US Wi-Fi Report (July 2014)

Introduction

Public Wi-Fi has transformed the way we stay connected, enabling a whole generation of start-ups to be created in cafes and other ad-hoc workspaces. Cafes are now seem almost as likely to publicly advertise their Wi-Fi network as they are the quality of their coffee. As we grow more demanding of Wi-Fi, expecting to be able to watch television or skype friends on publicly accessible connections, knowing that a certain location offers Wi-Fi is no longer enough. We know which cafes have Wi-Fi, we know which stores have Wi-Fi, and we know that the hotels we visit have Wi-Fi; what we don’t know is how fast that Wi-Fi will be.

This report takes a look at the speeds available on public networks in the United States; comparing room price to performance on hotel networks; looking at Starbucks’ switch from AT&T Wi-Fi to Google; and finally putting the speeds of various stores’ Wi-Fi networks in context with the cellular speeds offered by national network operators in the US.

Hotel Chain Wi-Fi Speeds

There is a strong correlation between the speed of Hotel Wi-Fi and the cost of room

Many of the most popular networks in our database were large hotel chains, which typically use the same Wi-Fi SSID for all of their outlets. Using price data gathered from a 2012 consumer report we were able to plot Wi-Fi speed against cheapest room price, with a startling correlation between the two. For large chain hotel Wi-Fi, price = performance. One of the most interesting results is the difference between the two Disney Wi-Fis, ‘Disney-Guest’ and ‘In-room Guest Wi-Fi (Disney)’ which we assigned the same price value. The Disney in-room guest Wi-Fi is our biggest outlier, the second slowest of our qualifying networks at 1.56Mbps despite the high room price. This shows that the Wi-Fi Disney offer to their park guests is greatly outperforming the in-room Wi-Fi enjoyed by the guests in their hotels. Our data suggests that the reason for the slow in-room Wi-Fi speed is because it is throttled to 3 Mbps. The Wi-Fi networks we have coloured yellow and red are those that fall below the required 5Mbps recommended for HD streaming.

Starbucks: AT&T vs Google

Around a year ago, Starbucks made the decision to move from AT&T to Google to provide free Wi-Fi in its outlets. With the decision expected to take around 18 months over the past year we have seen the two providers existing in parallel. What our data shows is that the move has indeed brought faster speeds to Starbucks customers, with Google Starbucks providing speeds around 80% faster than the existing AT&T Wi-Fi.

Google Starbucks Wi-Fi on average is 80% faster than AT&T Wi-Fi

How Speeds Compare

All of our data on Wi-Fi speeds comes from mobile users of the OpenSignal app, meaning that these are users who will often have cellular Internet available to them as an alternative. In order to put the speeds above in context, it is useful to compare them with available cellular network speeds in the USA. We see that Wi-Fi, on average, offers faster speeds than cellular connections (averaged across the four national providers), including 4G LTE.

Wi-Fi is faster than 4G LTE - a reflection of slow US LTE Speeds

Public Wi-Fi Compared

There were several other large public Wi-Fi networks that showed up in our database, so we thought we’d graph them in order to answer the time-old question: McDonalds or BestBuy? Obviously the former gives you a better burger, but it also turns out that if you need to download a big file for work, popping into a McDonalds will get the job done faster than stopping off at your nearest BestBuy.

McDonald’s Wi-Fi is the fastest of OpenSignal users’ most used in-store Wi-Fi