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Greater spectrum bandwidth usage helps boost 4G download speeds in South Africa

In this new regional analysis, Opensignal looks at the impact of greater spectrum bandwidth on the mobile network experience of our African smartphone users on 4G mobile networks. Both 4G download and upload speeds benefit from more spectrum being used. Our users in Africa connected to larger spectrum bandwidths enjoy 4G download speeds around twice as fast as those connected to lower spectrum bandwidths — 4G upload speeds also increase, by 25%. South Africa is a market where we see both the fastest average 4G download speeds and the highest average amounts of spectrum used for 4G connections across Africa. We also observe that broader spectrum bandwidths improve 4G Video Experience and 4G Games Experience metrics across African markets.


Opensignal analyzed our users’ experience across three different amounts of spectrum capacity used for 4G connectivity: 0-20MHz, 20-40MHz and above 40MHz. The size of the two latter buckets implies the use of carrier aggregation, which means connecting to multiple spectrum bands (carriers) at once. We observe relatively small numbers of readings with more than 60MHz of spectrum in our data across our African markets, this is why we included them in the “above 40MHz” bucket. As 5G services have only been deployed at a greater scale in South Africa, we do not focus in this analysis on the 5G spectrum, unlike in our previous articles on global trends or on the Asia Pacific region.

4G Download Speed for the 20-40MHz spectrum bandwidth used — meaning at least two 4G carriers in use — reaches 34.2Mbps across African markets. This is 47.7% faster than for connections using a spectrum capacity of 20MHz or less. The average 4G download speeds double with at least three carriers used — more than 40MHz spectrum connected — clocking in at 47Mbps. 

Higher 4G spectrum bandwidths also influence the average 4G upload speeds of our African smartphone users, although the relative uplift is much lower than in the case of 4G Download Speed. Average 4G upload speeds for the 20-40MHz spectrum bandwidth are 4.4% faster than for connections using spectrum capacity of 20MHz or less. The uplift is more significant for more than 40MHz of spectrum bandwidth used — 26.4% quicker compared to the base of 20MHz or less.


Looking across Africa’s regions, more spectrum used commonly results in faster average 4G download speeds. We observe the highest relative uplift in Central Africa, of 89.6% — followed by Western Africa (72.3%) and Eastern Africa (64.3%) — while it is slightly lower in Northern Africa (46.3%) and Southern Africa (44.2%). However, we recorded insignificant amounts of data for more than 40MHz of mobile spectrum being used in both Central and Eastern Africa, which means it’s rare for mobile users in these areas to connect to 4G services with wider spectrum bandwidths. 



There is a positive correlation between the average spectrum bandwidth used for 4G connections and 4G Download Speed across African markets. Our users in the majority of analyzed African markets connect to 4G services with average 4G spectrum bandwidths between 15MHz and 20MHz — which results in average 4G download speeds ranging from below 10Mbps to slightly above 20Mbps. 

Compared to the rest of the African markets, South Africa is a notable outlier, both with the fastest 4G Download Speed (37.7Mbps) and the highest 4G spectrum bandwidth seen by Opensignal users. The higher spectrum capacity available to mobile users is one of the key reasons for South Africa’s regional leadership for 4G Download Speed.



Download and upload speeds are not the only metrics to consider when it comes to the impact of increased spectrum bandwidth on users’ mobile network experience. Opensignal also analyzed how the experience of our users varied when streaming video services or playing multiplayer games on their devices, with different amounts of spectrum used. 


4G Video Experience scores in Africa go from 53.4 points for spectrum bandwidth of 20MHz or smaller up to 67.6 points for spectrum bandwidth exceeding 40MHz. These scores mean that when our users connect to 4G mobile services with 20MHz or less spectrum, their video streaming experience rates as Fair (48-58) — our users are, on average, able to stream video at 720p or better with satisfactory loading times and substantial stalling. However, when using 20-40MHz of mobile spectrum, they enjoy Video Experience rated as Good (58-68) — still able to stream video at 720p or better, but now with little stalling. With over 40MHz used, their experience stays in the same category, but only 0.4 points shy of the next category up — Very Good (68-78).

Notably, as the amount of mobile spectrum connected increases, our users enjoy shorter initial delays in playing video streams. For 4G Video Experience, the initial delay drops from 7.8 to 4.7 seconds, which is a substantial improvement for users viewing videos on their mobile devices.

Mobile gaming also benefits from larger amounts of mobile spectrum bandwidth. With 20MHz or less 4G mobile spectrum, our African users’ 4G Games Experience scores 57 points on a 100-point scale — and goes up to 63.1 points with more than 40MHz used. In both cases, our users’ experience rate as Poor (40-65). 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.


Opensignal also analyzed the proportions of 4G readings per amount of spectrum used for South African operators. MTN has the highest proportion of 4G readings with more than 40MHz of spectrum bandwidth used out of all South African operators — over 50%. Meanwhile, Telkom users observe this spectrum capacity in only 5.5% of Opensignal readings — and in 57.1% of readings, we see 20MHz or less spectrum used for 4G connectivity. The vast differences in the amount of spectrum bandwidth between MTN and Telkom impacts their average overall download speed scores — MTN won Download Speed Experience in the last South Africa Mobile Network Experience report and Telkom came in last place.

Opensignal will continue to analyze the impact of either wider spectrum bandwidths on mobile user experience across African markets. As our analysis demonstrates, there are major differences between African markets and regions in terms of spectrum bandwidths used. This leads to substantial disparities between their mobile network experiences — and consequently, to disparities between their economic growth potential and national competitiveness. 

Mobile users in many African markets still struggle with unrestrained access to mobile spectrum — even for 4G connectivity. The digital switchover is still ongoing and incomplete in some African markets, which is limiting the amount of spectrum available for 4G services. 5G has only been commercially deployed in several markets, such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, with the vast majority of African countries yet to assign 5G-capable spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. Spectrum is essential to foster the development of mobile connectivity in Africa is, especially given the high numbers of mobile-only users — and the use of 4G spectrum will be key for many initial 5G deployments across African markets, like it was in Europe, Asia Pacific or Americas. 


For this analysis, we included the ​​following African markets, following the regional definitions from UN Statistics Division:

Central Africa: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe

Eastern Africa: British Indian Ocean Territory, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Southern Territories, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Réunion, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Northern Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara

Southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa

Western Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Saint Helena, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo

These classifications may differ from the membership of sub-regional economic communities within Africa such as ECCAS, EAC, AMU, SADC and ECOWAS.