Phones over fitness: Poor mobile network forcing 20% of Brits to stop exercising in search of better signal

What Mobile
June 6, 2019

New study from GWS into mobile connectivity in gyms combines data from extensive engineering-level testing with results from nationwide consumer study 

  • 1 in 5 British gym-goers have stopped exercising to try and resolve issues with poor phone network
  • Engineering-based tests conducted by GWS show that network speeds are over three times slower inside gyms compared to outside when completing social media related tasks
  • Mobile network coverage drops by nearly 20% when entering a gym
  • Brits rely on their phones for streaming music, recording fitness progress on apps and taking selfies when working out – but testing shows that 8% of data tasks fail inside gyms
  • 5G has now landed in the UK, but the test results reveal that the big 4 UK operators are still having difficulties extending 4G into buildings

Today, leading independent network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) has released the findings of its latest study into mobile connectivity in gyms. 1 in 2 people in the UK now claim to go to the gym, where they are heavily reliant on their phones to stream music (34%), record progress on apps such as Strava or MyFitnessPal (26%), take selfies (20%) or browse social media and the internet (17%). The study, which represents the first test of its kind evaluating mobile network performance in gyms, reveals that all of the big 4 operators are having trouble extending their networks indoors.

Unfit signal

GWS’ team of engineers tested mobile network performance gathering nearly 13,000 task samples (covering voice and data performance) inside and outside 30 of London’s top gyms including Pure Gym, Gymbox, Nuffield Health and Bannatyne Health Club.

The results reveal a 20% drop in mobile network coverage when you enter a gym. This is an issue for anyone who enjoys posting fitness snaps onto social media sites, where a typical photo upload takes 9 seconds longer inside the gym than outside.

GWS’ research shows that over a third (34%) of people stream music when exercising inside gyms. Yet speed and performance drop noticeably when inside.  For example, it takes nearly twice as long to download a song inside gyms compared to outside, which could hinder momentum when exercising. Similarly, network reliability noticeably decreases indoors, as nearly 4 out of 50 data tasks fail inside gyms. One central London location has only a 37% success rate for data tasks and only a 15% call setup success rate for voice calls inside – compared to 92% data and 100% voice success rates respectively when outside. As a general trend, 1 in 10 calls fail inside gyms compared to a much stronger performance outside (only 2% fails).

It’s therefore no surprise that 20% of Brits have felt forced to go outside to use their phones due to poor connectivity inside, and a further 21% have stopped exercising to try and sort out their phone’s network problems while at the gym. 27% of gym-goers say that difficulties accessing the internet in the gym annoys them, with a further 19% claiming that they would switch gyms if theirs didn’t have a good mobile signal.

WiFi woes

Phones play an essential role in modern-day exercise routines, yet using WiFi at the gyms is not a great option either. 14% of consumers say that the very first thing they do when they get to a gym is search for the WiFi network, but GWS’ engineers found that they couldn’t connect to the WiFi in a number of the gyms they tested. Consumer polling results also mirror this as 17% say that they have not been able to get onto the gym’s WiFi network. Once connected to the WiFi network, GWS engineers discovered that download speeds are worse on average than on mobile, with speeds slowing by 32% for download tasks.

Dr Paul Carter, CEO of GWS: “Phone connectivity has become an integral part of our fitness routines – whether we’re using our phone to record progress via apps, post selfies to social media sites or stream music. It’s interesting to note that mobile network speeds inside gyms are close if not better at times to WiFi, but it still isn’t good enough if consumers are being forced to stop working out to check on connection issues.

“Overall, while it’s exciting to see that mobile networks in the UK are deploying new technologies including 5G, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to improve basic reliability indoors – particularly as our research shows that people opt for reliability over speed at a two to one ratio when choosing a mobile network.”

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