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Canada’s Indigenous Areas observe a significant uplift in mobile experience with 5G

In 2019, the government published the High-Speed Access for All: Canada's Connectivity Strategy, which aims to ensure that all Canadians, including those living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, have access to high-speed internet and mobile cellular services.

We have used the Canadian government's definition of Indigenous areas and cross-referenced it with the First Nation Location data from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services (ISC) Canada, in combination with Opensignal data to analyze the 5G and overall mobile network experience of users in these areas (herein referred to as Indigenous Areas). It's important to acknowledge that Indigenous People in Canada also reside outside of these defined areas; however, for privacy reasons, Opensignal does not collect demographic information about our users. Therefore, this analysis serves as a starting point for understanding the Indigenous connectivity experience in these specific geographic areas. In this analysis, we compare the mobile experience of users in Indigenous Areas to the typical experience across Canada and evaluate the impact of 5G on mobile network experience in these areas.

Our 5G users in Canada's Indigenous Areas spend more time connected to an active 5G signal compared to the national average. With 5G, users in these areas observe a significant uplift in their mobile speeds, video streaming and multiplayer gaming experience compared to the overall experience, higher than that seen nationally. Additionally, the difference between 5G experience in Indigenous Areas compared to the national average is smaller than the disparity in the overall experience — with 5G, the Video, Live Video, and Games Experience ratings in Indigenous areas are on par with the national average.

First, we look at the proportion of time users spend with a cellular connection, as fast download speeds only matter when users can latch on to a cellular connection. Users’ mobile network experience is strongly influenced by the extent to which they connect to different generations of mobile network technology. Extensive reliance on older technologies such as 3G, which offer limited capabilities compared to 4G and 5G, is likely to result in an overall poorer user experience.

Opensignal analysis shows that users in Indigenous Areas spend 7.4% of the time on 3G — 1.9 percentage points higher than the national average of 5.5%. Meanwhile, the proportion of time users spend connected to newer network generations — 4G and 5G — exceeds 90% but is slightly lower than the national average of 93.4%. However, Indigenous Areas outperform the national average in terms of 5G Availability. Our 5G users in these areas spend more time with an active 5G connection, averaging 13.2% — 2.9 percentage points higher than the average 5G Availability across Canada.

Opensignal data also shows that users in Canada's Indigenous Areas experience mobile speeds considerably lower than the national average.

The overall download and upload speeds in Indigenous Areas average 46.7Mbps and 7Mbps, respectively. In comparison, the national overall download and upload speeds are 29.4% and 47.4% faster, averaging 60.4Mbps and 10.3Mbps, respectively.

It's noteworthy that with 5G, the relative gap in mobile speeds between Indigenous Areas and the national average nearly halves. Our users in Indigenous Areas observe average 5G download and 5G upload speeds of 124.5Mbps and 19Mbps — just 13.8% and 19.6% slower than the national average.

Looking at Consistent Quality, assessing if the network is sufficient to support common mobile application requirements at a level that is ‘good enough’ for users to maintain (or complete) various typical demanding tasks on their devices. In Indigenous Areas, 66% of users' tests meet the minimum recommended performance thresholds — 7.6 percentage points lower than the Consistent Quality seen nationally. 

The overall quality of experience while streaming videos and playing multiplayer mobile games over mobile connections in Indigenous Areas rate relatively worse compared to the average experience across Canada. The on-demand and live video streaming experience — Video Experience and Video Live Experience — across Canada garners Good (58-68) and Very Good (53-58) ratings, one rating higher than those observed in Indigenous Areas — Fair (48-58) and Good (43-53), respectively. Similarly, for Games Experience, Canada’s national score rates Fair (65-75), while Indigenous Areas rate Poor (40-65).

However, with 5G, our users’ Video, Live Video, and Games Experience in Indigenous Areas place in the same categories as the national average, rating Very Good (68-78), Excellent (58 or above) and Good (75-85), respectively. There is no statistical difference in the 5G Live Video Experience and 5G Games Experience scores between Indigenous Areas and the national average. 
The benefit of 5G is more evident when we compare the results for 5G with the overall experience (measured across all generations of mobile technology). Our Canadian users see a considerable improvement in mobile experience using 5G. However, across all metrics, the uplift in Indigenous Areas is notably greater than the national average.

The 5G download and upload speeds experienced in Indigenous Areas are 2.7 times faster than overall speeds, while nationally, these are 2.3-2.4 times faster. Meanwhile, the uplift in Video, Live Video and Games Experience with 5G in Indigenous Areas is 28.6%, 31.8% and 38.8%, respectively, compared to 15.2-22.3% seen nationally.

Our users’ Mobile network experience in Canada’s Indigenous Areas lags behind the national average, with slower overall download and upload speeds. However, 5G is providing a significant uplift to their mobile network experience and has also helped reduce some of the disparities between the experience of users in these areas and the national average.

The Canadian Government and carriers are actively working towards bridging the digital divide and improving mobile connectivity across the country, including in Indigenous Areas. Reflecting Canada's innovative strategy, the push for last mile connectivity has seen the government subsidizing these critical areas while the actual deployment is deftly carried out through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) driven by industry leaders. Additionally, carriers such as Bell, Rogers and Telus have launched initiatives to provide mobile connectivity to Indigenous Peoples and communities, including the deployment of 5G networks. While there remains a gap in network performance compared to the national standard, it's clear that these unified efforts are effectively driving improvements, progressively enhancing the connectivity landscape for Indigenous communities.