How Italy’s mobile data surge during 2020 affected mobile experience

Last year, Opensignal analyzed how 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 Italy, during the first lockdown, we observed a larger proportion of users reducing their daily mobile data consumption, but we also saw an increase in the proportion of our heavy-mobile-data users which — despite being smaller — drove an increase in the average mobile data consumption.

In this analysis, we analyzed Italian smartphone users’ monthly average mobile data consumption and Download Speed Experience across the four national operators in 2020. We found that users on all mobile networks experienced a similar pattern where Download Speed Experience temporarily decreased as mobile data consumption surged. Also, by December 2020, mobile data consumption had increased by up to 36.8% compared to January 2020, highlighting the challenges that mobile operators faced to support the rapid systemic rise in mobile data usage on their networks.

Our data showed multiple occasions when mobile data consumption surged in Italy during 2020. We observed the first jump during the months of March and April, when Italy introduced the first lockdown. Then, our data showed a sharp increase during the months of June, July and August, when Italians were enjoying the summer after the movement restrictions, going on domestic holidays rather than travelling abroad, and spending much more time connected to mobile networks — rather than to home broadband in their houses. Finally, we observed a third increase during the last three months of the year — although this time it was not as significant as the first two — as Italy introduced increasing restrictions to address the growing number of COVID-19 cases seen during the fall. In all three instances, we observed a correlated decrease or slowdown in our users’ Download Speed Experience.

In December 2020, our users on all four operators were on average consuming much more mobile data compared to January. Vodafone saw the largest increase of 36.8%, followed by WindTre and TIM at 27.4% and 25.4%, respectively, with Iliad coming last at just 10.4%.

On the other hand, only our users on Iliad and WindTre saw a faster average Download Speed Experience in December compared to January, with a 18.5% and 14.3% increase, respectively. Our Vodafone users in December were experiencing the same average download speeds as they did in January, while our TIM users in December were seeing a 12.5% decrease compared to the start of the year — which was better than the low value they saw in April, but still far from the January average.

By comparing our Italian users’ mobile experience in December 2020 against January 2020, we can see how mobile operators faced a gargantuan challenge to support their users’ sudden increase in data usage — which actually turned out to be systemic changes. All this while also ensuring that the mobile experience was less affected during these challenging times.