Europe's far north sired the first LTE networks in 2009. Seven years later, the region remains a mobile broadband powerhouse with one of the highest levels of 4G availability in the world. Drawing on 34 million tests taken in the first quarter of 2016, OpenSignal examined the Nordic region as a whole along with the individual performance of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden's operators.
Nordic subscribers certainly aren't lacking for a 4G signal. Our LTE availability measurements for Finland, Norway and Sweden all fell above 80%, while Denmark's was above 72%.
While average 4G speeds throughout the region were above global averages, Denmark separated itself from the group with LTE speeds of 24.5 Mbps. We measured the fastest connections in the Nordic region on Danish operator TDC’s LTE network, which averaged download speeds of 30.6 Mbps.
Even in the increasingly rare instances where customers couldn’t find a 4G signal, the Nordic states had remarkably fast 3G networks to fall back on. We recorded 3G download averages in Denmark, Norway and Sweden greater than 7 Mbps.
As newer and more technologically advanced networks come online around the world, Finland, Norway and Sweden find themselves falling further down the global rankings in LTE speed. Only Denmark has managed to maintain its 4G performance edge.
|Download Speed: 4G||Download Speed: 3G||Download Speed: Overall||Latency: 4G||Latency: 3G||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.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed experienced by OpenSignal users across all of an operator's 3G and 4G networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE availability tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend more time connected to slower 3G networks.
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.
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.
This chart shows the regional winners in each category OpenSignal measures. Click on the icons to see a more detailed graph showing each operator’s metrics in a particular region.
|Region||Latency: 3G||Download Speed: Overall||Latency: 4G||Availability: 4G||Download Speed: 3G||Download Speed: 4G|
Unlike in other State of Mobile Networks reports — which focus on individual countries — OpenSignal decided to look at the Nordic region as a whole. This report compares the performance of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden's 3G and 4G networks against one another before taking a deeper look at the individual operators in each country. These four countries are not only closely linked culturally, economically and geographically; they also have operator groups like TeliaSonera and Telenor that span the region. When it comes to mobile, the Nordic countries often move in the unison. The region has become a hotbed of network sharing, in which multiple operators use the same infrastructure and spectrum to offer service.
Further below we break down operator performance in each country in detail, but first let's see how the countries of Europe's far north compared against one another.
In general, subscribers in the three Scandinavian countries and Finland are seeing excellent mobile data service. The region has one of the highest levels of 4G availability(*) in the world, and its 3G networks are unparalleled in speed. When it comes to 4G performance, though, Denmark clearly sets itself apart. With an average LTE download speed of 24.5 Mbps, Denmark was not only well ahead of its Nordic peers but lays claim to some of the fastest LTE speeds in the world. Those 4G speeds, coupled with Denmark's high performance 3G services, also placed it well ahead of its neighbors in overall speeds. The typical Danish subscriber averages download speeds of 17.4 Mbps across 3G and 4G networks.
Finland, Norway and Sweden all averaged 4G speeds between 15 and 16 Mbps, which is above the global average of 13.5 Mbps, but the three countries aren't keeping up with the global pace of LTE innovation. We're seeing typical LTE speeds push beyond 20 Mbps in more than a dozen countries around the world. In 3G, though, the Nordics have maintained their edge. In every country except Finland, average HSPA speeds exceeded 7.5 Mbps, double the global average.
When it comes to 4G availability, the Nordic countries are in an elite class. OpenSignal's availability metric tracks the proportion of time subscribers can see a signal from a particular type of network. In the case of Finland, Norway and Sweden 4G subscribers were able to see an LTE signal more than 80% of the time. All three countries ranked in the global top 20 in 4G availability in our most recent State of LTE report, and in the three months since that report was compiled they have made availability improvements. There was no clear-cut winner among the three countries, however, as their availability measurements were statistically close enough to produce a three-way tie. Meanwhile Denmark fell short of its neighbors in network availability with an availability rating of 72.5%, a score that in any other region of the world would be considered remarkable.
The final metric we tracked was latency, which measures a data network's responsiveness. A Lower latency means web pages are quicker to load and users experience less delay in real-time communication apps. Measured in milliseconds, latency is particularly important in the Nordic countries because many of its operators have either launched or are in the process of rolling out voice-over-LTE services. Norway stood apart from its neighbors in 3G reaction speed with an average HSPA network latency of 62.5 milliseconds, while Denmark won our 4G latency award with an average of 44.8ms.
As previously mentioned, Denmark excels at providing high-bandwidth 4G connections, but one operator led the way in the first quarter. We measured average LTE speeds on TDC's 4G network of 30.6 Mbps, making it the fastest in the region and among the fastest in the world. TDC also took OpenSignal's awards for 4G availability — with a score of 79.9% — and overall speed with a cross-network download average of 20.3 Mbps.
Though TDC earned the biggest accolades, the other operators' results were nothing to scoff at. 3 turned in an impressive 4G availability rating of 72.3%, coming in second in our rankings. Meanwhile, Telenor and Telia tied statistically for the lead in 3G performance, delivering average download speeds greater than 9 Mbps — faster than the typical LTE connection in many countries.
3G speed wasn't the only category in which Telenor and Telia were closely matched. In fact, we saw statistical draws between the two operators in almost every metric. That shouldn't come as a surprise considering their close operational ties. Telia and Telenor share 2G, 3G and 4G networks through a joint venture called TT-Netvaerket. While there are many network sharing deals around the world, Nordic operators don't just share network infrastructure, they also share spectrum, effectively giving the operators involved a unified radio network. We did see some variation between Telia and Telenor's performance in our measurements, but that mainly reflects differences in their subscriber bases (different users live and spend time in different areas and therefore have a different mobile experience, which is what we measure). The joint network delivered an impressive 4G performance, averaging about 20 Mbps, but Telia and Telenor fell short when it came to 4G availability, delivering a combined score of 65%.
Of all the Nordic states, Finland had the most closely matched operators. In most categories we saw two-way and three-way draws in our performance metrics between DNA, Elisa and Sonera. The big exception was 4G speed where DNA took the top prize with an average download speed of 21.9 Mbps. The strength of that LTE service also landed DNA our overall speed award with an average download bandwidth of 13.1 Mbps across all of its networks.
All three operators, however, ran neck-in-neck in the first quarter in 3G speed, and were grouped tightly in 4G availability at around 80%. While network sharing agreements produced many of the statistical ties we saw in Denmark and Sweden, that doesn't seem to be the case in Finland. DNA and TeliaSonera are building a shared 4G network under a venture called Suomen Yhteisverkko, but that network only covers rural Finland, so it had minimal impact on our results. Competition, rather than partnering, seems to be the reason why the mobile race in Finland is so close.
When it comes to the typical overall mobile data experience, Finland is falling behind its neighbors, averaging 10.8 Mbps across all of its operators' 3G and 4G networks. It's not that Finland's LTE networks aren't up to the task — its 4G speeds are in line with Sweden's and Norway's — but rather its older HSPA networks just aren't as quick. Still, at 5.5 Mbps, Finland's 3G download speeds would be considered fast in any other part of the world. The Nordic region has simply set a much higher bar.
Norway is unique in that it only has two major operators, though new competition is emerging as Ice Communications ramps up its consumer-facing mobile service. We're already starting to see Ice.net 3G and 4G tests show up in our data. In the first quarter, though, mobile competition in Norway was a two-way battle between Telia and Telenor, and, from a 4G perspective, Telia had the edge.
Telia took our awards for 4G speed, with an LTE download average of 20.4 Mbps, and for 4G availability, with a metric of 82.6%. Telia and Telenor drew in terms of 3G speed, but due to the strength of Telia's LTE service it won the overall speed award, averaging an impressive 18.1 Mbps.
Telenor did have the distinction of providing the most responsive data connections in Norway. It won both our 3G and 4G latency awards, averaging 55.5ms and 48.9ms respectively.
Even for the region, Sweden's interwoven network sharing agreements are complex. Every single one of Sweden's four national operators shares at least a portion of its networks with another. Consequently there were a lot of statistical draws and closely matched results in our Sweden data. In two categories, 3G speed and 3G latency, we even saw four-way ties between 3, Tele2, Telenor and Telia.
Surprisingly, in one category we did see a significant difference in measurements between two operators sharing the same network. Tele2 took top honors in 4G availability with an exceptional rating of 87.6%, while we measured availability for Telenor at 81.7%. Telenor and Tele2 run joint 2G and 4G networks through a venture called Net4Mobility, meaning everywhere Tele2 has a 4G signal, Telenor should have a signal as well. But as Tefficient Managing Director and analyst Fredrik Jungermann explained, the coverage variation we're seeing has less to do with differing network capabilities than it does with differing customer bases. Tele2 is a much more urban-focused operator than Telenor, so its customers tend to congregate in cities, which generally have better coverage than rural areas, Jungermann said.
When it came to LTE speed, Telenor and Tele2 were dead even, both averaging 4G downloads of 13 Mbps, though in this case that meant they were tied for a last place finish. We measured the most powerful connections on the LTE networks of 3 (17.9 Mbps) and Telia (17.2 Mbps), though their speeds were also close enough to create a statistical tie. Telia edged out 3 in overall speed, however, due to its stronger 4G availability. Customers were able to access Telia's fast LTE network more often.
The Nordics have largely lived up to their reputation for building world-leading mobile networks. In terms of providing widespread and consistent 4G signals, only fellow LTE early adopters East Asia and North America can compare. The Nordic operators' 3G networks have no equal in speed. But when it comes to LTE speeds, the region has fallen from its once commanding position.
Though Denmark has managed to keep pace with many of the newer LTE-Advanced networks we see emerging in Asia and other parts of Europe, the region's three remaining countries have to be content with merely keeping ahead of the global LTE speed trends. Their networks aren't slow by any means, but the fastest networks in the world have made their homes in places like South Korea, Singapore, Romania, Hungary and the Netherlands.
The issue isn't a technology one or a lack of innovation. The Nordic operators have expanded into new 4G frequency bands to boost capacity and have deployed new LTE-Advanced technologies to enhance connection speeds. Ironically, part of the problem is the region's own 4G success. As the first countries to adopt LTE technologies, they've built up extremely high levels of 4G smartphone penetration. The more customers there are on a network, the more competition there is for its capacity, slowing down average speeds for all subscribers. The new LTE-Advanced networks we see emerging around the world may be super fast, but many of them are much more lightly loaded than the older networks of the Nordic states.
This slowing of networks isn't a problem unique to the Nordics. The U.S. and Japan — both among the first countries to launch LTE — have been falling down the ranking table of global speeds. Still, other early 4G countries have managed to keep up. South Korea has one of the highest penetration of LTE subscribers in the world, yet its 4G networks still average 30 Mbps. And if the Nordic countries need an example closer to home, they only have to look as far as Denmark.
(*) Editor's Note: When this report was originally published OpenSignal used the term time coverage for what is now our availability metric. We changed the name to avoid confusion of this metric with geographic and population coverage metrics, and we have reflected that change in our old reports. The new terminology, however, does not reflect a new methodology. Time coverage and availability represent the same measurement: the proportion of time OpenSignal users can connect to a particular network.
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