German rural 4G users see big differences in 4G Availability and download speeds between operators

Our latest analysis of Germany’s mobile experience looks at the connectivity divide between urban and rural areas. Opensignal analyzed 4G Availability and Download Speed Experience by German state and operator for both urban and rural areas, over a 90-day period.

Our key findings are:

  • Telekom users observed the highest 4G Availability in rural areas in 11 out of 13 states. They also saw the smallest difference in 4G Availability between rural and urban areas.
  • Vodafone isn’t far behind Telekom in terms of 4G Availability in rural areas and had the highest 4G Availability in more urban areas than Telekom (five wins and seven draws versus Telekom’s two wins and eight draws)
  • Telekom dominates in terms of Download Speed Experience in both rural and urban areas, but its users see the largest rural/urban divide for this measure of the mobile experience. 
  • O2 users typically saw lower 4G Availability than their Telekom and Vodafone counterparts in both rural and urban areas, while the same holds true for Download Speed Experience in many states (seven for rural areas and 12 for urban).

In our previous analyses, in which we reported on the experience aggregated across all three of Germany’s national mobile operators — O2, Telekom and Vodafone, we found that users in rural districts were on 4G for less than three quarters of the time and that this varied greatly between districts

We begin with a look at how the 4G Availability (a measure of the proportion of time our users with a 4G device and subscription were able to get a 4G connection) observed by our users varied between rural and urban areas for each operator over the fourth quarter of 2019 (we analyzed data during a 90 day period between 1/10/2019 and 30/12/2019).

The maps above, which have urban areas bordered in red, make it easy to see where each operator has been focusing its efforts and where they have the most work still to do, if they are to provide their users with high levels of 4G Availability. 

Compared with other operators, O2 users experienced the biggest difference between urban and rural areas in the time they connected to 4G. In essence, this is a rural-urban digital divide. By contrast, the gap was smallest for Telekom users who on average saw a difference of 2.3 percentage points in 4G Availability between urban and rural areas, while those on Vodafone and O2 saw scores drop by 6.9 and 17.9 percentage points, respectively.

The biggest variation between the highest and lowest observed 4G Availability for both urban and rural areas was seen by O2 users — for rural areas it varied from 81.4% in Nordrhein-Westfalen to 49.8% in Rheinland-Pfalz, a difference of 31.6 percentage points. It’s worth noting that the rural areas of Rheinland-Pfalz were also the only locale where Vodafone users saw 4G Availability drop below 80%, and Telekom users were on 4G for 88.8% of the time. 

Impressively, Telekom users observed the highest 4G Availability in rural areas in 11 out of 13 states, while the lowest was experienced by O2 users in 12 states. However, Vodafone had a strong showing in urban areas, with its users seeing the highest 4G Availability in these areas in five states, while Telekom users observed the highest scores in urban areas in just two states.

While Rheinland-Pfalz was the only state in which users on O2 reported a score of 4G Availability that was below 50%, O2 users observed 56% 4G Availability in Saarland and 58.1% in Thüringen. The 4G Availability observed by O2 users in other rural areas fell between 60.6% (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) and 73.5% (Schleswig-Holstein) with the exception of Nordrhein-Westfalen, which was the only state in which we observed 4G Availability in excess of 80% (81.4%) on O2 in rural areas. 

Telekom was the only operator where our users observed 4G Availability in excess of 90% in some rural areas (Sachsen, 90.6%; and Sachsen-Anhalt, 90.9%) and the lowest score our users observed for 4G Availability on Telekom’s network in rural areas was 84.4% in Baden-Württemberg.
 

Telekom dominates on Download Speed Experience in both rural and urban areas

Our users observed the highest download speeds on Telekom’s network in both urban and rural areas (66.2 Mbps in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and 38.5 Mbps in Nordrhein-Westfalen, respectively).

However, Telekom users also experienced the biggest drop in Download Speed Experience when moving from urban to rural areas (a decline of nearly 20 Mbps on average), driven by the high speeds seen in urban areas. Vodafone users saw their highest speeds in Berlin (urban, 50.5 Mbps) and Brandenburg (rural, 25.9 Mbps), while those on O2 saw highs of 27 Mbps and 24.8 Mbps in Sachsen-Anhalt (urban) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (rural), respectively. 

It was a clean sweep for Telekom in rural areas: our Telekom users also observed the highest Download Speed Experience in 14 out of 15 urban areas. The highest Download Speed Experience O2 users observed in urban areas was comparable to the lowest seen by Telekom users in rural areas. O2 users saw the lowest Download Speed Experience in rural areas in seven states, and in 12 states for urban areas.

We were immediately struck by the difference in the shape of the curves (shown in the chart above) between the operators, which is driven by considerable variation in the Download Speed Experience observed by both Telekom and Vodafone users in urban areas, along with the gradual drop off in speeds observed by Telekom users in rural areas compared with those in the worst performing urban areas. The difference between the Download Speed Experience observed in the best and worst performing urban areas is 26.8 Mbps for Telekom and 33.2 Mbps for Vodafone. 

The mobile user experience varies hugely from state to state and from operator to operator, to the extent that in some states, the rural experience on one operator is superior to the urban experience observed on another operator. The smallest variation in terms of 4G Availability between rural and urban areas was observed by Telekom users, who also saw the biggest difference in Download Speed Experience. This was mainly due to extremely high urban speeds in some states rather than very low speeds in rural areas. O2 users saw the biggest rural/urban divide in terms of 4G Availability.