Analyzing mobile experience at NHL arenas across Canada and the US

The 2021/2022 National Hockey League (NHL) regular season is the first full season with widely available 5G services from all national mobile operators across Canada and the U.S., and also with fans being admitted to arenas following the easing of pandemic restrictions. 

In this analysis we have analyzed our users’ 5G and overall mobile experience at and around the seven Canadian and 25 U.S. arenas that host the 32 teams competing in the NHL. Our data shows that users at NHL venues in both Canada and the U.S. had a significantly better experience when connected to 5G compared to the overall experience of all users at those arenas. But our data also shows that users’ experience varied depending on their choice of carrier.

As tens of thousands of people again crowd into venues sharing pictures and videos, watching highlights and instant replays, or streaming their experience online, these sporting events can prove an exceptional opportunity for mobile operators. However, such events are also a challenge given the need to provide a great mobile network experience despite such large amounts of mobile usage from so many people at once.

Across the 32 NHL arenas, our 5G users saw the fastest 5G download speeds at venues in the  U.S. — an average of 159.7 Mbps — compared to Canadian arenas’s average 5G Download Speed of 132.1 Mbps. Our users saw no statistical difference in the 5G Upload Speed across the NHL arenas in the two countries, as the scores were statistically tied in the 24.1-26.1 Mbps range.

Looking at three experiential measures for the quality of video streaming experience, multiplayer mobile gaming and over-the-top (OTT) voice services, we found that our users had a better 5G experience at Canada’s NHL venues than at their U.S. counterparts. Canadian arena’s 5G Video Experience score of 76.6 points earned an Excellent rating (75 and above), while the U.S. score (70.3) placed in the Very Good category (65-75). In 5G Games Experience, our users saw average scores of 84.9 and 77.4 points at the Canadian and U.S. NHL arenas, respectively — both placing in the Good (75-85) category. Finally, our Canadian and U.S. users had a Good (80-87) 5G Voice App Experience with their respective scores of 83 and 81.1 points.

We also found that our 5G users at NHL venues enjoyed the highest 5G Availability of 35.9% at the U.S. arenas, compared with 24.7% in the seven Canadian arenas. By comparison, in Opensignal’s latest U.S. and Canada 5G country reports, the three U.S. carriers’ national 5G Availability scores ranged between 9.5% and 35.4%, while in Canada our 5G users on the three national carriers spent between 9.7% and 11.1% of time connected to 5G networks.

Canada leads in overall mobile experience at NHL arenas

When we looked at our users’ overall experience at the 32 NHL arenas we saw Canada scoring higher than the U.S. in both download and upload speed categories, but we also saw Canada’s lead across our three experiential metrics reduce compared to what we observed for 5G. This is different to the 5G experience (above) because these results include all mobile network technology generations — 3G, 4G and 5G — and consider all mobile users, not just 5G users. Historically, Canadians have enjoyed an extremely good 4G experience but the country has been slower to deploy 5G than the U.S.

Our users saw the fastest Download Speed Experience of 75.7 Mbps at Canada’s NHL arenas — 22.1 Mbps (41.2%) faster than the average download speeds our U.S. users experienced (53.6 Mbps). These scores were 56.4-106.1 Mbps slower than their respective 5G Download Speed scores, highlighting the extent to which average overall download speeds could improve once users spend the majority of their time connected to 5G. Similarly, our users saw faster average upload speeds in Canada at 18.3 Mbps compared with 14.3 Mbps seen at the U.S. NHL arenas — 5.8-11.8 Mbps slower than their respective 5G Upload Speed scores. 

Moving to our three experiential metrics, our Canadian users generally had a better experience compared to their U.S. counterparts, although the difference wasn’t as large as we observed in the 5G scores. Both Canada and the U.S. earned Good ratings (55-65) in Video Experience. In Games Experience our users saw average scores of 74.7 and 72.8 points at Canada and U.S. arenas, placing in the Fair category (65-75), while there was no statistical difference in our users’ Voice App Experience across the NHL arenas.

Interestingly, when our users connected to 5G networks at the NHL venues, their experience using video, games and voice applications improved significantly and rated at least one category higher than the overall scores we observed at those same locations.

Users’ mobile experience on different carriers can differ significantly

When we compare the experience by carrier we see large differences. Our users’ average 5G Download Speed at the U.S. NHL arenas ranged from 53.7 Mbps on AT&T to 191.6 Mbps on T-Mobile. Similarly, while our Canadian users on average saw 132.1 Mbps in 5G Download Speed at the seven NHL venues, the carrier breakdown shows 94.3 Mbps on Rogers, while Bell and Telus users experienced statistically tied scores in the 168.8-184.7 Mbps range.


5G is especially important for venues because of the large numbers of users

As fans flock back to NHL arenas to cheer and support their favorite teams and players, having a strong mobile experience is key for attendees to enjoy and share their experience with family and friends online. Unlike the previous seasons, 5G is now becoming commonplace across both Canada and the U.S., and plays a key role in supporting the growing demand for data at sporting venues.

Opensignal data shows that users at and around NHL arenas in both Canada and the U.S. had a significantly better experience when connected to 5G compared to the overall experience of all users at those venues. Besides, our Canadian users on average had a better experience when video streaming and playing multiplayer mobile games compared to their U.S. counterparts at NHL venues, as well as when using over-the-top (OTT) voice services on 5G networks. But in regards to speeds, while our Canadian users on average saw the fastest overall download and upload speeds, it was our U.S. users who on average enjoyed the fastest 5G Download Speed — although our data also shows that users’ experience varied depending on their choice of carrier.