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Costa Rica mobile carriers improve coverage, but not internet speed

Costa Rica’s mobile carriers perform well with their 2G and 3G networks, but they need improvements in coverage and quality of their 4G networks. These are some of the main findings of the latest quality evaluation conducted by the Telecommunications Superintendency (SUTEL).

During six months last year, the agency evaluated the performance of mobile and mobile Internet services of state-owned ICE-kölbi, Spanish carrier Telefónica, which operates here under its Movistar brand, and Claro, owned by Mexico’s América Móvil.

The evaluation included on-the-ground measurements of mobile coverage, network capacity to complete calls without interruptions, voice quality and transfer speeds of Internet data.

Call quality

The three carriers scored high with values ranging between 89 and 99 percent in coverage and voice quality over their 2G and 3G networks. Values, however, varied depending on each network’s national coverage.

Benchmarks for the 3G network, the most widely-used here, placed ICE-kölbi first with a national coverage of 93 percent. Claro was second with 81 percent and Movistar followed with 79 percent.

ICE also topped the evaluation for the 4G network with a national coverage of 89 percent. Claro and Movistar obtained 71 and 46 percent, respectively.

SUTEL’s report also states that the carriers scored high in their networks’ capacity to allow customers to complete phone calls without interruptions.

Claro got the top spot with only 5 percent of dropped calls. Only 10 percent of Movistar customers experienced interruptions during their conversations while 14 percent of ICE-Kölbi’s customers were unable to complete their calls.

Low speed benchmarks

The main differences among the carriers in SUTEL’s study are in the average speeds of their mobile Internet networks.

The study found that, on average, Claro offers the best data download speed on 3G networks, with 3,629kilobytes per second (kbps). Movistar is second with 2,620 kbps while ICE-Kölbi offers 1,244 kbps.

Overall, downloading data on mobile phones is slow in Costa Rica compared to many other countries.

London-based tech consultant OpenSignal recently released the results of its Global State of Mobile Networks, an evaluation of mobile data performance in 95 countries.

South Korea tops the list with an average speed of over 41,000 kbps while Costa Rica’s average of 2,550 kbps placed it only above Afghanistan.

Uruguay, at 10,200 kbps, ranks first in Latin America. OpenSignal’s study, however, only included 15 countries in the region.

Service compliance

SUTEL’s study found that all three carriers failed to comply with download speeds promised by their plans, reaching on average 72 percent of the promised download velocity.

Claro customers who signed a 5 Megabytes per second (Mbps) plan received, on average, actual speed of 3.6 Mbps.

Movistar customers got 2.6 Mbps on their 4 Mbps plans.

ICE-Kölbi customers who signed a 3 Mbps plan received 1.2 Mbps on average, making it the least compliant.

Claro offers the best mobile internet speed in 4G networks, with an average of 13.4 Mbps. ICE-Kölbi is second with 5.9 Mbps and Movistar is third at 5.7 Mbps.

SUTEL’s Fallas hopes the research can help consumers make a more informed decision when signing a mobile phone plan.

The agency conducted its research between June and December 2015 through on-the-ground tests along 31,393 kilometers across the country.

According to SUTEL, there were 7.5 million mobile phone lines in Costa Rica at the end of 2015, of which 5.4 million (72 percent) included mobile internet plans.

Internet data traffic in Costa Rica in the last two years has shown noticeable growth. Mobile internet users transferred 24.2 Terabytes of data in 2013. They transferred triple that amount last year.

Full results of SUTEL’s mobile service quality evaluation are available on the agency’s website.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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Ken Morris

The study is right: The companies. especially ICE, simply lie about their internet speeds, although Claro is the least dishonest.

I was stupid enough to once sign up for a postpaid plan with ICE. The service was so slow that I couldn’t even check my email, and ICE’s customer service was worthless. After a couple weeks of frustration, I therefore felt that I had no choice but to eat my initial loss with ICE, not pay my monthly bill, and buy another service. I bought Claro prepaid, though quickly learned with it that I had to buy a faster speed since regardless of the speeds advertised, my speed was a lot slower. However, at least I could get Claro to work. ICE never did, and I suppose I’m now in ICE’s records as a deadbeat for not paying, even though I did not receive anything close to the speed ICE promised.

I also looked at the contract from ICE, and sure enough found that the promised speed was modified by the phrase “up to.” That is, ICE actually doesn’t promise in writing the speed it promises verbally and in advertising, but rather states that the promised speed is the maximum. There is no minimum, so ICE covers its ass if your speed is zero, which mine was.

Meanwhile, I remembered that I was only given the contract AFTER I signed up and paid. During the sign up, the clerk did ask me to sign the contract, which I did, but I was only shown the last signature page, not the previous pages. This was a pure scam.

Anyway, I’m hardly in love with Claro, but at least it comes close to delivering the promised speeds. ICE didn’t even come close.

When a business operates the way ICE does, I think it should be closed and the managers sent to prison. ICE flat out lied to me.

Sadly, lying seems tolerated. SUTEL itself found that NONE of the companies provided the speeds promised. Well, shouldn’t SUTEL shut them all down? Yes it should. A regulatory agency should not allow the businesses it regulates to lie, which according to its own study, they all do.

But ICE is the worst.

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Charles House

We live in the hills above Grecia, Alajuela. After building our new home, we found that all of the internet carriers are “saturated” and cannot accept new customers. Why not expand the capabilities and increase the clients? It’s the mindset here that has highway engineers believing a two lane bridge is adequate to serve a four lane freeway, or a store that sells inflatable boats that doesn’t offer the oars to go with the boat.

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