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Declining 4G Download Speeds in quarantined Italy indicate rising mobile congestion

Opensignal analyzed the hourly 4G Download Speeds that Italian smartphone users have experienced in the last six weeks, including the four weeks of February and the first two weeks of March.

While our users experienced similar speeds during the first five weeks in our analysis, we observed a significant change in the last week — the week commencing on Monday, March 9 — following the government’s restrictions imposed on the population on March 10 as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis.

In the second week of March, Opensignal observed that Italian smartphone users experienced significantly lower 4G Download Speeds during most of the day — from 10 a.m. to Midnight — compared to the previous five weeks. While speeds in the afternoon usually stabilized around 25 Mbps before falling further in the evening, in the second week of March we observed 4G Download Speed below 23 Mbps at 2 p.m., and falling to 19.6 Mbps at 9 p.m.

We did not observe any significant change in our users’ 4G Download Speed in the early hours of the day, when fewer people connected to mobile networks, suggesting that the overall capacity of the mobile network did not change over the period. Abroad, U.S. operators are temporarily deploying additional spectrum to cope with the exceptional increase in data demand.

Opensignal previously analyzed how big swings in download speeds across the hours of the day usually reflect congestion on mobile networks. Since the government imposed countrywide restrictions, our data shows that Italian users on average experienced slower 4G Download Speeds during the day, but similar speeds in the early hours of the day, suggesting that Italy’s mobile networks experienced greater usage and increased mobile congestion.

Opensignal observed that Italian smartphone users’ time on Wifi has increased. Italian users are spending more time at home connecting to Wifi and fixed networks and yet are also using mobile networks more — for example for watching video and playing online mobile games — increasing the load on mobile networks and leading to a reduction in 4G speeds.