Opensignal’s data shows that short-term variations in average mobile data consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic correlated with variations in our users’ average Download Speed Experience across multiple countries. In part, this is because other ways of improving capacity such as additional wireless spectrum, could not be brought into use quickly in most countries to help with changed mobile usage.
For example, as users relied more on mobile networks during the crisis and mobile usage increased, speeds tended to fall. But we’ve seen different trends across countries: in some speeds increased and data consumption fell, while in others we saw the reverse trend. Often a significant proportion of users behaved very differently, with their change in data consumption diverging compared to what we observed at the country level.
Over the first half of 2020 we have measured how users’ mobile network experience across the globe changed during the pandemic. In this insight, Opensignal quantified our smartphone users’ average mobile data consumption and compared it against our users’ average Download Speed Experience across a number of countries since the early months of the year.
Opensignal measured our smartphone users’ weekly average mobile data consumption and Download Speed Experience from the week starting on February 3 to the week ending on August 9. Then, we normalised the two time series against the first week of the analysis using a 100-points base to observe how speed and data consumption changed over time.
We have found three main different patterns:
Increased mobile data consumption, but lower download speed. In a number of developing countries including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Thailand — but also in a few developed economies like Italy — we saw our smartphone users’ average mobile data consumption increase drastically over the number of a few weeks. This change happened concurrently with the introduction of movement restrictions and this was associated with great drops in our users’ average Download Speed Experience.
For example, in India our smartphone users on average consumed a similar amount of mobile data throughout the initial weeks of the year, and their mobile speeds did not change significantly. However, as the Indian government introduced the lockdown, we observed a sharp increase in the average mobile data consumed by our smartphone users which stayed 25-30% higher compared to the start of the year for six weeks, before gradually decreasing towards pre-lockdown levels. During the same period, our users’ average Download Speed Experience behaved in the opposite way compared to average mobile data consumption.
Reduced mobile data consumption, higher download speeds. We saw this trend in many Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico, but also Taiwan. Our users in these countries on average reduced the amount of mobile data they consumed since movement restrictions were introduced, and we observed a significant rise in users’ average mobile download speeds.
For example, in Mexico our smartphone users’ average mobile data consumption and their average mobile downloads speeds were mostly flat for the first part of the year. But once the lockdown was imposed, we observed diverging trends between the two metrics: The average mobile data consumed by our Mexican users decreased by close to 20% compared with the beginning of February, while users’ average Download Speed Experience rose around 20%.
Similar data consumption and download speeds. Across a number of other countries — which tended to be developed economies like Australia, Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. — we observed little to no variation in either users’ average mobile data consumption or Download Speed Experience.
For example, our smartphone users in the U.S. on average consumed about the same amount of mobile data throughout the weeks in the analysis period, with the highest variation being a 6.4 points decrease in the third week of March compared to the first week of February. Our U.S. smartphone users’ average Download Speed Experience was also mostly similar and fluctuated by less than 5% compared to the start of the year.
Country averages hide significant behaviour differences between people
We found that looking at overall data consumption conceals diverging trends within groups of users. When we categorized our users depending on their average mobile data usage, we found that in many countries the majority of our users behaved differently compared to the overall trend we observed at the country level.
For example, in Italy we observed a larger proportion of users consuming less data in the fourth week of March compared to the first week of the month, but we also saw an increase in the proportion of our heavy-mobile-data users which — despite being smaller — drove a 20.1% increase in the average weekly mobile data consumption.
On the other hand, in Mexico we observed our users’ average weekly mobile data consumption decrease by 14.1% between the first and fourth week of March. Once we broke down the overall impact by users’ groups, we observed that users across all groups reduced their mobile data consumption and we didn’t see an increase in the proportion of our heavy users like we did in Italy.
Opensignal’s data shows that in some countries, during the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile network operators had to cope with a sudden increase in mobile data traffic from one week to the next, which affected their users’ mobile experience. Meanwhile, in other countries there was little to no change in the average mobile data consumption, or even a decrease. Those changes were affected by multiple factors including users’ access to Wifi networks and mobile operators relaxing data limits.
While we saw large proportions of our users reduce the amount of mobile data they consumed once the movement restrictions became widespread, likely because they would spend more time at home where they accessed the internet over Wifi networks, we also observed significant numbers of our users increase their average mobile data usage. The way these two effects balanced out determined the country-level change in average weekly mobile data consumption we observed, and in turn helped explain the variations in our users’ Download Speed Experience.
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