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FCC App Lets Android Users Measure Mobile Broadband Speed 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the fast-enough-except-when-it's-not dept.
itwbennett writes "The FCC's new Android app will allow users to measure the speed of their mobile broadband connection, while providing aggregate data to the agency for measuring nationwide mobile broadband network performance. Released as open-source software on Thursday, the free FCC Speed Test App will test network performance for parameters such as upload and download speed, latency and packet loss. An iPhone version of the app is in the works."
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FCC App Lets Android Users Measure Mobile Broadband Speed

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can't they just ask the NSA?

  • If every 3-letter agency in the federal government wasn't so busy spying on us, I might get it. But nowadays, I don't trust anyone from Washington.

    • by aitikin (909209) on Friday November 15, 2013 @06:31PM (#45438873)
      Being that it's open sourced, I'll wait 2 months and someone will audit the code, then I'll consider it. (yes, I don't know enought o do that myself).
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm much more concerned about the telecos identifying this software and gaming the results.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I'm much more concerned about the telecos identifying this software and gaming the results.

          Good! Then I'll write my Apps to mimic the requests sent out by the FCC App.
          Once the teleco switches my connection into "high speed for great rankings!" mode, my App will switch into "all your bandwidth are belong to us" mode!

          • by icebike (68054) on Friday November 15, 2013 @07:26PM (#45439341)

            Won't be useful, unless you want to do nothing but download the same chunk of data over and over again.

            We can only hope that the authors were wise enough to request randomly named data blocks from randomly selected data servers, because otherwise we will be measuring the effectiveness of the carriers cache at the nearest tower base.

            • We can only hope that the authors were wise enough to request randomly named data blocks

              Or better yet, use some sort of public-key crypto so that nothing can imitate the FCC servers. In any case, it's supposed to be free software; you can verify that the source does what it says it does.

      • As long as the versions on the Play store are identical to the audited version and you don't update until the updates are audited either..

        • by aitikin (909209)
          I'd be surprised if someone didn't fork it. Not like it'd be difficult to do a fork, audit, and update as needed.
    • by simonbp (412489)

      What precisely are you afraid of? And I'm being serious, what could the app access that you find worrying? It does grab your location, but that is trivial for any law enforcement agency these days.

      If this app helps the FCC ensure that wireless companies are honest, I'm all for it.

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday November 15, 2013 @08:03PM (#45439633)

        What precisely are you afraid of?

        I'm sorry, but that's none of your business.

        • by artor3 (1344997)

          Why are you dodging the question? The GP wasn't making one of those fallacious "nothing to hide" arguments. He was correctly pointing out that this test doesn't provide the government with any useful spying information.

          It collects your location at the time you run the test (you can uninstall it afterwards), your phone model & carrier info (which they already have easy access to), and... that's it.

          So again, what exactly are you afraid of?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Charliemopps (1157495)

            So again, what exactly are you afraid of?

            And again, it's none of your fucking business. I can chose not to use an application written by an entity that have absolutely no trust in. What I have to hide is everything. They have no right to know anything about me that they do not explicitly need to know. By asking me "What are you afraid of?" you're indicating that I couldn't possibly be afraid of this innocuous app and you're asking me to defend my abstinence with an explanation of how the app could be used against me or to incriminate me. The point

            • by Anonymous Coward

              no, cockhead, he's asking if there's something real that he needs to be concerned about. He's not saying you're a cunt (I am); he's trying to get some useful information from the (misguided) assumption that you are aware of a real reason to be concerned.

              • Why is it when people have something worth saying, they do it as anonymous coward?
                • by ooshna (1654125)

                  People that have something worth saying usually end up gagged, blindfolded, thrown in the back of a van, and end up in some secret prison.

            • I can chose not to use an application written by an entity that have absolutely no trust in. What I have to hide is everything.

              That sounds reasonable, except that you're using a phone in the US that is, by design, not secure to those three letter agencies.

              So... they don't need you to run this app to get access to your phone, it is hard-wired into the chips (installing a clean version of Android doesn't help with that).

              You can't turn off the location, you can't turn off the camera and sound, and you can't disable it, unless you remove the battery. (turning off the camera in options disables it for apps that you install, not t

              • You'd have to rip the GPS chip out, for example, to actually disable location monitoring.

                (Tin foil hat on) And even then, they can still triangulate your location from the cell phone towers. Also, it's possible in many cases to get your location from comparing the WiFi access points that your phone sees to a database compiled by wardriving or from users using something along the lines of http://opensignal.com/ [opensignal.com]. (Tin foil hat off)

            • by artor3 (1344997)

              Yeesh, calm down there little guy. Obviously, you can choose not to use an application for any reason. You can choose not to use the app because squirrels ate the moon, if that happens to be what makes sense in your own mind. But if you're going to post about your decision in public, people might like to know your reasoning. And if your reasoning doesn't hold up to scrutiny, people will say so.

              And, by the way, your reasoning doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

          • by icebike (68054)

            He was correctly pointing out that this test doesn't provide the government with any useful spying information.

            From your mouth to god's ears.

            But If there was nothing to be afraid of, do you think the FCC would have bothered to released the source code?

            THEY understand that there is a lot to be afraid of, and in an attempt to build confidence and distance themselves
            from other branches of the government, they release the entire code-base AHEAD of time. You have to give them
            credit for that, and credit for understanding the level of distrust that exists between the government and the citizens.

            • Yep, releasing the code says: "We don't care about you or your contacts, your location, or anything else, we just want to see how fast the cell network is running and gather data on that."

              Frankly, it is part of the FCC's job, this is something they *should* be doing, so more power to them.

              The FCC is charged with regulating the airwaves of the United States, so this is part of their publicly stated function.

            • by HiThere (15173)

              Actually, it *IS* providing them with useful information, your location. The only thing it, they could already get that if you're carrying a phone. All recent models have GPS tracking, and even my antique can be located via cell tower triangulation.

              P.S.: The cell towers NEED to know roughly where the phone is if it is to be able to be used. If you don't want that, just put it in some sort of Faraday cage. (Metalized plastic envelopes should work, but I don't remember whether you need to ground them.)

              • by icebike (68054)

                P.S.: The cell towers NEED to know roughly where the phone is if it is to be able to be used.

                Don't anthropomorphize cell towers, they hate that.

                They don't NEED to know anything. Your phone is programmed to find all the cell towers it can "hear" to and connect to the one with the strongest signal from its preferred roaming list. It is strictly controlled by the phone, not the tower. Once your phone connects, the tower updates a database so that calls can be routed to it when your number is called.

                If you are moving, your phone will periodically find stronger towers, and register to those towers, w

                • by HiThere (15173)

                  You have demonstrated deeper mechanical insight to the process than I carry in ready memory. I anthromorphize (to a limited extent) to have a simpler model to use. For the purpose of "can you be identified by cell tower triangulation" it works sufficiently. Your answer was, however, obviously more technically correct...but it doesn't change the assertion.

                  OTOH, whether they DO locate you by your phone is another matter. I suspect that (for most people) they don't, to avoid drowning in information. OTOH,

        • What precisely are you afraid of?

          I'm sorry, but that's none of your business.

          that's fine. we already know.

      • by icebike (68054)

        what could the app access that you find worrying? It does grab your location, but that is trivial for any law enforcement agency these days.

        And app running in your phone could grab anything it wants from the phone, and send it anywhere it wants.
        Its called malware, and no phone is totally immune from it, not Android, not IOS. There are ways.

        This is why it matters, ESPECIALLY when the application is provided by the government.

        In case you've been on vacation on Mars for the last several months, you missed the big
        foo-fa-rah where we all discovered that the government was in fact reading all of our email
        and monitoring all of our phone calls, even t

        • Yes, all true...

          However...

          You do know they can access your phone already, this isn't even a secret. The GPS chip is always tracking your location, it has to provide the location for E911 services regardless of the "setting" in Android. The feature is hardwired into the chips, turning it on and off in software doesn't actually do anything other than block your location from installed apps.

          The camera and mic can be turned on remotely, and even the phone can be turned on remotely, if there is power fro

          • by icebike (68054)

            Mostly a collection of myths and half truths.

            All allegations of turned off smartphones being remotely turned on have been traced to phones to which the FBI had access, and upon which they inserted software to make it LOOK LIKE it was off, when it in fact was on. The same for turning on your mic and camera. Every instance traced to phones handled by police or FBI, and some malware infected phones.

            There is no other cases of this in the wild. Lots of tinfoil hat types posting the same nonsense, but when you

            • My understanding is that it's federal law that all cell phone networks must route 911 calls from compatible cell phones regardless of service status.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Memo to ISP network engineers: identify servers used by FCC and add QoS rules to prioritize the relevant traffic.

    • by icebike (68054)

      You mean cache everything they fetch on every tower?

    • by SeaFox (739806)

      They don't need to.

      ISP's have "official" speed testing sites generally, either ones they themselves operate, or ones they bless as being the official test site. You can call them up and say "I'm only getting blahblah megabits per second when I test my speed at whatever.net" and they wont care unless you're getting similar results at the official test.

  • by icebike (68054) on Friday November 15, 2013 @06:46PM (#45439031)

    I have this installed, and it keeps separate track of BOTH wifi measurements and cellular network measurements.
    But it measures both, and allows you to swipe left and right to see each measurement it took.

    What I've learned: My carrier is pretty pathetic.

    Note
    Being Open source, you can see exactly what is being reported [github.com], but I predict that won't stop the tinfoil hat crowd from claiming the binary does not reflect the source code.

    • What I've learned: My carrier is pretty pathetic.

      They're all very pathetic. They're oversubscribed by many thousands to one; Your shittiest cable provider doesn't hold a candle to how pathetically oversubscribed the average mobile provider is. These towers typically only have a T1 backhaul... it only takes a couple of phones to saturate those links. You will never, ever, get the full-rated OTA speed. Anywhere.

      And they employ super-massive buffers; They're the reason buffer-bloat has become a problem. Latencies far above what even 90s-era modems provide --

      • No offense, but I have to call BS on this:

        These towers typically only have a T1 backhaul.

        Since T1s are a little bit over 1.5 mbps symmetrical, (1.54 mbps IIRC) this result: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BZJiaGpCcAAonC9.png:large [twimg.com] seems to disagree with your statement. If I understand Verizon's network setup correctly, I'd guess that they're using at least something like a OC-3c.
        Now, if you'll excuse me for a second, a bit of a related rant.
        The only problems with my experience with mobile internet are th

        • No offense, but I have to call BS on this:

          These towers typically only have a T1 backhaul.

          Well, It's true [rcrwireless.com]. They're starting to integrate into other assets, as Time Warner points out: Many cell phone providers are hooking cable modems up to their towers to boost speeds. Some towers, where regulations permit, and where sufficiently high enough to avoid a safety hazard, also use microwave links to nearby central offices. But the majority of towers being deployed only have a T1 or equivalent for the backhaul.

          If I understand Verizon's network setup correctly, I'd guess that they're using at least something like a OC-3c.

          Exc

          • by thejynxed (831517)

            I can confirm the T1s where for I live. While somewhat rural, even the nearest 100K+ population city doesn't have (and probably won't have) anything 4G/LTE in the foreseeable future. Maybe by 2024. Maybe.

            Let me tell you, they roll those things out in very select and specific areas to make it appear they have great coverage with this, when in fact they do not, and aren't even close to covering the numbers they are claiming on those maps.

            Put it this way - if it isn't going to be a population center of at leas

          • Why do you think the data allowances are so low, while believing the network capacity to be so great?

            All the analysis I've seen says that it's nothing but a cash grab. No more, no less.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shakrai (717556) *

          Verizon pulls fiber to their base stations wherever possible.

          T1s would be a nightmare. The current 2x10mhz LTE network tops out at about 75mbit/s down and 18mbit/s up. Multiply that by three (most base stations have three sectors), then add more bandwidth to account for each of the 3G Ev-DO channels (3mbit/s down and about 1.8mbit/s up) provided, multiply that number by three, then add a non zero amount for voice service (9.6kbit/s per call with current CDMA codecs, 13kbit/s for older codecs), SS7 signal

          • I did the math, and in an area where Verizon is only deploying on the 22 MHz they have in the C block, it comes to 152.1 T1s per cell site, not counting voice , SMS, and overhead. They probably could cut back on the data backhaul and just deliver slow data speeds, but I can't imagine over a hundred T1s being more feasible than some sort of fiber-based solution.
        • by faedle (114018)

          I can tell you for a fact that at least one of the "big four" is buying way more than a single T1 for their towers, at least where I live. They buy a fairly large amount of dark fiber from the company I work for to connect a number of towers on the outskirts of town.

          Granted, they could be running a single T1 over every fiber. But I somehow doubt that.

      • by Shakrai (717556) *

        These towers typically only have a T1 backhaul

        That's a pretty impressive T1, since my LTE speed record with Verizon Wireless is 49mbit/s, with typical day-to-day speeds of 8mbit/s to 12mbit/s. Have you actually talked to a network engineer for any modern cellular provider or are you just making assumptions? The few times I've worked directly with the wireless carriers (on behalf of two clients with buildings the carriers wished to install base stations in) they've pulled fiber in to feed their equipment. T1s might still be used as a last resort for

        • That's a pretty impressive T1, since my LTE speed record

          *facepalm* You're using your own personal assessment and valuing that higher than the body of research on this topic. I won't even bother replying to the rest. Put some citations to your busted ass logic... Google can turn up a surprising amount of documentation to support everything from Roswell aliens to how the government's pouring flouride into our water to make us stupid... I'm sure you can find at least a four color glossy off Verizon's page to backup your ludicrious claims.

          At least try man. Sigh.

          • by Shakrai (717556) *

            I won't even bother replying to the rest.

            In other words you got called out on your BS and refuse to back it up. Gotcha. I think you're the kind of person who knows just enough to be dangerous. Case in point:

            Some towers, where regulations permit, and where sufficiently high enough to avoid a safety hazard, also use microwave links to nearby central offices.

            "Safety hazard"?!? How much power do you think microwave links need? Hint: With good antennas and a clear LOS you can go miles with a power output measured in milliwatts. TV stations broadcast with power levels measured in kilowatts, and people live right next door to the transmitters while suffering no health effects whatsoever. You mi

            • In other words you got called out on your BS and refuse to back it up. Gotcha. I think you're the kind of person who knows just enough to be dangerous. Case in point:

              First, I provided a link to an article from a respected trade magazine that backs up every claim I've made. You have provided nothing. I have provided examples of your own logical fallacies. You have responded with ad hominid attacks and strawmans. I shouldn't be responding to this post at all. But I will because you're a sad husk of a geek and I'm bored.

              Safety hazard"?!? How much power do you think microwave links need?

              *facepalm* Tell you what, why don't you climb up on the tower, stick your head in front of one, and sit there for a few hours listening to the hum between

              • by pspahn (1175617)

                You have responded with ad hominid attacks and strawmans.

                Ad hominid isn't a real thing. Your entire argument is therefore flawed.

              • by Shakrai (717556) *

                Meanwhile, the rest of us have figured out that if sticking your head in a home microwave is dangerous

                Home microwave: 0.8 to 1.5 kilowatts (59dBm to 62dBm)
                Microwave repeater: No more than a few watts, typically less. (30dBm for 1 watt, 37dBm for 5 watts)

                If you can't see the difference between 1.5 kilowatts and something typically measured in milliwatts then I don't know how to help you. Besides, I never advocated climbing the tower and sitting in front of the transmitter. I was responding to your absurd (and unsourced) claim that they can only use microwave repeaters "Where the tower is tall enough" bec

  • It would seem that Speedtest already has app for most major mobile players. What is so what is different about that one, beside the fact that all the result is centralized by the FCC (with the associated risks) ?
    • by icebike (68054)

      It would seem that Speedtest already has app for most major mobile players. What is so what is different about that one, beside the fact that all the result is centralized by the FCC (with the associated risks) ?

      Speeddtest.net uses the data for their own purposes. Using them enriches them.

      Supposedly this is strictly for the FCC, by the FCC.

    • I've seen some pretty suspicious (as in higher than the speed of the connection that you're paying for) numbers come out of the speedtest app.
    • by leuk_he (194174)

      According to the speedtest app, our wifi network @home is the limitiation, and on android the phone is limited more.
      -cabled pc show full network speed.
      -modern laptop show almost full speed of wifi network
      -android shows less accurate full speed of wifinetwork with higer ping.

      Cheapest internet i can get here is the fiber :)

  • It's shit megabytes. This is America where we're 15 years behind everyone else and it costs more.

  • All of these speed tests are ludicrously easily-gamed, and are thus of next to no value in the real world. They don't tell you what speed you're getting on real-world websites, they tell you what speed you could theoretically get when your internet provider lifts caps on bandwidth, prioritizes your traffic over those of other users on the same cell tower / network for the duration of the test, etc.

    And you're naive if you think some or all of the above doesn't already happen.
    • All of these speed tests are ludicrously easily-gamed, and are thus of next to no value in the real world. They don't tell you what speed you're getting on real-world websites, they tell you what speed you could theoretically get when your internet provider lifts caps on bandwidth, prioritizes your traffic over those of other users on the same cell tower / network for the duration of the test, etc.

      And you're naive if you think some or all of the above doesn't already happen.

      The crazy thing is, even with all of the above being true, the speed tests still suck. That means that while GAMING the tests, they still provide sub-par performance. Think about that for a moment.

    • by icebike (68054)

      All of these speed tests are ludicrously easily-gamed, and are thus of next to no value in the real world.

      Looking at the code, and a log of the application I can see that it first looks up the closest server from some list, mine ended up hitting samknows1.sjo1.level3.net, port 8080, this appears to be location dependent, then it proceeds to down load (HTTPGET)a file called 100MB.bin for the download test.

      It then turns around and uploads that same file (HTTPPOST) to the same address. It appears to ignore the speed of the first 2621440 bytes.

      Then it starts to measure latency and packet loss against port 6000 of

      • You're thinking to hard. All you need to do is build a list of all the servers used for the speed test, and then prioritize traffic to those servers. No packet inspection required. No filenames required. Just simplicity.

        Do it for five or six of the most popular speed tests, and you're golden.
  • How much of my data plan is running this speed test for the FCC going to eat up?

    • You can set that in the app, the default setting is no more than 100 MB/month.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      If you download it, run it once, and delete it: a little under 30 MB.

    • by faedle (114018)

      This is sort of my pet peeve with this whole thing.

      It's not the SPEEDS that suck, dear FCC, it's the stingy caps. I'd be happy with 1-2Mb down if I wasn't hard capped at 1.5GB per month.

  • Given Apple's stance on Open Source - will they refuse permission to have it in their catalogue ? Then what happens if the FCC insists that they list it ? Once it is there someone will ask for the source of the Apple libraries that it is linked to ....

    Time to get some popcorn and watch the fun!

    • by apenzott (821513)

      The fun begins when the iDevice app is rejected, and Apple has to explain itself to the FCC their decision.

      Remember that the FCC came down on AT&T, Apple, and Verizon [slashdot.org] on the absence of tethering apps and tethering functionality that was carrier crippled and ORDERED them to explain themselves.

  • ... the app will contact a single FCC-hosted server sitting on a 10mbit Ethernet connection in some office somewhere on 12th st.

  • Ooo its the feds. cant install this.. etc.

    Really, its the FCC, they are the least of our concerns. the other agencies already have your content, so why bother worrying about these guys.

  • I can't get any information on the endpoint or their testing methodologies. It shows a 2% packet loss on every test but i've been running winmtr continuously to a ip in the dallas area and have received no packet loss and my tests on speakeasy test to dallas are at the qos i'm paying for. All in all I say this is just another half assed government money pit.

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