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RootMetrics’ network testing service could herald revolution in smartphone buying decision process

A little known start-up that hails from Seattle and specialises in mobile network testing could change the way people buy their contracts and smartphone forever.

Speaking to ITProPortal last week, the CEO of RootMetrics, Bill Moore, and the head of its UK operations, Greg Kleven, detailed how the company will bring its hybrid-crowdsourcing solution to the UK market by the end of the year, measuring the five main networks against each other (mobile virtual network operators like Virgin and TalkTalk are not included because they share networks with four of the major operators).

RootMetrics (opens in new tab) operates in a way similar to Google Street View. It collects data using its own specially equipped vehicles that drive through cities and towns - so-called urban hotspots - as well as carrying out fixed indoor tests.

It then combines them with crowdsourced data from the thousands of Android (opens in new tab) and iOS (opens in new tab) users that have downloaded its free apps; more than 120 million data samples have been collected thus far, with more than 440,000 samples collected in Central London alone.

RootMetrics uses different sampling populations for UK and the US because of various population densities and says that by the end of 2012, up to 16 large urban zones, representing up to half of the UK population, will be covered, with LTE measurements starting soon as well.

The company is currently making some money out of advertising with mobile operators - who use RootMetrics’ data set to complement their own - making the bulk of its revenues.

Moore also confirmed that the company will expand into Europe in the future, a logical step given that it is already getting to know the major European mobile operators better in the UK.

Other interesting tidbits RootMetrics’ CEO shared with us include a significant disparity when it comes to performance between Android smartphones, LTE being faster than Wi-Fi in the US (on average) and a higher call failure rate in the UK compared to the US.

As for the future of the service, Moore hinted that there will be more types of testing, the ability to find out network performance on a particular route (e.g. for a commute) and even greater granularity when it comes to types of smartphones plus a wider range of tests (to include Wi-Fi, UDP and video as well as speed and experience) as well as two apps, one for consumers and one for techies.

Moore also shed some interesting light on the benchmarking and service hardware used. As it stands, only iOS and Android smartphones are used because they represent the bulk of the market with mobile platforms from Microsoft and RIM left out.

(opens in new tab)Perhaps more interestingly, he also confirmed that the company would explore a third revenue stream, one which will put it in direct competition with the likes of Recombu and Omnio. RootMetrics is working on a service that allows customers to search the perfect billing, smartphone and mobile phone operators in one swoop, not unlike what does in the US.

This will, for example, allow users to tailor services for their own individual circumstances, down to their daily commute, the smartphone brand/OS they desire and what allowances (text, data or minutes) need to be prioritised.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.