State of Mobile Networks: Canada (January 2016)

The Great White North is becoming one of the world's 4G powerhouses. Drawing on millions of measurements taken from 15,600 Canadian OpenSignal users, we took a close look at the performance of Canada's Big 3 nationwide operators over a three month period between September and November. We found that all three offered consistently fast speeds and reliable access to their data networks, landing them among the top tier of global operators.

Report Facts

27,224,782
Measurements
15,639
Test Devices
2015-09-01 - 2015-11-30
Sample Period
Canada
Report Location

Highlights

Canada is no 4G slowpoke

Canada certainly isn’t lacking for 4G capacity. All three of Canada’s nationwide operators delivered average speeds over 17 Mbps, though Bell had the definite advantage with an average of 19.9 Mbps.

High-availability networks are the norm

Given how spread out the Canadian population is, our testers found that it was quite easy to get a 4G signal most of the time. Rogers, however, won this category hands down, supplying an LTE connection 80 percent of the time.

The regional operators are no slouches either

Though we focused on Canada's nationwide operators for this report, we saw some impressive results from the regional operators as well. In many cases they outperformed their larger counterparts in their home territories. For instance, both Videotron and Sasktel averaged 4G speeds greater than 27 Mbps in their respective provinces Quebec and Saskatchewan.

Operators gear up for voice-over-LTE

We're seeing 4G latency measurements in Canada in line with other global operators. Latency is essentially the delay data experiences as it travels through the network. It's important for real-time communications services like video conferencing and VoIP that require fast reaction times. Low latency will become more important as operators roll out IP voice services on their LTE networks.

Awards Table

Download Speed: 4G Download Speed: 3G Latency: 4G Latency: 3G Availability: 4G

Bell

medal medal medal medal

Rogers

medal medal medal

Telus

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Performance by Metric

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Analysis

When it comes to unique mobile markets, you won't find a situation more interesting than Canada's. Its land mass is huge but its population is relatively small (just 35.6 million) and nearly all of it is concentrated in the country's far south, hugging the U.S. border. Yet Canada still manages to support 10 mobile operators, many of them focused on their own geographic nooks. These service providers also have managed to launch some of the most sophisticated 4G networks in the world. All three of Canada's nationwide mobile providers have embraced LTE-Advanced, but even the regional operators have launched 4G networks that are among the world's fastest.

While we do highlight some data OpenSignal collected on Canada's smaller mobile operators, this report focuses primarily on Canada's Big 3 nationwide operators — Bell, Rogers and Telus — which account for 90 percent of all mobile connections in the country. Comparing the results of a regional provider operating in a single province to those of a nationwide provider isn't exactly an apples to apples comparison. It makes more sense to treat those two classes of mobile operators separately, and we plan to delve more deeply into the regional providers in future reports.

Canada's Big 3 are all surprisingly close when it comes to matching each other’s 4G performance. In OpenSignal's tests, Telus, Bell and Rogers all averaged more than 17 Mbps, which is far above the global average of 12.6 Mbps we measured in our Q3 global LTE report. Bell, however, edged out its rivals with an average speed of 19.9 Mbps. Likewise, when it comes to availability, all three operators did well, supplying an LTE signal more than 70 percent of the time (for more details on how we calculate availability, see our methodology page). Rogers was the stand out, though, with an availability metric of 80 percent, which puts it among the world's elite when it comes to providing a reliable LTE connection. And for those times when LTE wasn't available, they had HSPA+ workhorses to fall back on. 3G speeds for all three operators averaged between 3 and 4 Mbps.

One possible reason why Canada's operators are so evenly matched is the prevalence of network-sharing agreements. Telus and Bell share towers and infrastructure with one another in their respective home territories, while Rogers has struck similar deals with many regional operators like Videotron in Quebec and MTS in Manitoba. But all of the Big 3 have been equally aggressive when it comes to pursuing new technology and adding new capacity. All three have launched LTE in multiple frequency bands, and all three are in various stages of rolling out speed-boosting LTE-Advanced enhancements. In this respect, Canada's operators are well ahead of their U.S. neighbors to the south, who are still struggling to upgrade to LTE-Advanced.

Some of the most impressive results we saw, however, came from the regional providers. Videotron and SaskTel both averaged LTE speeds greater than 27 Mbps in their respective provinces. Videotron also scored excellent marks in 4G availability in Quebec, connecting its customers to an LTE signal 78 percent of the time. We can't make direct comparisons between regional and national measurements, but it's become quite clear that Canada's smaller operators aren't sitting out the 4G race.

The final report metric we tracked, latency, will have greater significance as Canadian operators move their voice services from 2G to 4G networks. Latency, often referred to as ping, measures the round-trip time it takes for a data request to travel from your phone, through the network and back. A lower latency is crucial for real-time communications applications like video conferencing and VoIP as too much delay can make a voice or video conversation intolerable. So far only Rogers has launched voice-over-LTE services, and it happens to have the lowest latency of the three big operators, 57ms. Whether 57ms is a good or bad score depends on whom you ask. LTE was supposed to support far lower latencies — in the sub-20ms range — but practically no network in the real world is seeing that kind of network reaction time. On the other hand countries like the U.S. are already pushing ahead with VoLTE even though their average latency scores are generally higher than those of Canada's operators.

While Canadians often tire of the constant comparisons to its big neighbor to the south, in this instance the comparison is quite favorable. In our most recent global LTE report, there was a full 5 Mbps difference in speed between U.S.'s fastest network and Canada's slowest. The U.S. has a slight edge on Canada in availability, but Canadian operators still rank among the world's top tier when it comes to providing a consistent 4G signal. Frankly there's not much to criticize when it comes to the network progress of Canada's three major operators (pricing is another matter — like the U.S. Canada's consumer rates are quite high). Canada already has some of the highest performing networks in the world and they only seem to be improving.

Our Methodology

OpenSignal data is collected from consumer smartphones and recorded under conditions of normal usage. As opposed to drive-test data, which attempts to simulate what a user might experience by using the same devices to measure network performance in a small number of locations, we take our measurements from millions of smartphones owned by regular people who have downloaded OpenSignal’s apps.

Those measurements are taken wherever users happen to be, whether indoors or out, in a city or in the countryside, representing a mobile data service the way users experience it. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 27,224,782 datapoints were collected from 15,639 users during the period: 2015-09-01 - 2015-11-30.

All data has been collected from users of the OpenSignal mobile app for Android or iOS.

For every metric we've calculated statistical confidence intervals and plotted them on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric, our measured results are too close to declare a winner in a particular category. In those cases, we show a statistical draw. For this reason, some metrics have multiple operator winners.

©2016 OpenSignal, Inc. All rights reserved.

OpenSignal, Inc retains ownership of this report including all intellectual property rights, data, content, graphs & analysis. Reports produced by OpenSignal, Inc may not be quoted, reproduced, distributed, published for any commercial purpose (including use in advertisements or other promotional content) without prior written consent.

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