Nov 26 2013

FCC Smartphone App Helps Users Double-Check Carrier Speeds

The new app gives users better insight into the speed and quality of their mobile broadband.

Cellular carriers promise a lot when it comes to the speed of their wireless networks, but users are generally left guessing whether their mobile devices are uploading and downloading data as quickly as advertised.

The Federal Communications Commission is attempting to fill the void by giving mobile users a greater voice with its newly released app, fittingly called FCC Speed Test, which measures mobile carriers’ network performance.

The application, available for Android smartphones through the Google Play store, aims to provide consumers with accurate information about their own mobile broadband speeds. It is free of charge and was developed by the FCC in collaboration with broadband experts and major mobile network operators, among other stakeholders.

After installation, the FCC Speed Test runs periodically in the background to test the wireless network. There is also a manual option for on-demand mobile broadband testing, and the app can graph past performance tests on key parameters — such as upload and download speed, latency and packet loss — to provide users with a visual representation of network speeds over time.

While the app promises to use no more than 100 megabytes of data each month during its automatic testing (which takes place only when a smartphone isn’t being used), users can manually adjust that number from within the application.

FCC Speed Test, according to the FCC, is a first step toward a more concerted effort on the part of the commission to provide consumers with additional tools in their arsenal for making fact-based, informed decisions when selecting a wireless provider. Next year, the FCC intends to use the data aggregated by the app to develop and release interactive maps and tools that provide people with information about mobile broadband performance around the United States.

“I just left a venture capital firm investing in applications like this,” said new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler during his first meeting as commission head, reports AdWeek. “If we’re going to make fact-based decisions, we need facts. We’re seeking feedback, it’s always going to be improving.” With the app the FCC is enlisting the help of the American people to gather those facts, Wheeler added.

An iPhone version of the FCC Speed Test app is in the works and should be ready for submission to the Apple App Store by the end of January. The FCC developed FCC Speed Test using open-source code that’s been made available so interested parties can adapt the app or tell the FCC how to make it better.