The 5G experience is improving fast in the U.S. with C-Band and 2.5 GHz spectrum increasing capacities and making higher quality video streaming possible. As a result, Opensignal takes its first look at our U.S. users’ mobile video experience using Adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR). This technology allows us to test video resolutions up to 4K to take into account improved 5G technologies, and dynamically matches a stream’s quality to network conditions, available bandwidth, and device performance. This means that we can now better represent users’ real video experience, including in markets where users can stream up to 4K resolution when on 5G, or see their video resolution limited due to carriers’ traffic management policies.
We analyzed the national Adaptive video experience on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon when our users were connected to 5G, as well as the overall scores across all network generations. We found that our users’ on Verizon’s network experienced the best 5G Adaptive video experience ahead of T-Mobile and AT&T. When we looked across all network generations, T-Mobile scored the best overall Adaptive video experience followed by AT&T and Verizon.
Our users on Verizon saw the best 5G Adaptive video experience as the carrier achieved the highest score of 72.4 points on a 100 point scale. Our users on T-Mobile experienced the second best score at 71.9 points, which was just 0.5 points behind Verizon’s. AT&T scored 70.3 points in 5G Adaptive video experience — 2.2 points lower than Verizon and 1.6 points behind T-Mobile.
Looking at the overall scores across all users and all generations of mobile network technology, we observed different results. In fact, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon’s overall experience rankings differed compared with their 5G positions. This time it was our users on T-Mobile that observed the highest score of 68.4 points on a 100 point scale in Adaptive video experience. Our users on AT&T experienced the second best score at 67.1 points, which was 1.4 points lower compared to our T-Mobile users’ experience. Verizon’s Adaptive video experience score was 66.4 points — two points and 0.6 points behind T-Mobile and AT&T, respectively.
Analyzing the last resolution played during adaptive bitrate video streaming testing provides one example of how mobile network conditions, available bandwidth, and device performance affect users’ mobile video experience. Users will usually have a better experience when the resolution of the video they watch is greater. Having a faster connection with a greater throughput (bitrate) will better support higher video resolutions without the risk of stalling that in adaptive video would cause playback to drop to a lower resolution. For example, in our analysis close to two-thirds (66%) of the U.S. adaptive bitrate video streaming tests ended the stream at 720p or higher resolution, compared with 34% of tests that saw a last resolution of 480p or lower.
However, other factors, including traffic management policies could also have an impact on the throughput and consequently on the video resolution achieved during an adaptive bitrate video streaming test. For example, in the U.S., AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile restrict video streaming quality on some of their 4G and 5G plans — especially on unlimited data plans — often limiting playback to standard definition (SD) resolution.
While above we have discussed how the quality of the video resolution can affect users’ experience, other parameters are also important: for example, the time to start playing the video, the time on each resolution and the time the video spent re-buffering also determine users’ Adaptive video experience. Differences in these and other parameters can explain why users’ Adaptive video experience may differ across networks and carriers.
Video streams represent the largest single category of traﬀic on mobile networks. As larger smartphone screens and better network experience enabled the streaming of larger video resolutions up to 4K, many carriers adopted traffic management practices such as limiting video resolutions to reduce mobile congestion, and widen access to mobile streaming across their users.
The latest 5G services support the use of larger video resolutions — especially with the new mid-band 5G spectrum increasing capacity. While carriers have often used traffic management in the past, this is becoming less important with 5G. However, 4G continues to be used by many users and in locations where 5G signals do not yet reach meaning there remains a wide range of video streaming quality being experienced by U.S. smartphone users.
Opensignal is continuing to innovate how we measure video experience, building on the groundbreaking video measurement we introduced at scale back in 2018. Now, Opensignal is moving the industry forward to reflect the changing wireless market with improving 5G services and ever better smartphone displays. This latest Adaptive video experience measure quantifies users’ real-world experience by altering the test video resolution dynamically based on the available bandwidth of the connection — 5G, 4G or 3G — and allows Opensignal to represent, as closely as possible, the experience of smartphone users consuming video services.
Opensignal’s Adaptive video experience quantifies the quality of video streamed to mobile devices by measuring real-world video streams over an operator's network. The metric measures users’ adaptive video experience using a Mean Opinion Score (MOS) approach inspired by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) studies which have derived a relationship between technical parameters of adaptive bitrate video streaming and the perceived video experience as reported by real people. The videos tested are streamed directly from the world’s largest video content providers and include a wide selection of resolutions which dynamically match the network conditions, available bandwidth and device performance. Resolutions range from 144p to 2160p, which is also called 4K or UHD (Ultra High Definition). The model calculates a MOS score on a 0 to 100 scale by evaluating a number of parameters, including: the time to start playing the video, the quality of the video, the time playing each resolution, and the time spent re-buffering.
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