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OpenSignal: US ranks 5th globally in LTE availability, but 30th in download speeds

LTE continues to gain ubiquity around the world, even in developing markets — but the rivalry between Verizon and T-Mobile US has helped drive the availability of LTE in the United States to put the country in fifth place globally in terms of LTE access, according to OpenSignal’s new State of Mobile Network Experience report. 

OpenSignal found that across 87 countries, the average availability of 4G networks was 80%. Fifteen markets scored above 90%, including the U.S.

Wireless technology powerhouse South Korea scored the highest speed, with average mobile download speeds of more than 50 Mbps; Norway was close behind, at 48.2 Mbps. There was a drop in speeds to about 42 Mbps for the next two countries, Canada and the Netherlands, and an even faster drop-off in the rest of the top 10 fastest markets, with #10 (Japan) at 33 Mbps. The U.S. ranked 30th, with an average mobile download speed of 21.3 Mbps. Most countries — 35 — fell into a range between 10-20 Mbps.

OpenSignal ranked the U.S. as 5th in LTE availability — a particularly strong performance given the geographic size of the country. It ranked 58th in video performance, 39th in upload speeds and 50th in latency experience among the 87 countries which OpenSignal ranked.

While the U.S. “is distinctly mid-table across all of our other key award metrics,” the report concluded, the country “managed a fifth-place finish in 4G Availability.” It credited the “fierce” rivalry between Verizon and T-Mobile US for driving up LTE availability across the country, and therefore the overall U.S. ranking.

OpenSignal said that its conclusions were based on an active device base of 43.6 million devices and nearly 140 billion measurements collected between January 1 and March 31.

In specific analysis on the United States cellular market, OpenSignal said that in the past year, download speeds for users have improved only slightly: from 17 Mbps to 21.3 Mbps, between the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019 — although there was significant variation across the country. Download speeds for smartphone users ranged from 32.9 Mbps in New Jersey to 12.1 Mbps in Mississippi, the company reported.

OpenSignal noted that its most recent round of benchmarking took place prior to initial 5G roll-outs and will serve as a baseline by which to observe improvements. OpenSignal’s Ian Fogg said in a post that unless operators manage to provide a “step-change improvement” in mobile network experience with 5G, they are going to have a hard time selling 5G service.

“Consumers will only be convinced of carriers’ 5G marketing claims if the real-world 5G experience is superior to what is possible with the older 3G and 4G technologies that remain in wide use,” Fogg wrote.

He went on to say that city-level metrics will be the key to comparing old and new tech, since mobile carriers Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are all taking city-based approaches to their launches. In Verizon’s 5G launch cities of Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis, Minnesota, Fogg wrote, existing smartphone users “already have a well-above-average mobile network experience compared with the fifty largest cities in the U.S.,” with Minneapolis ranking second in download speeds and Chicago ranked fourth for upload speeds and sixth for latency.  Minneapolis ranked second in Download Speed Experience while Chicago ranked fourth for Upload Speed Experience and sixth for Latency Experience.

OpenSignal said the roll-out of 5G is also likely to benefit LTE users, and that it will be checking both 4G and 5G user experiences as 5G coverage expands.

“Upgrades to cell sites and cell site backhaul connections that are needed to offer the full speed of 5G to users will also add additional capacity that should benefit 4G users. If so, we will see improvements in the mobile network experience of non-5G users either just before or around the time of 5G launches,” Fogg wrote.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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