The State of LTE (September 2015)

Have we fully entered the 4G age? The answer to that question depends on where on the globe you live. In OpenSignal’s most recent batch of data we found that in some countries LTE has become a near ubiquitous technology, providing broadband speeds no matter where you go. In other countries, LTE is just beginning its adolescence.

But in general we’re seeing both speeds and 4G availability creeping up across the globe as operators deploy new networks in new places and upgrade the networks they’ve already built. Getting a 20 Mbps connection is now commonplace in multiple countries as operators expand into new frequency bands and take advantage of new LTE-Advanced techniques. We’re seeing awe-inspiring data rates in seemingly unlikely places like eastern Europe as operators who entered the 4G race late make up for lost time. We’re also seeing some of LTE’s earliest adopters such as the U.S. fall behind their global peers.

OpenSignal collects its data from smartphone owners like you through its app (available on iOS and Android). That anonymous crowdsourced data goes into building our impartial coverage maps as well as our analytical reports (for a more detailed explanation, see our general methodology page). For this report, we drew data from the hundreds of thousands of OpenSignal users that have LTE-capable phones and connect to operators with live 4G networks. That data was collected in three months between June and August, but we also included our results from the previous three months for comparative purposes.

The Full Spectrum of LTE

This quadrant graph provides a look into the overall performance of the world’s global LTE operators, factoring in both average network speeds and network availability. Operators that fall in the upper right hand portion of the graph provide faster speeds and a more consistent LTE signal, while those in the lower left hand quadrant have slower speeds and less consistent coverage.

While the best performing networks were in Asia, European operators delivered some impressive performances as well, notably TDC in Denmark and KPN in the Netherlands.

South Korea’s operators performed the best overall, all offering download speeds over 25 Mbps and near ubiquitous 4G coverage. Singapore’s three major operators were right behind them, beating South Korea out in speed though unable to match their Asian peers’ network availability. The real star here was Korea Telecom’s Olleh, which provided not only one of the fastest networks in the world but also delivered an active LTE signal 96 percent of the time.

You’ll notice that operators in many countries tend to cluster in different parts of the graph. For instance, the U.S. has marked out its territory in the lower right-hand quadrant, offering below-average speeds but decent coverage. Meanwhile, Japan’s operators are dominating the middle right, providing excellent coverage but average speeds. The poorest performers tend to be in developing regions of the world, but there are also a few western European service providers with underperforming networks in the lower left-hand quadrant, for instance 3’s operations in both the U.K. and Ireland as well as Italy’s Wind.

For this report, we’ve added a new element tracking the overall performance of the major multinational operator groups across their different countries. As you can see, most of these mega-operators tend to be clustered in the center of our chart, though Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Hutchison’s 3 do have a few standout networks. In South America, the 4G race is heating up, but for now Telefónica’s Movistar group appears to have the upper hand over América Móvil’s Claro operators.

Note: While we track many more networks than the ones shown on this graph, we excluded operators for which we didn’t have a large enough sample to take an accurate gauge of overall network performance.

Global LTE Coverage Comparison

The proportion of time users have an LTE signal, or LTE 'Time Coverage' (*), is our proprietary metric for looking at coverage holistically, instead of just as a measurement of geographical reach. Time coverage measures the proportion of time users spend connected to a particular network, whether they’re indoors or out, on the move or standing still. We represent time coverage as a percentage, so if an LTE network has 80 percent time coverage, that means its customers, on average, can get an LTE signal 80 percent of the time. For more details on how we calculate time coverage, see OpenSignal’s methodology page.

LTE Coverage by country

LTE Coverage by network

South Korea once again leads the world in LTE availability. Customers on its networks are able to connect to LTE 97 percent of the time, making 4G almost as pervasive as 2G and 3G networks in that country. What’s even more impressive is the individual performance of Korea’s LG U+, which had an LTE time coverage number of 99.6 percent.

While the U.S., Sweden and Japan are falling behind in speed, they are among the top countries in the world in terms of coverage.

Japan scored very highly as well, but outside of the top 8, no country was able to provide a 4G signal more than 80 percent of the time. We are starting to see global LTE coverage improve steadily, though. A look at our data from the three months preceding this report (March to May) shows 37 countries had time-on-LTE percentages greater than 50. In this report, 50 countries make the cut.

Still, there are several operators that clearly have work to do when it comes to providing a consistent 4G connection. Iliad’s Free Mobile may be challenging the French powers-that-be on price, but its LTE time coverage ranked lowest in Europe at 26 percent. In the U.S. — where LTE has been live for five years — Sprint provided an LTE connection in just 64 percent of our signal tests. The lowest time coverage score went to Axiata’s XL in Indonesia, which provided an LTE signal only 19 percent of the time.

Global LTE Speed Comparison

LTE Speed by country

LTE Speed by network

We’re starting to see a big bump in 4G speeds in many countries, and that’s likely the result of operators upgrading their networks. Many operators are deploying new LTE systems in new frequency bands, adding more capacity to their networks — which allows them to serve more customers without sacrificing performance — and several are using new LTE-Advanced technologies to boost the speeds available to devices.

LTE-Advanced is still a new technology, but we’re starting to see its impact as more countries adopt it and more LTE-A smartphones become available.

South Korea is a perfect example as we’ve seen its 4G speeds nearly double in the last year. Each of that country’s major operators now has LTE running on three different bands, and they’ve all used an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation to combine network transmissions for even speedier connections. Romania is a relative newcomer to LTE but by virtue of Vodafone and Orange’s early commitment to LTE-Advanced and multiple 4G bands, it’s among the fastest providers in the world. We’re seeing similar network investments in Singapore, Denmark, Austria and Hungary.

The speed crown today, however, goes to New Zealand, which first launched LTE just two years ago (for more details on how we calculate our country averages see the methodology section). Though LTE-Advanced hasn’t yet taken hold in New Zealand, Spark and Vodafone have launched LTE on two frequency bands each, delivering an awful lot of 4G capacity. As for individual performance goes (based on the operators where we had a large enough data sample), Singapore’s StarHub clocked the fastest average speeds of any global operator at 38 Mbps.

Conversely, some of the earliest adopters of LTE — like the U.S., Japan, Sweden and Germany — are starting to fall behind in terms of data performance. In part, these older networks are suffering from their own success. In the U.S., for instance, LTE’s introduction in 2010 resulted in a huge base of LTE subscribers in the country today. Those subscribers are all competing for the same network resources, slowing down average speeds. In comparison, newer networks in South America and Europe are more lightly loaded. But the U.S. has also failed to keep up with the rest of the world in both spectrum and technology. All of the four major U.S. operators have been expanding into more frequency bands, but none have been able to match the capacity countries like South Korea and Singapore have plowed into their networks. The U.S. has also been much slower in moving to LTE-Advanced.

LTE Vs Wi-Fi Speed Comparison

LTE speed compared to other mobile technoligies (2G & 3G) and Wi-Fi Globally

Smartphone users are on average connecting to LTE networks at much faster speeds than Wi-Fi. That’s not to suggest that LTE is a superior technology to Wi-Fi. The data just reflects the tremendous variance in Wi-Fi connection quality our users encounter on a daily basis. In North America or East Asia, a consumer might see 50 Mbps or better connections on their home or office networks, but then find their internet connection timing out at a local coffee shop. There’s also a lot of variance in Wi-Fi speeds between countries. In some parts of the world mobile broadband networks are coming online to make up for the lack of quality and availability of local broadband connections (which ultimately act as a bottleneck for Wi-Fi).

The global LTE rollout

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Countries with LTE
LTE scheduled

Hit play or move the slider to see the evolution of LTE

Since April, four more countries have launched their first 4G networks: Laos, Malawi, Guernsey and Morocco. That brings the total number of countries with at least one commercial LTE network up to 140. This interactive map shows the countries where LTE is active and where it’s scheduled to go online. Click the “play” button to see how LTE has spread globally since its introduction in northern Europe in 2010.

Download report

Methodology notes

The data in this report comes from 325,221 global OpenSignal LTE users, who have contributed data during the period June 2015 — August 2015 inclusive. For this report, we shifted our data collection period one month forward so the numbers listed for Q2 will differ from the numbers in our Q2 State-of-LTE report. All of the data comes from users of the OpenSignal Android app, iOS data is not currently included.

Networks for which we have data were only included if the volume of collected data was above our threshold for statistical confidence, networks below this threshold were excluded from the rankings.

For the country averages we included all valid tests from within that country, including tests from networks we excluded from our individual operator analysis. This explains why the countrywide averages may not appear to match up with the displayed networks from that country.

This is just an overview of the main methodology decisions. For more information, we prepared a detailed explanation of the specific methodologies we used for this report.

(*) Editor’s note: In June of 2016, OpenSignal changed the name its time coverage metric to network availability. Availability measures the same thing as time coverage — the proportion of time users remain connected to a particular network — but we felt that "availability" was a better reflection of the metric’s definition. For more details see our methodology page.

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