How smartphones and their radio parts are aging, myths and reality.


Before you is the final material from a series of stories about the MegaFon radio laboratory, here we are talking about the aging of smartphones from the point of view of the radio part, a myth or reality, how Chinese smartphones and their counterparts sold in Russia can differ, what non-obvious things are tested in laboratories. My interlocutor is the head of the laboratory, Alexander Dzhakonia.

EM. In practice, how can an average person tell a smartphone or phone with a bad radio part from one that works well? Is there a way to make it simple?

HELL. To explain it quite simply, the device will warm up. And that’s bad. You may not know the new model, but you always have the opportunity to compare with what you already had. In our laboratory, we tested devices that were heated so much that it was impossible to take them in the hand, they burned. It’s like you’re taking a hot cup of tea.

You should not buy devices from unknown manufacturers, especially smartphones that are assembled by someone unknown and who knows in which gateway. Such devices cost a penny, have been resold in China thirty times, and no one knows what is inside. This is definitely not worth doing.

EM. Does your laboratory measure SAR levels, phone radiation?

HELL. No, we are not engaged in device certification, we have an operator’s laboratory, so this is not our area.

EM. Let’s talk about the certification of devices in Russia, many small manufacturers are trying to say that if they are certified, then their devices are perfect. But from my experience it follows that this is not at all the case, can you tell about it?

HELL. The overlap with our tests and certifications is not very big. What does the certification say? For example, it confirms the operability of the device in such and such a range, the device works in band 7 in LTE. We check what speed the device gives out in the same band 7, how it switches to other base stations and much more.

Therefore, when devices come to our laboratory, we do not pay attention at all to their status in terms of certification, whether they have passed this procedure or not. It doesn’t matter to us. We are testing the device for operability in the operator’s network.

EM. How rigorous are you when testing devices? What is considered important and what can you close your eyes to?

HELL. In all thirteen years, no device was perfect the first time. We find something all the time, perhaps these are minor problems. We leave minor problems on the conscience of the manufacturer, point out them and hope that he will fix them in the next software releases. But if we see, for example, inoperability in the aggregation of carrier frequencies, then for us as an operator this is a serious problem and a blocking factor for such a device to enter the shelves of our stores. The device will not enter the market with such a problem.

EM. Is it possible that you made a firmware for a Chinese smartphone with a manufacturer, then a person buys a similar model in China, somehow installs this firmware and believes that he cheated the system, saved money and got a good result. What is the actual result?

HELL. A difficult question that cannot be answered unequivocally. The result can be anything, since it depends on the model, on the components, on what market it is focused on, what antennas are in the Chinese model. The smartphone is a very complex device, one of the most complex in consumer electronics. Moreover, modern devices adapt not only to a specific network, but also to consumption and usage patterns. You get up in the morning, and the weather forecast is important to you, but for some it does not matter. The smartphone must learn to anticipate your desires, and the complexity of the devices is constantly growing because of this. And this is a topic that is much broader than the adaptation of the radio part for a specific operator. Adapting a smartphone to a specific market is a lot of work, this is usually done by large manufacturers who have realized the need for such settings.

EM. There is something subtle about what you are testing. Can you tell us offhand about the problems that remain outside our field of vision?

HELL. Usually, the quality of the network is judged by the data transfer rate. Although we will be able to achieve the correct speed indicators sooner or later, we have a lot of experience in this. There are other pitfalls here, especially when switching a device between different generations, 3G, 4G, or 5G. Look, we have 5G pilot zones, in which a smartphone can register and use them. You bought a flagship with 5G support, it costs more than a hundred thousand rubles, an excellent device. You get into the 5G pilot zone, try other data rates. And then leave the 5G coverage area, and your phone loses data transmission altogether, it needs to be rebooted. The quality of a device’s transition between technologies is no less important story than speed, switching between base stations, and so on.

When switching from 4G to 3G, if the device is reconnected, this is bad for the network, the signal load increases. And this is also important. With the advent of new technologies, the growth of the relationship between them, the number of tests increases exponentially.

EM. 5G pilot zones are good, but maybe you shouldn’t waste time testing this technology? What do you want to get on the way out?

HELL. We want our devices to work well on this network from day one when we have a commercial 5G network. Let me give you an example from history. The first LTE modem came to us once, we tweaked it to make it work on the network. History in practice is philosophical. Equipment manufacturers say: we will do everything that needs to be done, but now there is no network, let’s not waste time. And the operators say: why build if you don’t have devices that work correctly? We are helping to break this vicious circle. By the time we have MegaFon’s large commercial 5G network, all 5G devices that are already on the market, and there are many of them, will be tested and configured to work correctly in our network.

EM. Is there an aging of smartphones in terms of the radio part? Today, many people buy smartphones for a long time, for example, they use them for four to five years. During this time, LTE networks have not changed much, will a person feel a deterioration in communication or will it remain the same for him?

HELL. From the point of view of the network, nothing happens to the smartphone, it has not changed in any way over the years. Everything that was in it remains exactly the same. But if the data transfer rate drops, then one of the reasons may be battery wear, it simply reduces the power consumption of components, limits the power of the transmitter, and so on. It seems that this is not wear of a specific component, but of the device as a whole.

It may be that there is not enough memory to download a movie. But from the point of view of the network, everything is exactly the same. I am very skeptical about conspiracy theories that manufacturers deliberately degrade device performance over time. We do not see this in the radio part of the same smartphones, they work as on the first day, there are no differences.

This can be explained from an economic point of view. On Android, firmware has been released for about three years, each firmware costs money for the manufacturer. That is, in order to “break” something, you need to release the firmware. Often, the game is not worth the candle, since no one guarantees that they will then choose your product again, and not buy something else.

EM. Do you work only in a laboratory, do not look at a real network?

HELL. After all the tests in the laboratory, we go to the fields to understand how the device works on a real network, this is the best opportunity to test the quality of our work. Everything is clear here, how the device worked before it came to us, and how it began to work. Including, as an option, we look at other operators in order to understand what place we occupy among them.

EM. Okay, what’s the laboratory’s plans, what will you do next?

HELL. I will not reveal a secret if I say that we are now under construction, in the spring we are moving to a new building on Vasilievsky Island. These will be three new shielded rooms, a separate server room with radio transport, the core of the network is located in the MegaFon data center. There we plan to add more capabilities for 5G tests, including millimeter wave. The emphasis in the new location is on better shielding of the premises.

EM. Final question. If you dream, what do you want to do in the laboratory?

HELL. I have such a dream. I want a large anechoic chamber, hung with different antennas over the entire inner surface, with a powerful measuring complex. So that he can measure in real time everything related to radiation. We can measure the quality of antennas by indirect signs, but we cannot always accurately name the cause of the problems, and we have to look for them more carefully. With such a complex, we will be able to see problems in detail.

EM. Thank you very much, Alexander, Happy New Year!

HELL. Mutually, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I hope that the connection will always please you with quality.

Source: — Все о мобильной технике и технологиях by

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