Italian mobile users experience lower 4G Availability in rural areas — but no evidence of a North/South divide

In the second quarter of 2019, our 4G users in Italy on average spent more than four-fifths of their time connected to 4G networks. And whether they were in the North-West or in the South, either in cities or rural areas — they could, on average, connect to 4G networks more than two thirds of the time.

Opensignal analyzed our smartphone users’ 4G Availability in the urban and rural areas of Italy. We used the Degree of urbanisation classification adopted by Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (Istat), which classifies all Italian municipalities into three types of areas: thinly populated (rural areas); intermediate density (towns, suburbs and small urban areas), and densely populated (cities and large urban areas).

(Source: Eurostat – ENG; Istat – ITA)

Italian 4G smartphone users spend less time connected to 4G networks in rural areas

According to Istat, 33.3% of the Italian population lives in the municipalities classified as densely populated areas, which cover only 4.8% of the Italian territory. All major cities fall within this category, and it’s no surprise that our 4G users connecting from this type of area on average enjoyed higher 4G Availability than in the rest of the country, at over 84%.

Mobile operators tend to focus their network deployment efforts in large urban areas, as we’ve seen in our latest report, with several operators surpassing the 90% mark in 4G Availability across multiple cities.

However, a larger share of the population — 42.4% — lives in intermediate density areas, which cover 22.7% of the land, mostly town and suburbs spreading around big cities and the coastline. When in these areas, Opensignal 4G users on average spent 80.2% of the time connected to 4G networks — a lower, but not considerably different value from the 4G Availability experienced in densely populated areas.

Lastly, the remaining 24.3% of the population lives in rural areas, which in turn cover the vast majority — 72.5% — of Italy, including vast swathes of the southern regions, the Alps and the Apennines. Our 4G users in these rural municipalities spent less time connected to 4G networks than their peers in suburban and urban areas but could still enjoy 71.4% 4G Availability.

Italian 4G smartphone users experience higher 4G Availability in urban areas, but there is no divide between North and South

Opensignal analyzed rural mobile experience across Italy’s five macro-regions and found that our 4G users consistently experienced better 4G Availability in urban and suburban areas compared to rural municipalities. However, we did not observe remarkable differences across the five regions, with 4G Availability varying by less than 6 percentage points for all three different population density classifications.

Our 4G users in the Islands region experienced the lowest urban 4G Availability at 80.9%, while our urban users in the North-West enjoyed the highest amount of time on 4G networks — 86%.

Our 4G users in rural municipalities all connected on average more than 71% of the time to 4G networks, except for those in the Center region — which was the only classification to fall below the 70% mark at 69.1% 4G Availability. Interestingly, we observed the highest rural 4G Availability in the Islands region — where users in turn saw the lowest urban 4G Availability.

Opensignal data shows that mobile operators focused their deployment efforts in densely populated areas, where our users could enjoy higher 4G Availability. Italian operators have now launched 5G networks in a number of urban areas, and shared initial rollout targets in terms of the number of cities they plan to cover in the coming years. Although our users in rural municipalities could access 4G networks most of the time, they will likely have to wait years before they will be able to enjoy the improved mobile experience promised by 5G.