Skip to main content

More usable spectrum boosts the 4G and 5G experience

In this new global analysis, Opensignal found that with higher amounts of mobile spectrum users see much faster average download and upload speeds — both for 4G and 5G networks — with download speed increases of up to 2.6 times on higher spectrum bandwidth with 4G, and by up to 1.7 times on 5G. Furthermore, the impact is seen on user experience with video and gaming applications, with 4G again seeing a more prominent increase. The study covers more than 115 countries and over 300 operators.


Additionally, the study shows users have an improved Games Experience with greater amounts of spectrum on 4G, but not yet on 5G. With Video Experience users do see an improvement with more spectrum on 5G but the improvement is not as great as it is in average speed. Mobile video streaming benefits from lower levels of congestion on 5G, multiplayer gaming uses small packets that do not benefit as much from more spectrum capacity.



Opensignal analyzed the experience across four different amounts of spectrum capacity. We used different buckets for 4G and 5G, as 5G typically has much more spectrum available. For 4G, the maximum carrier bandwidth on a single carrier is 20MHz, and the total bandwidth per connection can be increased up to 100MHz using Carrier Aggregation. While for 5G, the maximum size of a single carrier is 100MHz.


We see a steady, nearly linear increase in 4G download speeds when our users connect to 4G services with more spectrum. Average 4G download speeds increase by 43.3% for the 20-40MHz spectrum bandwidth used (29.8Mbps), compared to connections that had 20MHz or less spectrum (20.8Mbps). Notably, more than 20MHz spectrum used for 4G connections indicates the use of Carrier Aggregation. The 4G Download Speed score increases even higher with more than 40MHz spectrum connected, up to 44.8Mbps — more than twice as fast as for 0-20MHz spectrum used. With more than 60MHz of mobile spectrum connected, 4G download speeds rise to 54.6Mbps or 2.6 times more than for the 0-20MHz bucket.


Looking at 5G Download Speed, we also observe major increases in scores with more spectrum assigned. Speeds rise from 160.2Mbps for 50MHz or less bandwidth connected to 277.8Mbps for more than 150MHz. This is an increase of 73.4% between the respective lowest and highest amounts of connected spectrum analyzed.



Higher spectrum bandwidth also has an impact on the upload speeds experienced by our users — even though more spectrum is often used for download speed than for upload as the download is usually prioritized by operators. With more than 40MHz of spectrum capacity connected, the average 4G Upload Speed is over 9Mbps which is more than a third faster than with 40MHz or less spectrum.


With 5G the difference is more dramatic. With more mobile spectrum connected the increase in average 5G upload speeds rises from 19.1Mbps for spectrum bandwidth of 50MHz or below, up to 29Mbps — over 50% faster — for spectrum bandwidth exceeding 150MHz.



Opensignal also looked at how the amount of spectrum bandwidth, dedicated to mobile connections seen by our users, influences their experience when streaming video services. Similar to 4G Download Speed, we observe a notable and gradual increase in 4G Video Experience scores depending on the spectrum bandwidth connected. Global 4G Video Experience scores go from 59.4 points for spectrum bandwidth of 20MHz or smaller up to 69.3 points for spectrum bandwidth exceeding 60MHz. 

These scores mean that when our users connect to 4G mobile services using 40MHz or less spectrum, they enjoy Video Experience rated as Good (58-68) — so they are, on average. able to stream video at 720p or better with satisfactory loading times and little stalling. With 40MHz or more of spectrum bandwidth used, their experience improves and places in a category higher — Very Good (68-78), which means the ability to comfortably stream video at the higher resolution of 1080p. 

We also observe improvements in 5G Video Experience scores, from 70.4 points for 50MHz or smaller bandwidth up to 73.7 points for bandwidth exceeding 150MHz — although, this change is not as great as it is for 4G Video Experience. 

Notably, as the amount of mobile spectrum connected increased our users observed shorter initial delays in playing video streams and saw fewer stalling events. For 4G Video Experience, the initial delay drops from 6.6 to 4.3 seconds, while for 5G Video Experience it goes from 3.8 to 2.9 seconds.

Games Experience also sees an impact from larger amounts of mobile spectrum bandwidth, even though multiplayer gaming is based on reliable fast transmission of small packets of data. With 20MHz or less 4G mobile spectrum, our users have 4G Games Experience scoring 63.5 points on a 100-point scale — which places it in the Poor (40-65) category. This means most users find this level of experience unacceptable as they report delays in the gameplay experience and they do not receive immediate feedback on their actions. 

However, with more spectrum connected, our users’ experience improves substantially, rating as Fair (65-75) — users find the experience to be average. In most cases, the game is responsive to the actions of the player with most users reporting that they feel like they have control over the game. With more than 60MHz of spectrum bandwidth, the global 4G Games Experience result is only 0.6 points shy of the Good (75-85) rating.

Opensignal also observed improvements in scores for 5G Games Experience, although the improvement is not as pronounced as it is for 4G Games Experience. All spectrum buckets place in the Good (75-85) category — most users deem the experience acceptable and do not experience a delay between their actions and the game.

Greater spectrum availability improves many aspects of the mobile experience

As this new Opensignal large-scale global analysis demonstrates, more spectrum capacity available to mobile operators boosts the experience of mobile users. This highlights the importance of freeing up new spectrum bands for mobile usage and the need for regulators and the industry to work together to accelerate spectrum deployments to benefit users.


Opensignal has been investigating how larger amounts of spectrum bandwidths result in a better mobile user experience in individual markets too. For example, we have published spectrum-related analyses in Brazil, South Korea, Thailand or Germany, Italy, and the UK. We have also identified markets where insufficient access to spectrum assets hampers users’ experience, for example in Poland and Sri Lanka.


Globally, the amount of spectrum available is a critical factor for users’ mobile experience, for mobile operators’ businesses, and for the wider economy. The more spectrum that is assigned to mobile operators at affordable prices and at the right time brings strong socio-economic benefits to markets worldwide according to the GSMA. However, limited access to spectrum for the mobile industry is still a challenge in many markets worldwide as Opensignal’s analysis highlights.

Opensignal will continue to analyze the impact of the mobile spectrum on mobile network experience on our users, e.g. through more granular segmentation analysis, to provide quantitative and independent evidence to support discussions around spectrum policies and planning.