The State of LTE (February 2014)

The State of LTE

Network operators around the world are working hard to convince their users to make the jump to LTE. The term “4G” acts as a convenient label for marketers to emphasise the superiority of this new standard over its predecessors, but just how standard or consistent is the experience of users on LTE?

The OpenSignal app allows users to contribute to our impartial coverage maps of mobile networks, we took data from those of our 6 million users who have LTE and focussed on their experience of two key metrics: download speed, and the proportion of time spent with LTE access. All data included in this report comes from the second half of 2013.

We found that not all LTE networks are created equal, indeed there is an extremely broad range of experience across both metrics. Only about a quarter of networks surveyed achieve both good coverage and fast speeds; clearly there remains much work before LTE lives up to its full potential.

The Breadth of LTE Performance

This quadrant graph allows for an overview of LTE network performance, combining both Time on LTE (*) and Download Speed to build a picture of true network performance. This graph makes it easy to see that Claro Brazil records very fast network speeds but that their coverage is extremely limited. The South Korean and Hong Kong networks perform extremely well for both metrics, with all networks appearing in the top right quadrant. Globe Philippines is the worst performing network, and Metro PCS combines impressive LTE coverage with the slowest LTE speed of all qualifying networks.

Average Time on 4G LTE: A New Metric for Coverage

This metric is a new way of looking at coverage, based on user experience rather than geography. Coverage is most important where users actually spend their time, especially for LTE (as it provides a layer of service that is non-essential for emergencies, unlike voice or basic internet connection). Our metric looks at the proportion of time a user has access to the LTE network, which gives a more accurate look at how real-world users are being served by their connection. When it comes to LTE coverage, not all places are equal.

Time on LTE

Time on LTE by country and network

For the ‘Time on LTE’ metric, we see South Korea performing best, with the average SK user having access to LTE 91% of the time. The best performing individual network is Tele 2 Sweden, whose users have LTE access 93% of the time. Sweden perform extremely well overall, with the average user having access to LTE 88% of the time, showing the success of a rollout that began back in 2009. Claro Brazil record the third worst ‘Time on LTE’, with users having access to the network only 43% of the time. While Claro BR has the fastest global LTE speeds, their users have greatly reduced access to the network than most other networks worldwide.

Looking at coverage goes some way towards mitigating the USA’s poor speed performance. The USA performs well on our coverage metric, with the average user experiencing LTE coverage 67% of the time, with Australia, the fastest country, on 58%.

How speeds compare

The biggest draw of 4G LTE is that it offers greatly increased speeds to 3G technologies (and we count HSPA+ as a form of 3G technology, even though it is often marketed as 4G in the United States).

Australia has the fastest average LTE speeds in the world, with the USA and the Philippines coming in the slowest of our qualifying countries. Claro Brazil are the fastest LTE network in the world, averaging an exceptionally fast 27.8Mbps – although their poor ‘Time on LTE’ performance shows that the roll-out is far from complete.

The USA networks uniformly perform poorly for speed – with Metro PCS recording the slowest speeds of all eligible networks, possibly a result of their small spectrum allocation, which uses a 5MHz band while most US carriers use 20MHz.

Since last time

How download speed has changed since the last report

Mobile networks do not remain constant, with operators constantly rolling out to new areas and making improvements to their network. On the other side of the coin, increased users combat these improvements, as increased network load brings down average speeds. This is the reason that some countries have improved since our last report a year ago, while others have worsened.

Most of the country averages have stayed broadly the same, with only minor improvement or deterioration in service. Australia and Japan have made the biggest improvements, with Australia’s average speeds increasing 42% to 24.5Mbps and Japan improving 66% to 11.8Mbps. The USA suffers the biggest decline, with average speeds falling 32% to 6.5 Mbps, the second slowest global average.

LTE speed vs other technologies

LTE download speed in Mbps vs speeds experienced on other connection types

On average LTE is the fastest wireless technology worldwide, representing a real increase in speed on both 3G and HSPA+. 4G LTE is over 5x faster than 3G and over twice as fast as HSPA+ and represents a major leap forward in wireless technology.

The global rollout

Reset zoom
Countries with LTE
LTE scheduled

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

This interactive map shows the state of current LTE service worldwide, as well as the markets where a rollout is currently scheduled. As of February 2014 there are 76 countries with LTE currently active, showing that there is a lot of scope for increase – especially in Africa, which currently lags behind in terms of advanced cellular technologies.

A brief note on Metro PCS: While Metro PCS was acquired by T-Mobile early in 2013, we still recorded a high volume of tests coming in on Metro PCS LTE for the full duration of 2013, as there is a legacy network still active. This is the reason the Metro PCS network is included in this report.

(*) Editor’s note: In June of 2016, OpenSignal changed the name of its "time on" metric to network availability. Availability measures the same thing as time on — 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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