTE coverage, that is before they are handed over to the next cell tower or switched over to 3G. The closer our customers are to the cell tower, the higher the signal strength they will experience which we believe is the reality because of how dense our network is due to the number of sites we have. This signal strength is a regionally accepted best practice which operators in Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore also adopt.”

Typically, a smartphones finds the best mobile signal it could detect and locks on to it. In an auto network mode setting, a smartphone typically scans for all available network (4G/3G/2G) and then it decides on which network offers the best signal strength and line quality.

A good mobile signal strength will allow better smartphone battery life. Poor mobile signal could drain a smartphone battery faster as the handset antenna uses more power to improve signal strength.

For a 3G network, the edge of a cell coverage is typically -110dBm and 2G is at -98 dBm, based on Digi’s measurement. Talking about mobile phone signal bars, Kesavan said that there’s no standard unit of measurement for a signal bar on a phone. Hence, in layman terms, the 1 bar in 2G or 3G is not equal to the “robust” 1 bar in 4G.

“Handset manufacturers use a variety of different radios in their smartphones and every radio works a little differently. It is up to the manufacturer to decide how the mobile phone reports back to the base station, and how many bars it shows for a specific signal level. For instance, full bars on iPhones are 5 bars vs. Samsung at 4 bars. Hence, > -110dBm measurement will indicate 2 bars on iPhones vs 1 bar in Samsung. We have actually conducted various tests in the lab and actual field tests to confirm this.”

MalaysianWiress asked about the type of Internet speeds Digi customers could expect at a signal strength of -110dBm, Kesavan responded,  “In a 4G network, the base station and mobile transceiver is more sensitive and typically able to stretch to -120dBm and deliver a fair data experience (up to 5 Mbps download speed)”.

Digi said its 4G LTE network offers:

  • 99.9% accessibility to our 4G LTE services
  • 2x faster web page loading
  • 2x faster latency
  • 3x more stable connections
  • 80% more than 5Mbps speed consistency
  • 10x faster LTE relative speed

In terms of 4G LTE and 3G handover settings on network and smartphones, Kesavan considers -110 dBm an optimal coverage as “handset will not switch over to 3G (from 4G) as it is still a very good LTE signal strength.”

“It depends on the network inter-frequency handover settings that commands the handset to switch to 3G or 2G. Some operators aggressively set it at -120 dBm and will enable the handset to stay longer in 4G before switching to 3G, and some less aggressive at -110 dBm,” he added.

When asked to compare with Maxis 4G LTE coverage measured at a minimum signal strength quality of -98dBm, Kesavan reponded “We cannot comment on the claims of other operators and how they would calculate their population coverage. For us, population coverage is calculated based on a good 4G LTE signal strength level of -110 dBm at our cell edge mapped against the population of Malaysia. We are confident of our network performance and this is our assurance to our customers.”

Check out: 5 Questions with Kesavan Sivabalan, Digi’s Chief Network Officer

About Kugan

Kugan is the founder of MalaysianWireless. He has been observing the mobile industry since 2003. Connect with him on Twitter: @scamboy
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