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Europe’s 4G speeds rise while the rest of the world stalls

While much of the world witnessed a stall in 4G speeds in 2017, Europe managed to provide faster download speeds to users than ever before. But while the continent has long secured itself as a steady 4G power, as we look closer at the various regions we can spot several significant differences in the progress and pace of LTE development.

In our latest State of LTE report, we measured 4G availability and average 4G download speeds in 88 countries spanning five continents. For the current analysis, we’re zooming in on how 36 countries in Europe stack up in the global 4G race.

Among the fastest worldwide

The average 4G download speed our users experienced in Europe was considerably faster than the speeds we measured in the rest of the world. Among the 36 countries we examined we found only two -- Russia and Belarus -- fell short of the global average download of 16.9 Mbps. Meanwhile the remaining 34 all saw average 4G download speeds above 20 Mbps, and 13 even cracked the 30 Mbps mark.

It should therefore come as no surprise that more than half the countries who earned a spot among the top 10 speediest countries in our report were located in Europe -- namely the Netherlands (with average 4G download speeds of 42.1 Mbps), Norway (41.2 Mbps), Hungary (39.2 Mbps), Belgium (36.1 Mbps), Bulgaria (33.3 Mbps) and Denmark (33.1 Mbps).

But stunning 4G speeds only matter if you get the LTE connection. Europe is doing just fine in that metric as well. Three quarters of the 36 European countries managed to provide LTE connections to our mobile users in over 7 out of 10 attempts. Only 3 countries (Armenia, Belarus and Russia) had average availability scores below 60%.

The West holds steady

While the Western side of the continent houses some of the world’s largest economies, their current state of LTE stands at a much less prominent spot. France or Germany, for example, are in the lower reaches of our global rankings, unable to cross the 70% threshold of our 4G availability metric. The same pattern holds true in terms of speed: users in France, Germany, Ireland and the U.K. didn't average download speeds above 25 Mbps.

One of the reasons for Western Europe's underperformance is its early development of 3G technologies. Most of these countries deployed powerful 3G networks in the past, which for the longest time were able to satisfy the data demands of the population. And although these countries have embraced 4G, they've been slower to expand them, which is why many of them score relatively low in LTE availability.

We find, however, that some countries are starting to lift themselves in the rankings. Spain is the most prominent example. LTE availability in Spain stood at just above 67% at the end of 2016, but 18 months later it rose to nearly 84%, and Spain is now among the fastest 4G countries in Europe. The U.K. has also managed to improve its abysmal LTE availability in a relatively short time. In November of 2016, its availability score was 57.9%. In this report it rose to 77.3%. Italy's 4G availability has also increased a remarkable 15 percentage points in the last year and a half, though it still hasn't reached the levels seen in Spain and the United Kingdom.

As we turn to Northern Europe and the Benelux countries, we see the most impressive results yet.

As in so many other areas, from happiness rankings through equality rights to social welfare, Norway led the European league in our 4G availability tests as well, making it one of the five countries we analyzed globally to cross the 90% threshold. The Netherlands was on the cusp of crossing that barrier with a 4G availability of 89.6%. But for now, it will have to be content with the fact that it had the fastest 4G speeds we measured in Europe, averaging downloads of 42.1 Mbps. Belgium also performed quite well: scoring in the top 5 European countries in speed and the top 10 in availability.

A key reason behind Northern Europe’s outstanding performance lies in early LTE uptake (very early, in fact: Sweden launched the world’s first LTE service in Stockholm back in 2009). Which simply means that the Northern countries launched LTE ahead of the rest of the world giving them more time to develop their network reach and work on delivering decent 4G speeds.

The East is rising up

While we expected to see our users in the Benelux and the Nordics experience high 4G availability coupled with fast speeds, we found a couple of more surprising countries occupy prominent positions in our report.

When looking at the average time our users could connect to LTE, we saw several countries in Central Eastern Europe and the Baltics perform well. Mobile users in Hungary, Lithuania and the Czech Republic could all find LTE connections over 87% of the time, while Estonia and Latvia were just a few percentage points behind, both countries offering LTE availability an average of 84.3% of the time.

Looking at speeds, we saw some of the best performing countries in Europe in its eastern regions. Hungary proved to be among the 5 fastest countries worldwide, offering 4G speeds just below 40 Mbps, while our report found that average download speeds in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia were almost double the global average, hovering around 32 and 33 Mbps placing them in the top 20% worldwide.

Although LTE uptake in Europe’s eastern regions came much later, it did so with great force. Additionally, in many of these countries the population’s demand for mobile data is a more recent trend, fueling operators’ investments in the newer generations of mobile internet. Aided by more advanced and powerful LTE technologies, users in many of these countries are now experiencing high 4G speeds coupled with impressive LTE reach.

Among the fastest ... for now

4G speeds may have plateaued worldwide, but in Europe, users are getting faster LTE connections than ever before. The fastest and most accessible networks in the world have always been in Asia, but it now looks like the Netherlands and Norway are challenging Singapore and South Korea for those top spots. If European 4G speeds continue to increase while East Asia's speeds continue to stall, the top of our speed and availability charts could look very different in six months.

Europe is an LTE power today, and it's only getting more powerful. But that doesn't mean we won't see other regions of the world challenging its 4G dominance in the future. Most of the developing world today is focused on extending the reach of their 4G networks -- ensuring more people have access to mobile broadband. Once they've built out those networks they will turn their attention to speed. When that times comes, we might see Europe will need to step up its game in the battle for 4G supremacy.