4G Download Speeds are resilient so far during the crisis
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, along with its associated medical, social and economic disruptions, is also causing changes in the mobile experience. Globally, operators report mobile data use is increasing dramatically — including Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore among many other countries — but Opensignal’s analytics demonstrate that despite these challenges the mobile experience is holding up well.
Often operators are helping their users by offering extra mobile data for free — sometimes even offering unlimited data. This is a sign of the importance of mobile telecom during the crisis to both individuals and businesses.
Despite the whirlwinds affecting everyone, Opensignal has seen only relatively small changes in users’ 4G Download Speeds in some countries, and none at all in other countries.
In this new insight, we analyzed 4G Download Speeds across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America, and North America on a weekly basis between the last week of January and the fourth week of March (January 27 to March 29).
While overall operators have offered resilient services for their mobile users in the face of unprecedented changes in the world there have been some drops in speed. We see a number of possible reasons for these falls in 4G Download Speeds. The precise mix of drivers varies by country. Causes for the changes in 4G Download Speeds include:
Increased mobile data consumption. As mobile users rely more on their phone for watching mobile video or holding video chats with their colleagues, friends or relatives, greater data consumption could create congestion causing speeds to fall.
Operators relaxing data limits on their customers’ mobile packages. Normally, caps on the data provided as a part of cellular service plans discourage use, but when operators offer more data, consumers no longer have this barrier to greater mobile usage. Offering more data helps consumers during the crisis and can indicate confidence that a network can handle the increased usage. Examples include: in Italy, we have seen widespread loosening of data limits, for example Vodafone is offering unlimited data; in the U.S. Verizon has added 15 GB to plans.
Change in the location of mobile usage. The crisis has shifted people’s behavior. Governments in many countries are telling their citizens to remain in their homes unless absolutely necessary. As the majority of residents do not live in city centers, this means that they may be spending less time in locations where mobile operators have invested heavily in infrastructure, and more time in parts of cities where operators may have not designed network infrastructure to manage large daytime traffic loads.
Mobile use is happening at different hours of the day. Normally, mobile users see their slowest daily download speeds in the evening at around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. However, with so many people at home, we are starting to see speeds fall during the morning and afternoon to similar levels, bringing down overall speeds. Opensignal recently looked at this change in daytime speeds in Italy.
Operators taking pre-emptive measures to reduce risk of outages. In some countries, operators may fear that their networks will become overloaded, and rather than take a risk, they might reduce the amount of data their networks have to handle by reducing the maximum speeds for many users. Similar to this, out of an abundance of caution, we have seen European organizations ask video streaming providers to reduce video quality in advance of potential problems which they have done.
Opensignal users in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan did not see any significant reduction in their 4G Download Speeds between the last week of January and the fourth week of March. Normally, our users in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan experience good mobile download speeds but those in Hong Kong routinely see relatively lower speeds because of the fiercely competitive market conditions and relatively higher congestion.
While we saw a significant week-on-week drop in 4G Download Speeds in the third week of March (starting March 16) in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and a number of other countries, those changes must be understood in the context of increased mobile usage. For example, in Malaysia all mobile operators are offering 1GB of data for free which likely explains the change in speed that we have seen.
EUROPE, MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
In Germany, our users have seen no significant change in 4G Download Speed, with speeds stable at approximately 30Mbps despite the scale of the virus impact on the country as a whole. The impact elsewhere varies but as in other regions operators have often taken steps to offer free data to support their customers during the crisis.
We have seen a number of European and Middle Eastern countries first experience declines in their 4G Download Speeds in the second week of March — one week earlier than many countries in Asia. In Italy, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, we have observed three consecutive weeks of decline, with speeds in Italy falling from the 28.1 Mbps seen in the first week of March to 23.6 Mbps in the last week of the same month, a total drop of 4.6 Mbps. However, in part this is because Italy’s mobile operators are relaxing their normal data limits to help during the crisis.
Our users in Qatar have seen a decline of 8.8 Mbps (22.5%) over the same period. While we first saw a drop in 4G Download Speeds in the U.K. in the second week of March, it was not until the last week of that month that we saw the largest week-on-week decline — a drop of 6.1 Mbps (25%).
SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA
In Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay we are yet to see a significant change in 4G Download Speed users experience despite the crisis. However, we observed declines in speeds in the second week of March in three countries in this region: Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Similar to other regions, operators are offering free data to help with the crisis, for example in the Chilean plan “to guarantee telecom access”.
In our previous analysis in which we reported on how the percentage of time that smartphone users spend connected to Wifi has increased since the start of the crisis in many countries, we observed large increases in this measure of the mobile experience in Argentina, Brazil and Peru.
In contrast to other regions, North American Opensignal users did not observe any significant changes in their 4G Download Speeds between the last week of January and the fourth week of March. Our users in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. saw a similar experience at the end of March as in earlier in the year.
One of the factors that may have led to this lack of change is the temporary new spectrum that U.S. carriers have secured to add capacity and help cope with any increased load. In addition, in many areas of the U.S., the average distance travelled had yet to fall below two miles per day as of March 26. Also, with nearly 165,000 cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in the U.S. at the time of writing, the situation remains fluid and we will continue to monitor this measure of the mobile experience as the crisis continues.
Opensignal is sharing its data and findings to help mobile operators, telecom regulators and governments to prepare for, and respond to, the challenges the virus presents in these exceptional and uncertain times.
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