Mobile laps - A wide variation in 4G Availability at the Berlin Half Marathon

Over 30,000 runners will take to the streets of Berlin on Sunday 7th April for the Generali Half Marathon. But with competitors using tracker apps to record their progress, not to mention the thousands of supporters planning to line the route to cheer the runners on, what kind of mobile 4G Availability can they expect to get in the center of the German capital?

Our 4G Availability metric shows the proportion of time Opensignal users with a 4G device can connect to an LTE network. As such, 4G Availability is not a measure of coverage or the geographic extent of a network. We've taken a deep dive into 4G Availability in Berlin, calculating average scores across all network operators, using our measurements collected throughout the whole area of each postcode. And we found a wide variation in our measurements, ranging from 68% at the low end to 94% on the high end demonstrating how tricky urban environments are for operators to deliver a consistently great mobile network experience.

The best postcode for 4G Availability on the marathon route (shown in yellow on the map below) was 10625, just south of Bismarckstraße station and the opera house in Charlottenburg, which scored an impressive 94.1% in our measurements. But once the runners get to postcode 14059 around Schlossgarten in west Charlottenburg — barely a kilometre away from Bismarckstraße — our 4G Availability score drops to just 68.3%.

Average 4G Availability in postcode 10178 — just east of the river Spree where the Berlin Half Marathon starts and finishes — is fairly average for the city at 82.0%. It drops slightly when the runners get further into the Mitte area in 10117 to 78.7%, then recovers a bit to 80.3% as they pass through Tiergarten in 10557. Our measurements show 4G Availability will then spike to 90.3% as the racers go into postcode 10587 just north of the Berlin Institute of Technology, before dropping sharply to just 68.4% as they move up into 10585 near the opera house in Charlottenburg. And once the race turns back towards the centre to postcode 10711 in Halensee, 4G Availability is up to 93.5% in our measurements, before dropping off to 74.3% in 10623 just west of Tiergarten.

So what's causing these variations in Berlin's 4G Availability? Well, for one thing, it's a very big city, meaning that it can be difficult for mobile operators to provide LTE due to a combination of lots of buildings and high numbers of users trying to connect. Our recent analysis of 4G Download Speed by spectrum frequencies found our users in Germany experienced faster download speeds in urban areas, where they were more likely to access LTE on higher frequency bands. Higher bandwidth spectrum offers greater data capacity, but lower propagation. This means that you could be on Potsdamer Platz with a clear line of sight to a 4G base station utilizing a higher frequency band and get a great signal, but once you turn down towards Checkpoint Charlie and lose line of sight to this cell, your connection may move to a lower frequency — or even drop completely, impacting your mobile experience.

LTE connections generally deliver a much better mobile user experience than you would find on equivalent 3G networks. So 4G Availability is an incredibly useful way to understand the mobile experience people in Berlin will be having when using popular running apps, uploading and sharing photos of the race, sending WhatsApp messages to friends or navigating their way around the city using Google or Apple Maps. Our analysis of Berlin's central postcodes has shown that the marathon runners will certainly experience a wide range of 4G Availability as they race around the city. And this variation in LTE reach was mirrored in our most recent Germany Mobile Networks Update, when we measured Telekom's national 4G Availability score at 81.2%, Vodafone on 69.6%, and O2 with just 60.1%. We'll be revisiting the market in our Germany next report in May, so keep an eye out for that!