OpenSignal Insights

Tracking AT&T’s rise to dominance in 4G network responsiveness

We recently published our latest report on the State of Mobile Networks in the U.S., where the network speed and 4G availability awards were dominated by a couple of operators. But AT&T won one notable accolade in OpenSignal’s metrics – the best 4G latency.

Our latency metric tends not to get as much attention as speed or availability, but it is becoming an important measure of the overall mobile network experience. Everytime you click a link, press play on a video, or feint left in multiplayer mobile game, your device generates a data request, which must traverse the network, querying a server for content. The time it takes for that request to reach its destination and a response to be returned is the latency of the network. The lower the latency score, the better. And response rates are coming to the fore as mobile user habits shift.

Online gaming is one of the big beneficiaries from low latency. Multiplayer gaming apps such as Fortnite and PUBG are hugely popular right now, and rely on fast response times for a smooth and consistent player experience.

Mobile web browsing also benefits, particularly when streaming music or video. Lower latency cuts the delay between the browser on the phone requesting the file, and the server responding and starting the stream. The faster the latency, the sooner the server responds. A quicker “time to start playing” in video streaming is especially important as users watch a lot of short videos in quick succession, e.g. on YouTube or Facebook. Better network response times are also indicative of improved performance in other growing mobile application areas such as VoLTE and video communications services. And as U.S. mobile consumers begin to move away from Wifi and rely more on cellular networks, lower latency is more vital than ever.

But AT&T hasn’t always been the top dog in our U.S. 4G latency metric. In fact, the operator was in fourth place just 16 months ago: in April 2017 it had the slowest 4G latency of any of the national operators, at 64 milliseconds in our measurements. However by August Ma Bell had overtaken its rivals, and has been in the lead ever since, as our latest historical analysis of U.S. 4G latency data shows.

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Seoul top city in East Asia with 4G availability of nearly 98%

At OpenSignal we are currently in the process of boosting our coverage of East Asia, having launched reports in the last six months on Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. We recently published the first in a series of blog posts comparing key cities in East Asia, which looked at 4G speeds, and found Seoul and Singapore were the fastest. In the second of our blogs on East Asia cities, we have measured the 4G availability of our users in 12 of the big economic centers in the region.

Each of the 12 cities we analyzed represents a key business and economic hub in their respective countries. We examined data from a 90-day test period between March and May, and found the following results for 4G availability.

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Cambodia’s 4G market experiences growing pains

There’s good news and bad news if you happen to be a 4G smartphone user in Cambodia. The good news is that access to 4G services is rising. In our new State of Mobile Networks: Cambodia report we found that 4G availability was increasing among most operators in our measurements, meaning consumers could find LTE signals more often. The bad news is that 4G download speeds declined. As Cellcard, Metfone and Smart Axiata compete more heavily and sign up more 4G users, the additional demand for mobile data appears to be impacting their LTE network capacity.

This is a common trend in countries where 4G is still relatively new. As 4G services ramp up, operators focus on extending the reach of their networks, not on the raw power of their connections. Typically after a period of declining speeds, operators reinvest in network capacity, often boosting speeds well beyond the levels at which they launched their initial 4G services. Luckily for consumers, Cambodia’s growing availability means they’re seeing little day-to-day impact in the overall speeds they experience. For all three operators overall speeds held steady since our February Cambodia report.

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How do Singapore’s regions stack up in 4G?

When OpenSignal publishes a new national report, we often follow up with a metro-level analysis of the country in question, seeing how the big cities within compare in our metrics. We recently published our first State of Mobile Networks: Singapore report, which means it’s the island nation’s turn for a regional breakdown. But how do we compare cities in a country comprised of one large city? OpenSignal decided to try something new: we divided the Singapore map into five sectors corresponding roughly to its five urban-planning regions and examined how each fared overall in our 4G download speed and 4G availability metrics.

OpenSignal-Singapore-4G-Availability-4G-Speed 577x415

For this analysis we looked at the same 90-day test period as our Singapore report to identify the fastest sector and the sector with the highest level of LTE access. You would think the Central region would emerge at the top of our charts, given it contains the Downtown Core and the key commercial areas of the country. Well, you would be half right. Central had the highest 4G availability in our measurements, but in 4G download speed, two other sectors beat it. The mostly residential Northeast had the fastest score, followed by the industrial East. Both had 4G download averages just shy of 50 Mbps.

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We’re seeing LTE speeds dropping in Peru – but this is normal. Why?

OpenSignal has just published its latest State of Mobile Networks report on Peru, analyzing our data between April and June to examine the 3G and 4G mobile network experience provided by the four main operators. In one of our key metrics, 4G download speed, we’ve seen conspicuous declines for the two leading players. However we don’t consider this is any cause for concern – in fact we think it’s quite normal. But why is it happening?

Our 4G download speed metric has been a closely run race in Peru. In this test period we recorded a draw between Entel and Movistar – the same two-operator draw we saw six months ago. However, the average 4G speeds we recorded for the top two operators both fell: Entel’s by over 3 Mbps to 17.2 Mbps, and Movistar’s by over 4 Mbps to 17 Mbps.

Peru Lima

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The fastest US tech hub in 4G is also the biggest US city

If you’re looking to launch a new wireless startup that depends on fast mobile broadband speeds, then you might want to consider making New York City your new HQ. In an analysis of eight tech hub cities in the U.S., OpenSignal found the Big Apple averaged both the fastest 4G download speeds and the fastest 4G upload speeds.

TechHubsDraft2

Specifically we measured the average LTE download in the Big Apple at 25.2 Mbps in our latest 90-day test period starting March 16. That’s nearly 9 Mbps faster than the U.S. 4G download speed average of 18.5 Mbps over the same timeframe. NYC’s average 4G upload of 8.7 Mbps was also well above the national average of 5.9 Mbps. Boston came in second of the eight tech hubs we tested in 4G download speed with an average of 24 Mbps, while San Diego came in second in LTE upload speed with an average of 8.3 Mbps.

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Can we ever hope to eliminate mobile notspots in London?

The Connected London initiative was launched in the U.K. capital this summer, an ambitious scheme which hopes to drive improvement through digital technology and data. Part of the plan includes tackling mobile broadband “notspots” – where the signal is extremely weak or patchy, or users can’t connect to a network at all.

But even in the best-served metropolitan regions, can mobile operators ever hope to achieve 100% connectivity? In a guest article for Telecoms.com, Brendan Gill, Co-founder and CEO of OpenSignal looked at the state of London’s mobile notspots and what can be done about them.

Brendan commented that the elimination of notspots is a commendable goal – but unfortunately, it’s not a very realistic one:

“Notspots will never go away completely as they’re part of the nature of building cellular networks. We believe it’s unlikely any operator will ever achieve this goal, or even reach 99 percent network coverage in urban areas. The ‘holy grail’ score of 100 percent connectivity may be just that – a myth.”

Smartphone London Eye Hand Photography Tourism

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Vodafone’s 4G dominance under threat in Italy’s regions

Italy is a wonderfully colourful nation with a proud regional heritage, perhaps best reflected in its rich and varied cuisine, which is famed the world over. In the North, Bologna is the home of the true ragu, while Parma has its hams and cheeses. Towards the centre of the country, Rome lays claim to carbonara and amatriciana pasta sauces, whereas Umbria is known for its pork products, especially salami and prosciutto. In the South, Naples prides itself on inventing pizza, Campania has Buffalo Mozzarella, while Calabria is known for its spicy pepper dishes. And of the islands, Sicily is famed for cannoli and arancini, whereas Sardinia has its seafood.

Italians have spent centuries debating who has the finest cuisine, but now they have something new to contest: the quality of their regional 4G services. So how do Italy’s mobile operators perform in OpenSignal’s regional 4G user experience metrics? OpenSignal has taken a deep dive into regional data to see how the four operators we covered in our recent State of Mobile Networks: Italy report stacked up in 4G download speed and 4G availability.

Our latest State of Mobile Networks report saw Vodafone dominating our national awards table, winning four categories including 4G download speed and 4G availability. And this success was mirrored in Italy’s regions, where the operator won seven out of our 12 regional awards and drew with TIM in the other five. But as with our national categories, the former incumbent is pressuring Vodafone in almost all of our regional metrics.

 

Italy regions map

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Verizon and T-Mobile try to outdo one another in 4G reach

A year ago, T-Mobile US accomplished quite a coup in our metrics. It surpassed Verizon in our 4G availability measurements last August, and for the last two U.S. State of Mobile Networks reports it’s held onto to that lead. But in OpenSignal’s new U.S. report, Verizon has made up its lost ground. The two operators were numerically tied for our 4G availability award as each was able to offer a 4G signal to our testers 93.7% of the time.

To be fair, Verizon didn’t have much of a gap to close. For the last two years, both operators have been neck-and-neck in this metric even as they both expanded the reach of their LTE networks. It also shows how important boosting LTE access is to both operators. A 1 percentage point increase in an operator’s 4G availability score translates to an additional 7 hours each month the typical consumer maintains an LTE connection. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised to see that availability and reliability have become cornerstones of a new Verizon ad campaign. In one commercial, Verizon explains how it rigorously tests a new distributed antenna system in the lower deck of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, an area notorious for dropped signals. In another, a Verizon technician climbs an ice-covered cell tower in Alaska to ensure service is working properly along a frigid, rural stretch of highway. It’s likely no coincidence that Verizon’s 4G availability score is growing just as it’s touting the long arm of its network.

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India becoming increasingly switched on to the potential of Wifi

The government in India is becoming increasingly turned on to the potential of public Wifi networks, planning to provide coverage to some 250,000 Panchayats (local administrative offices) and 5000 railway stations within the next two years. This interest is justified as smartphone penetration grows. The World Bank believes that a 10% increase in Internet penetration can generate a 1.4% increase in GDP. And this would likely be even higher in a developing market like India with a large rural population and limited access to banking and e-payment services that smartphones can provide.

There’s been a huge amount of excitement around 4G networks in India, as competition rises and more and more Indians are coming online. In our last State of Mobile Networks: India report, we measured substantial improvements in 4G availability in India, as operators have made access to LTE signals a new priority. But Wifi connectivity among mobile users is still relatively low in India, even though the focus on Wifi has been renewed.

Wifi networks don’t get the same amount of interest in the subcontinent, as the evolution of telecoms has somewhat skipped the fixed-broadband stage of development and raced straight onto 4G. Nonetheless, there are a significant number of Wifi users in India connecting at home or at work, while publicly-accessible Wifi is becoming more and more important as data use increases.

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