OpenSignal Blog

How South America’s mobile data networks stack up

OpenSignal this week released its first-ever Global State of Mobile Networks report, which looks at the combined performance of 3G and 4G networks in 95 different countries. Along with the report, we’re also publishing a short series of blog posts exploring specific regions. We started with Europe on Wednesday, and today we tackle South America.

The chart below shows us how 11 South American countries compared when we plotted combined 3G and 4G availability and 3G/4G speed on different axes.

3G/4G speed vs. 3G/4G availability

3G/4G speed vs. 3G/4G availability

In general, South America’s data networks are behind much of the developed world in speed, with all nations save Uruguay providing an average mobile data speed less than 10 Mbps. But most of South America did admirably in terms of 3G/4G signal availability. These metrics combined would indicate that while LTE is still in development, the region’s 3G networks are fairly mature. All but three of the 11 countries in our sample were able to deliver a 3G or better signal to their mobile users 80% of the time. Two countries, Chile and Peru, had 3G/4G availability metrics higher than 90%.

Having a large population or economic influence had little bearing on countries’ performance in the region. The country that performed best, Uruguay, had the 2nd smallest population in our sample, followed by Peru and Chile. South American powerhouse Brazil performed poorly compared to its peers providing a 3G or better signal available only 75% of the time and overall speeds just a little bit better than the regional average.

To see the specific numbers for each country in South America, check out the full report.

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Comparing the mobile data networks of Europe in OpenSignal’s newest report

Today, OpenSignal released its new Global State of Mobile Networks report, our first worldwide report that looks beyond 4G technology to examine the overall mobile data prowess of nearly 100 different countries. While you can see the overall conclusions and analysis in the report itself, we’re also drilling down to specific regions in a short series of blog posts. Today we’re starting with Europe.

The chart below shows how 33 European countries stack up in mobile data performance, plotting combined 3G and 4G availability on the vertical axis and average 3G/4G speed on the horizontal axis.

3G/4G speed vs. 3G/4G availability

3G/4G speed vs. 3G/4G availability

Europe does quite well in general in both speed availability, reflecting not only their investments in LTE but the mature state of their LTE infrastructures. Most of them are clustered in the upper central portion of the chart with speeds between 10 and 20 Mbps and high levels of mobile data signal availability. The vast majority of European users can latch onto a 3G or better signal more 80% of the time, according to our data.

Outside of that main cluster, we do see clumps of countries in similar stages of development. We find several Eastern European countries that haven’t quite caught up with the rest of the region in either speed or availability (sometimes both), though Germany falls in the underperforming category as well. Being a former member of the eastern bloc isn’t always indicative of poorer mobile data performance, though. Both Lithuania and Hungary are well to the right of Europe’s main cluster, joining the Nordic states and the Netherlands in an exclusive club of outperformers. These are the rare countries that are able to offer a consistent mobile data connection greater than 20 Mbps.

Be sure to check out the blog tomorrow, when we take a closer look at South America, but if you can’t wait that long, all of our South American metrics (along with measurements from 84 other countries) are in the global report.

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OpenSignal coverage maps get an upgrade thanks to millions of new tests

When OpenSignal announced new changes to its data collection methodology earlier this month, one of the updates we were most excited about was the potential for much more detailed coverage maps on our website and smartphone apps. We’re pleased to say that we’ve released our first batch of maps containing our new data, and the differences are quite remarkable.

You can see for yourself in these two screenshots of our coverage maps. The first shows coverage in the area just west of San Francisco International Airport using signal data solely from our previous methodology. The second map shows the same area updated with new data from methodology upgrade.

Pre-update

Pre-update

post-update

Post-update

You can plainly see that we have many more data points in the second map, and we’re able to much more clearly delineate areas of good coverage from areas of spotty coverage. That granularity should only improve in the coming months. One of the big advantages of our new update is that we’re conducting many more automated signal tests than we did before. Our coverage maps aggregate test data from the proceeding nine months, while our new methodology was only implemented in May. That means our maps will start filling up with even more signal strength measurements in the next five months.

Even with this new influx of data, we could always use more. The more data points we have the closer we get to eliminating all remaining measurement gaps in our maps. If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to join our community of crowdsourced testers by downloading the OpenSignal Android or iOS app.

Posted in Crowdsourcing, Map Update, OpenSignalMaps Website | 2 Comments

T-Mobile butts head with Verizon in OpenSignal’s latest U.S. results

The John Legere juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down. Ever since the outspoken CEO took over T-Mobile in 2012, he’s been promising the Un-carrier would become a major force in the U.S. mobile scene. In our latest test results, we’re seeing the culmination of those efforts. T-Mobile won four of six performance categories we measured in our new State of Mobile Networks for the U.S.

OpenSignal testers measured the fastest speeds among the four nationwide operators on T-Mobile’s LTE network, though it did wage a close-fought battle with Verizon for the title. In our February report, Verizon and T-Mobile were tied for first place in speed, but with average LTE download speeds of 16.3 Mbps, T-Mobile managed to beat out its larger competitor in our latest results.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike Mozart

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mike Mozart

Verizon was still the clear winner in our 4G availability metric, which measures the proportion of time customers have access to a particular network. Our testers on Verizon’s LTE network could latch onto a 4G signal 86% of the time. T-Mobile is gaining ground though. It surpassed AT&T in LTE availability, supplying its customers with a 4G connection 83% of the time in our measurements. We found an LTE signal on AT&T’s network 80% of the time, but Sprint landed a distant fourth in this category with an availability metric of 70%.

For this report, we dove into our regional data to see how the operators’ 4G services fared in 31 different metro markets. We found T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s battle over speed replicated on the city level with one of the two operators either winning or drawing for our fastest LTE award in 30 instances. AT&T took our prize for fastest LTE connections in the remaining market, Austin, and tied for the top spot in six more cities.  Verizon, however, dominated our regional results in LTE availability. We tracked an LTE signal most consistently for Verizon in 17 of the 31 cities, and in the remaining 14 metro areas Verizon tied with another operator for first place.

While Sprint lagged its three larger competitors in our speed and availability metrics, it won our award for 4G latency. Low latency connections mean web pages start loading more quickly and consumers experience less lag time when using real-time communications apps. We measured Sprint’s 4G response time at 57 milliseconds.

It’s clear from our results that T-Mobile has momentum, but it will be interesting to see if the Un-carrier can keep up the pressure. Verizon and AT&T certainly aren’t dallying. Both are refarming spectrum from their 2G and 3G networks to add more capacity to their LTE networks. Even Sprint is in the midst of a network upgrade that promises to boost its LTE speeds tremendously. Meanwhile, regulators have kicked off a spectrum auction that could determine the direction of operators’ 4G networks for the next half decade.

You can see the full results or the U.S. report here.

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Introducing OpenSignal’s new data collection methodology

Starting this week, you may notice some changes in the reports, coverage maps and other data we publish. OpenSignal has made updates to the way we collect our data from smartphones and the methods we use to parse that data. We began implementing these changes with updates to our smartphone apps in April, and we will be debuting the first results of that new methodology this week in our State of Mobile Networks report for the U.S.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Cheryl1906

We’re still publishing the same core metrics we always have. The U.S. report will highlight LTE availability, 3G and 4G speeds and latency, and overall speeds across operators’ networks, but in coming reports we’ll add new metrics, allowing us to examine network performance more closely.

The update gives us more than just new metrics to play with, though. By improving our data collection methods, we’re now able to collect more individual measurements on each device in our crowdsourced community as well as hone the precision of those measurements. In many cases, the update merely refines our current methodology, and you won’t notice any difference in any of our results. But in other cases, we’ve made adjustments to what we actually measure in order to isolate the typical consumer experience more effectively.

For example, let’s take a look at the changes we’ve made to our speedtest methodology. There are numerous ways to measure mobile network speed. You can measure speed from the phone to the base station, to the network, to an internet server a few miles away or a server on a different continent. Those are all valid ways of testing speed, but they can all yield vastly different results as each additional network hop introduces new bottlenecks into the end-to-end connection. Operators and ISPs often keep their testing entirely within the confines of their own networks, which is useful for diagnostic purposes or to measure peak speeds. But OpenSignal has always conducted our speed tests against the same internet servers mobile users access every day to surf the web, stream video and download content. We feel those measurements most accurately represent the typical consumer mobile data experience. That hasn’t changed, but in our updated methodology we’ve added many more test servers in new locations. We feel the more servers we test against, the more we can represent the incredible variety of internet destinations in our measurements. With more servers, though, the average distance between server and test device is now smaller, resulting in an overall uptick in our average speed measurements.

We’ve also made tweaks to our collection methods in other areas to improve the precision of our results. For instance, as with our speedtest we’re now running our latency tests to more test servers to get a more rounded view of a network’s reaction time at any given moment. We’re now also able to drill more deeply into Wifi data, which will allow us to gauge the increasingly large role Wifi plays in mobile services.

Ultimately these changes give us a wealth of new data to work with, and help us do an even better job evaluating the performance of networks around the world. While these updates will have no impact on the network rankings of our previous reports, in order to maintain analytical consistency, we won’t be making any direct comparisons between specific results collected under the two different methodologies.

So stayed tuned. In the coming months, you will start seeing these new metrics show up in our public reports. More immediately, you should soon see a big update to our coverage maps on  the OpenSignal website and in our smartphone apps. With more data at our disposal, our maps will show many more details of where networks are available and where there are notspots.

While this new methodology will give us more data, nothing can replace the growing community of users who collect our data on daily basis. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to join OpenSignal’s crowdsourcing effort by downloading our Android or iOS app. Those apps will not only give you personal insight into how your own mobile service performs, but by using them you would contribute to our database of hundreds of billions tests.

Posted in Crowdsourcing, Map Update, Networks, OpenSignal app, Reports | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What your smartphone can expect at the Olympics

Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil

Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil

Today OpenSignal released its latest State of Mobile Networks report for Brazil, just in time for the Olympics. If you’re planning on making the trek south of the equator for the spectacle of the Olympiad, chances are you’ll have your smartphone in tow – as will millions of other Olympic attendees, organizers, athletes and ordinary Rio residents. Hopefully we can offer a little insight into what kind of mobile data performance to expect.

First off, let’s look at speed. Vivo took OpenSignal’s award for fastest 4G network with an average download speed of 18.6 Mbps, an impressive speed for South America and well above the 13.5 Mbps global average from our most recent State of LTE report. Fellow operators Claro, Oi and TIM, however, fell short of that average. We measured speeds below 12 Mbps for all three of them.

In terms of 4G availability, all four major operators could use some improvement. Rather than measure geographic coverage, our availability metric tracks the proportion of time subscribers have access to a particularly network. In Brazil, 4G subscribers could connect to an LTE signal only about half the time. When LTE wasn’t available, those subscribers had to contend with 3G network speeds, which ranged between 1.1 Mbps to 2.4 Mbps.

The good news is that 4G signals were much more readily available in Rio de Janeiro, where the games will be hosted. Nextel (which offers 4G services in Rio but not nationwide) tied with Vivo for our 4G availability award. Their customers were able to connect to LTE around 75% of the time. We measured much better 4G consistency for Claro and TIM in Rio as well. Both had 4G availability scores 10% higher than their nationwide averages.

Of course, these numbers represent the typical performance of Brazil’s networks as experienced by the typical consumer. The Olympics are far from a typical event. While we definitely see evidence that Brazilian operators have improved their mobile data networks since the FIFA World Cup in 2014, an event the size of the Olympics would place a major strain on any operator’s network, no matter how well prepared they are. And though Brazil’s operators fared through the World Cup quite well, that event was spread out over many cities with matches staggered over a month. The Olympics is two and half weeks of continuous events focused in a single city. Brazil’s operators have their work cut out for them.

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The end is nigh (for 2G that is)

The days of 2G voice calls are numbered at Verizon Wireless – 1260 days to be exact. Verizon last week told FierceWireless it has set a shutdown date for its CDMA 1X network, which still carries the majority of its voice traffic. That date is Dec. 31, 2019. If you still have a 2G/3G only phone – an increasing rarity these days in the U.S. – you still have plenty of time to upgrade to a 4G device, and Verizon has said it might extend that date if there are still a lot of 4G holdouts in three years’ time. But you’ve been put on notice: 2G networks won’t be around forever.

Verizon isn’t the only one bidding adieu to 2G. AT&T will begin shuttering its GSM network in less than six months, and operators around the world have announced similarly aggressive 2G sunset plans. Why are all of these operators mothballing perfectly good voice networks? The answer is spectrum. They need more of it to feed consumers’ growing hunger for data services, and with limited amount of new airwaves becoming free, they’re cannibalizing their 2G networks for more 4G capacity. They still need to offer voice, but new voice-over-LTE services can do that job much more efficiently than any 2G network.

The main reason 2G is sticking around so long is not for mobile phones but for the industrial internet of things. There are 2G radios embedded in every manner of contraption from shipping containers to soda dispensers to farm combines, and they get replaced far less often than the typical consumer device. The last remnants of 2G networks won’t be serving phones; they’ll be serving the world of machines.

2G, we’re going to miss you. It was 2G that really kicked off the mobile revolution around the world, making mobile service widespread and affordable to the majority of the world’s population. But a market can only support so many generations of mobile technology simultaneously, and it’s looking like that number adds up to three generations. Right before the launch of 4G in the late 2000s, we saw the large-scale shutdown of the remaining 1G (AMPS) networks in the U.S. It’s likely no coincidence that 2G is going offline right before the expected global rollout of 5G services.

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What’s in a Megahertz: How spectrum impacts our 4G experience

If you’ve read any of OpenSignal’s reports, you’ll notice that we often point out the type and amount of spectrum mobile operators use. While those particulars might seem like arcane technical details, spectrum can tell you a lot about how powerful a network’s connections are or how far its signals can reach. We felt a primer on spectrum’s role in the mobile network might be useful.

Spectrum, which is measured in megahertz, is the fundamental building block for every generation of mobile networking from analogue networks to 4G. But after the 4G revolution kicked off with the advent of LTE, spectrum has become particularly important for creating powerful mobile data networks. You can think of spectral frequencies as lanes on a highway. Just as a highway with more lanes can handle more cars, a network with more spectrum can handle more connections or more mobile traffic. The total traffic a network can carry at any given moment is known as its capacity, and networks with higher capacity generally support higher speeds. But just like highways, networks are shared infrastructure. If there are too many users on them vying for capacity, everyone is forced to slow down. That’s one of the major trade-offs in mobile networking.

Frequencies are like lanes on a highway. Even networks with lots of capacity will get congested if there are lots of users. (Photo by Flickr user Thomanication)

Frequencies are like lanes on a highway. Even networks with lots of capacity will get congested if there are lots of users. (Photo by Flickr user Thomanication)

For instance, let’s say we have an LTE cell tower with 100 Mbps of total capacity. Theoretically that tower could supply a single user with a fat 100 Mbps connection or it could divide that capacity among 10 users, simultaneously providing each of them a 10 Mbps connection. If you double the number of users to 20, those connection speeds drop to 5 Mbps and so forth. But suppose we double the amount of spectrum used by our cell tower? We’d wind up doubling our capacity, and suddenly we could supply those 20 users each with a 10 Mbps connection.

Operators constantly engage in a balancing act between speed and capacity as the more users they have on their networks the more they compete for resources. If their networks become too congested, they often look for more spectrum to increase their capacity, which not only allows them to support more users but improve the performance of everybody’s 4G connection. If no spectrum is available for the taking, they still have options. They can add capacity into the network by building more cell towers, which essentially allows them to use the same spectrum in more locations. That’s why we’re starting to hear more about the concept of “small cells” lately. By creating ever denser clusters of cells, operators can cram more users onto their networks in high-demand areas without sacrificing connection speeds.

Those are the basics of how spectrum impacts networks, but I should point out that not all spectrum is created equal. There are a few other things you’ll need to know about the frequencies powering our mobile networks:

  • Lower is better: You often hear operators touting the low-frequency spectrum they’re using, and they have reason to brag. Lower frequencies, such as those in the 700 MHz or 800 MHz bands, propagate further. That means signals travel greater distances in rural areas and they punch deeper into buildings in urban areas. Low frequencies don’t offer any more capacity than higher band frequencies — a megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum supports the same amount of data as a megahertz of 2600 MHz spectrum — but operators use lower frequencies to improve their network coverage and provide a more consistent 4G experience.
  • LTE-Advanced: An operator’s spectrum holdings are usually all over the frequency chart, but you can only deploy an LTE network over a single frequency band. The result is most operators have built two, three, sometimes four separate LTE networks. Using LTE-Advanced techniques, operators can tie those networks together, allowing devices to connect to multiple 4G frequencies simultaneously. This not only creates a unified network but can tremendously boost the maximum speed at which a device can connect to that network.
  • Technology is often a limitation: An operator may have gobs and gobs of spectrum, but in many cases the network or handset technology isn’t yet available for them to fully access it.

The type, amount and quality of spectrum an operator owns clearly has a big say in how its 4G networks will perform, and we’re seeing all kinds of different spectrum scenarios play out around the world. In Europe and East Asia, LTE-Advanced is already having a big impact, driving average download speeds in many countries well beyond 20 Mbps, as measured in OpenSignal’s February State of LTE report.

But we’re also seeing the more subtle effects of spectrum’s impact in different parts of the world. New 4G networks in South America and Eastern Europe are debuting with some impressively fast speeds, even though the operators building them have limited spectrum portfolios. Their networks, however, are still lightly loaded with users. As those networks get more congested with subscribers, speeds will slow down. That’s the problem some of LTE’s earliest adopters are now facing. In the U.S., Japan and Sweden operators have a lot of spectrum but they also have a lot of users vying for that capacity. Consequently all three of those countries have fallen far down the global ranking charts in 4G speed.

Some operators have used new spectrum to address specific weaknesses in their networks. 3 in the U.K. and T-Mobile in the U.S. both recently began building new LTE networks in low-band frequencies for the express purpose of boosting their coverage. Meanwhile technology has proven a hindrance to Telstra’s ambitions in Australia. It’s deployed the LTE-Advanced networks that tie together 100 MHz of 4G airwaves, but none of its customers can access the full power of that network since Telstra is still waiting for handset technology to catch up.

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Entel wins big in OpenSignal’s first Peru report

Entel may be tiny compared to Peruvian mobile powers Movistar and Claro, but it has  gotten the jump on its larger competitors when it comes to 4G, according to OpenSignal’s new State of Mobile Networks report for Peru. For this report we focused solely on Peru’s relatively new LTE infrastructure, drawing on 5.7 million speed and signal tests conducted in the first quarter. We found that Entel came out on top in all three of our test categories – often by a large margin.

Entel 4G customers were able to access LTE download speeds averaging 19 Mbps. They also had the most responsive connections in Peru as we measured Entel’s average 4G latency at 31 milliseconds (low latency means webpages start loading more quickly and real-time communications apps perform better). The most impressive award Entel won, however, was in 4G availability.

Our availability metric tracks the proportion of time subscribers have access to particular network. In Entel’s case, 4G customers were able to see an LTE signal 82% of the time, an exceptional figure not just for Peru but for all of the Americas. To put that in perspective, only 33 of the 182 operators we tracked in our last global State of LTE report were able to supply a 4G connection more than 80% of the time. Peru obviously is still in a state of 4G flux as operators complete their LTE rollouts and bring more of their customers over to 4G services, but if Entel can maintain this high level of network availability it will be in a rare operator club indeed.

Movistar by no means performed badly in our measurements – it was merely outshone by upstart Entel. The Telefónica subsidiary had an impressive 4G availability metric of 69%, and its LTE download average of 14 Mbps was just above the global average. América Móvil’s Claro, however, clearly has a lot of room for improvement. Its LTE speed of 4.7 Mbps more resembles the typical 3G experience than a 4G experience, but Claro maintained a respectable LTE availability metric of 59%.

The big disparity in operator 4G capabilities is likely a reflection of the spectrum situation in Peru. While Movistar and Entel took home big hunks of new spectrum in Peru’s first 4G auction, giving them the building blocks for their LTE networks, Claro has been forced to cobble together its LTE network from old 2G spectrum.

You can find the full Peru report here, complete with interactive charts and our full analysis. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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GSMA ranks the world’s access to the mobile internet (with a little help from OpenSignal)

While OpenSignal publishes plenty of its own reports, we occasionally contribute our data to other research projects focusing on global mobile trends. Last week the GSM Association launched just such a research initiative, and it’s quite the undertaking. Called the Mobile Connectivity Index, the extensive report attempts to categorize the mobile internet adoption, readiness and performance of 134 countries.

The Mobile Connectivity Index ranks 134 countries in terms of access to the mobile internet (Source: GSMA)

The Mobile Connectivity Index ranks 134 countries in terms of access to the mobile internet (Source: GSMA)

In compiling the report, GSMA Intelligence drew upon OpenSignal’s mobile speed and latency data, which we collect from millions of users in OpenSignal’s crowdsourced community. But speed test and network responsiveness data only make up a portion of this ambitious index. The index methodology takes into account not just the telecom infrastructure built in a country but economic factors like rate-plan affordability, demographic factors like literacy and cultural factors like gender equality that make mobile internet services accessible (or inaccessible) to a broad population.

For instance, the Connectivity Index’s infrastructure calculations put significant weight on our download speed and latency measurement, but it places almost as much emphasis on supporting factors like access to electricity and the number of servers per million inhabitants. After all, having a fast and responsive 3G or 4G connection means little if you don’t have a way to charge your phone or have access to content in your native language.

Consequently, a lot of different metrics went into calculating this index, ranging from economic data collected by the World Bank and demographic data tallied by UNESCO. The end result, though, is an index number applied to each country that rates its overall level of mobile accessibility. Australia was at the top of the index with a score of 84.7.

OpenSignal recently published our first State of Mobile Networks report for Australia, and we also found that the land down under was among the global leaders in mobile broadband speeds and availability, though by no means first. The GSMA, however, found that mobile infrastructure wasn’t the determining factor in calculating Australia’s world-leading index score. In fact, several other countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.S. and South Korea beat out Australia in infrastructure. Instead, it was Australia’s superior marks in mobile service affordability, consumer readiness and locally relevant content that pushed it to the top of the list. Conversely Afghanistan had the fifth worst rating on the index, not because it had the most underdeveloped mobile networks. Rather, Afghanistan’s low rating comes from consumer readiness issues ranging from adult literacy to gender inequality.

Countries with the highest Mobile Connectivity Index scores (source: GSMA)

Countries with the highest Mobile Connectivity Index scores (source: GSMA)

The goal of the index is to help the telecom industry to get to universal internet access across the globe by identifying all of the different economic and social levers that can be pulled beyond merely building new networks. It’s also intended to be an indicator of where a country should be in its mobile internet development. For instance, most sub-Saharan countries in Africa have low mobile internet adoption rates, which in most cases line up with their lower connectivity index scores. Meanwhile, there are several countries ranging from China to Poland to Costa Rica that have much higher mobile internet adoption rates than countries with similar index scores. The GSMA calls these countries “fast transitioners,” and in many cases they’ve managed to overcome limitations in infrastructure by making mobile services more affordable or maintaining social institutions that encourage broader internet adoption.

In any case, the index is a fascinating report reflecting an ambitious approach to solving one of the world’s biggest problems, the digital divide. We at OpenSignal are proud to be a part of it.

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