The boring art of testing hotspot bandwidth and battery life

I’m nearing the finish line (I hope) of an overdue update to the Wirecutter guide to WiFi hotspots. The research for that had me repeatedly subjecting an array of loaner hotspots from all four nationwide wireless carriers to tests of the two core metrics of bandwidth and battery life.

It hasn’t exactly been my most exciting work.

For bandwidth testing, I’ve continued to rely on Ookla’s Speedtest.net Web, Android and iOS apps to clock the download speeds, upload speeds and ping times each hotspot has served up. This is pretty much an industry-standard benchmark, and these apps are simple enough to run.

But getting data out of them is another thing:

  • The iOS app creates a .csv file you can open in any spreadsheet app that includes every relevant bit of data–date and time, GPS-derived location, WiFi network name, download/upload/ping measurements, shareable public link–and attaches it to an e-mail message.
  • The Android app also generates a .csv file–except that choosing to have it saved to your Google Drive leaves you with a .eml mail-attachment file. You have to e-mail it to yourself to get a usable .csv, at which point you discover that this export doesn’t include the name of the wireless network.
  • The Web app’s “Export” button yields a third type of .csv file, one without a record of the WiFi network name, your location, or a shareable link.
  • No, the option to create a Speedtest account won’t help–because you can’t log into that from the mobile apps.

Ookla is owned by PCMag publisher Ziff Davis, but that has yet to result in any corporate pressure to make exporting measurements less janky for the hardworking journalists at that and other Ziff tech media properties.

Testing hotspot battery life only requires recording the times you started and ended each trial. But because these things often run for 12 hours or more, it’s not realistic to tether a laptop to a hotspot and keep working nonstop until the hotspot battery expires and the connection drops.

To ensure my laptop would be keeping each hotspot working full time, I opened a page to NASA’s live YouTube channel. Beyond running up the social-media metrics for one of my favorite four-letter government agencies, keeping the browser on a single live channel avoids the risk of YouTube’s recommendations sending me off to some nutcase conspiracy hub.

Because I’m not always that smart, I didn’t think to check my laptop’s ability to log a wireless connection going offline until after I’d spent an hour and change watching one hotspot linger at 1% of a charge.

As a helpful StackExchange thread pointed out, that logged data awaits inside Windows. Type “Event Viewer” in the taskbar search, open that app, select “Applications and Services Logs” in the left-hand pane, double-click the center pane’s “Microsoft,” “Windows,” “UniversalTelemetryClient,” and “Operational” entries in succession, then select “Filter Current Log…” in the right-hand pane. Type “55” in the resulting dialog’s Event ID field, hit “OK” and you’ll see a series of entries.

Assuming you check this right after seeing that the laptop went offline, opening the most recent should reveal a properties field consisting of “Is the Internet available: false,” with the time corresponding to when the hotspot died.

Since I don’t have a Mac laptop, I’m not sure how you’d do this on one. A different StackExchange thread suggests a Terminal command, but that doesn’t work on my iMac–maybe because this aging desktop isn’t running the latest macOS edition. It would be ironic if you have to hit the command line on a Mac to perform a task that Windows lets you accomplish inside a graphical user interface–but the Windows Event Viewer app is mighty ugly itself, and neither operating system covers itself in glory in this aspect.

Weekly output: Verizon WiFi testing, cord cutting, Sprint + T-Mobile, Sprint unlimited plans

Not that the weather around here ever takes me up on any suggestions, but it sure would be nice to have a little rain every other day instead of having a few weeks of drought followed by a week of almost nonstop downpours.

7/17/2018: Inside Verizon’s unique approach to Wi-Fi testing, FierceWireless

I had a field trip two weeks ago to Ashburn to check out some of the testing facilities Verizon has set up there. Verizon PR offered to have an Uber fetch me from home, but instead of subjecting a driver and myself to morning I-66 traffic, I asked if they could move that pickup to the current end of the Silver Line–which let me get some work done on the train and then gawk at Silver Line Phase II construction on my way to Loudoun County.

7/18/2018: Cord-cutting will cost cable companies $5.5B this year: Survey, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up a new survey of cord cutting from the NYC-based management consultancy cg42. Some of the numbers in this survey looked a little out there, and quizzing cg42’s managing partner Stephen Beck revealed some reasons why.

7/19/2018: Why the Sprint and T-Mobile merger could be good for you, Yahoo Finance

My default attitude towards giant telecom mergers remains skepticism. But when two different studies of wireless network performance suggested that a combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would yield significantly better results than a simple addition of their coverage maps would suggest, I had to put that in the story–while noting that the effects of such a combination on pricing are another issue.

7/22/2018: How to tell if Sprint’s new unlimited data plans are worth the upgrade, USA Today

Speaking of wireless, yet another reshuffling of plans at Sprint led to this piece advising readers how to compare that carrier’s two new unlimited-data (read: unlimited on-phone data) plans. The column also takes yet another whack at Apple for shipping a data-usage meter in iOS that doesn’t break down bandwidth consumption by month.

Weekly output: smartphone-only Internet access, data discussion, Credit Karma, GDPR notices, ad agencies, Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, live music, encryption politics, future of the FTC

I spent most of this week in New Orleans for the Collision conference–that event’s finale there, as it’s moving to Toronto next year. (The clip the organizers put together to announce the change of host cities includes a snippet at the 0:21 mark of a panel on VR and AR that I did at Collision last year, something that completely escaped my attention when they played that clip Tuesday.) I’m sad that I won’t have an obvious reason to put NOLA on my Schedule C next year, but I don’t want to complain too much after three years in a row of being able to do just that.

Meanwhile, Conference Month continues with my departure Monday for Google I/O in Mountain View. I return Thursday, and then Tuesday of the week after has me off to Toronto for RightsCon.

4/30/2018: Study: 1 in 5 American homes get broadband through smartphones, Yahoo Finance

After filing this write-up of a new Pew Research Center study from a “real” computer, my editor sent back some questions as I was boarding my flight to New Orleans. I had free Internet access on my phone thanks to T-Mobile’s deal with Gogo, so I wound up finishing this post on smartphone-only Internet access on my mobile device. My comment to my editor: “I’ve basically become one with the story.”

5/1/2018: Data do nicely: Metrics that matter, Collision

My first of four panels at Collision had me quizzing Node co-founder Falon Fatemi and Branch Metrics co-founder Mada Seghete about how their firms collect and crunch large amounts of data for various clients. About five minutes in, I realized that I only had 15 minutes’ worth of questions for this 20-minute panel–a clock-management fail I should know to avoid–and started improvising. As I watched the timer tick down and silently implored each of my fellow panelists to keep talking, I thought the situation vaguely reminded me of watching the Caps grinding out a penalty kill.

 

5/1/2018: From 0-$4bn: Building Credit Karma, Collision

Tuesday’s second panel was an onstage interview of Credit Karma co-founder Nichole Mustard. After the morning’s timing troubles, I took care to write down more questions than I thought I’d need, then didn’t have to worry about timing since my panel partner could hold forth on everything I asked about.

 

5/1/2018: Pay attention to those privacy notices flooding your email, USA Today

This column explaining why so many sites, apps and services are rolling out new privacy policies effective May 25 was one of two posts that benefited from an interview I did with the Federal Trade Commission’s Terrell McSweeny–as in, one of my Web Summit co-panelists last year–on her second-to-last day in office.

5/2/2018: The agency of tomorrow today, Collision

I had a great chat with DDB Worldwide’s CEO Wendy Clark about the state of the ad business. This panel also featured some audience questions–routed through the Slido app, so I could pick which ones to answer instead of pointing to somebody in the audience and hoping they wouldn’t begin “this question is more of a comment.”

 

5/3/2018: Why Sprint customers should hope the T-Mobile deal succeeds, USA Today

This column walked readers through four independent assessments of Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks–three of which found Sprint’s to be well behind, even after notable improvements.

5/3/2018: Tech changed consumption: What’s the next disruption?, Collision

My last Collision panel had me quizzing Ticketmaster’s Ismail Elshareef (with whom I’d worked in 2012 when I did a talk at his then-employer Edmunds) and the UCLA Center for Music Innovation’s Gigi Johnson about the state of live music. You’ll hear a couple of shout-outs from me to such current and former D.C.-area venues as the 9:30 Club and Iota.

 

5/3/2018: The Trump administration is pushing hard for smartphone backdoors, Yahoo Finance

I’m not sure what led this recap of recent developments in encryption politics to get 1,280 comments, but I’m not going to turn down that kind of attention.

5/3/2018: The agency that protects your privacy is in for big changes, Yahoo Finance

Most of my notes from the McSweeny interview went into this post, along with a few conversations with outside observers of the Federal Trade Commission.