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Understanding why some smartphone users in Egypt are not connecting to 4G

Opensignal analyzed the mobile experience of our Egyptian smartphone users who have never accessed mobile data on a 4G network to understand why they have not used 4G. In this analysis, we call this group of users “3G-only” users. We found that 83.9% of these 3G-only users had a 4G-capable smartphone and visited areas covered by 4G signal — indicating that the most likely reason they have not used 4G is because they either have not swapped their old 3G SIM card for a 4G-capable SIM card, or do not have 4G enabled in their device settings. Opensignal data shows that those users who did not use 4G had a seriously impaired mobile experience compared to those that used 4G.

Opensignal analyzed our smartphone users’ mobile experience and identified three major reasons why our Egyptian users did not connect to 4G networks:

  1. Users do not have 4G enabled on their device: 83.9% of our users that we have never seen connecting to 4G had a 4G-capable phone and spent time in 4G-covered areas, where we saw other users on the same mobile operator connecting to 4G networks. These users are either lacking a 4G-capable SIM card or have 4G disabled on their phones. 
  2. Users do not have a 4G device: 12.8% of our users who didn’t connect to 4G networks did not have a smartphone with 4G hardware, although they did spend time in areas where there is 4G coverage. The main reason these users did not connect to 4G networks was that they used an older 3G smartphone that is incapable of connecting to 4G.
  3. Users are not covered by 4G networks: 3.3% of our users only spent time in areas where we have never seen a 4G measurement on their mobile network operator, suggesting that the main reason why they did not connect to 4G networks was that they likely lived in remote areas where their operator doesn’t yet offer 4G technology. 


Users not connecting to 4G are impairing their mobile experience

Our smartphone users who did not connect to 4G, but had a 4G-capable phone and spent time in 4G-covered areas, on average had a 5.8 Mbps Download Speed Experience, which was 8.3 Mbps lower than the speeds our 4G users experienced on average during the same data collection period. These users also spent significantly less time connected to mobile data (3G/4G) networks, either because they connected to 2G networks — meaning that they would not realistically be able to enjoy mobile data services — or they had no mobile signal at all.

Migrating 3G-only users to 4G could be beneficial for both users and mobile operators

Opensignal’s data shows that a significant disparity exists in the mobile network experience of our 3G-only and 4G users. Our analysis indicates that the main reason why some smartphone users in Egypt don’t use 4G networks is because they do not have 4G enabled on their phones, rather than a lack of 4G coverage, or 4G device.

This means that mobile operators could migrate the large part of these 3G-only users to 4G relatively swiftly, by easing their concerns in using 4G — as users might be afraid to consume their whole mobile data allowances if they connected to the faster network technology — and further highlighting the better mobile experience their users can have on 4G. As users move from 2G and 3G networks to 4G, Egyptian operators will be able to refarm those legacy spectrum bands to 4G services and further improve their smartphone users’ overall mobile network experience. 

Recent research by the NTRA has highlighted how its continuous coordination with MNOs to solve service quality issues can result in improved quality in previously underserved areas. However, these gains risk being jeopardized if Egyptian operators and the NTRA do not address in their 3G sunsetting strategy the core reasons why some Egyptian users are currently not using 4G. In fact, our data suggests that a significant base of 3G-only users will likely continue to experience reduced mobile experience and could ultimately be excluded from Egypt’s digital economy if careful planning is not in place to ensure their timely migration to 4G.

Given mobile data consumption keeps rising, while spectrum remains a scarce resource, understanding how countries like Egypt migrate their 2G and 3G users to 4G and refarm legacy spectrum bands, could also provide valuable lessons to other markets in the region.