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Mobile network experience at Japan’s main airports surpasses the national average

Whether mobile users are heading off on holiday, planning to visit family and friends, or going on a business trip, they want to be assured that they are contactable and connected while on the go — especially at the airports, where they spend long hours waiting for flights or changeovers. Japanese operators have been investing in 5G infrastructure around the country’s national airports, to help improve the quality of mobile services for passengers and airport staff. 


In this latest Opensignal analysis we looked at the mobile experience of our users across 23 main airports in Japan. These airports are among the country’s busiest and are managed by either the national government or private companies.  We compared their aggregated scores to the national results and also looked at how each of the four Japanese operators fares around the airports. Our users in general observe faster download speeds and spend more time connected to 5G around the airports than the national average — however, they observe less consistent quality of mobile services and more time with no signal than the rest of the country.


Japanese operators have been investing in 5G infrastructure around the country’s national airports, to improve the quality of mobile services for passengers and airport staff. Our users in general observe faster download speeds around the Japanese airports — around 11.6% faster for both overall Download Speed Experience and 5G Download Speed. Peak 5G Download Speed is more than 50% faster around the Japanese airports than in the other parts of the country. 


However, mobile services around the Japanese airports are less consistent than the national average. Consistent Quality measures 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, without noticeable lag or slowdown. High volumes of passengers around the airports drive high traffic and network congestion, resulting in lower scores for Consistent Quality around these areas.



The proportion of time that our 5G users spend with an active 5G connection around airports is nearly twice the national average, which shows the high level of deployments of 5G infrastructure at Japan’s airports. However, overall signal availability at the airports is still a challenge, as our users spend 5% of their time with no signal — which is a substantial gap compared to the national average of 0.4%. This big difference compared to the rest of the country is driven by the infrastructural characteristics of airports, such as distant spots around airfields, in-building walls, or implemented safety measures. This makes it difficult for mobile users to receive signals everywhere at the airports — and a lack of signal indoors may cause frustrations to users who can’t stay connected or are looking for things to occupy themselves. As our previous analysis demonstrates, mobile users with more time with no signal are more likely to switch operators, frustrated by their inability to connect.

Our users at the Japanese airports don’t seem to hunt for Wi-Fi connectivity, as they spend 27.6% of their time on Wi-Fi on average — less than half of the time they usually remain connected to Wi-Fi at work or home. This is because they are likely to connect to Wi-Fi services automatically in these places. Conversely, signing in to Wi-Fi services at the airports usually requires effort and might come with restricted features at a free tier. Mobile users may not even bother with it, especially if they have unlimited mobile data enabled and are busy with other activities around the airports, like waiting in security, walking between gates, or picking up luggage.



Turning to the operators’ results across the Japanese airports — NTT docomo comes first for Download Speed Experience, with a score around 10% faster than that of second-placed au — and also shares the top spot with Rakuten Mobile for 5G Download Speed. Meanwhile, Rakuten Mobile solely triumphs for both upload speed metrics, with substantial margins over its competitors. Our users on this operator see at least 2.5 times faster overall and more than 1.5 times faster 5G upload speeds than their counterparts on other networks.



SoftBank comes outright first for 5G Video Experience, while au leads for the overall Voice App Experience around the main airports in Japan. Au jointly scores the highest in the remaining four experiential overall and 5G metrics, while SoftBank does so in three of them. SoftBank and au also both rate as Excellent (85 or above) in 5G Games Experience around the Japanese airports. This indicates that nearly all of our users on these networks in these airports experienced network performance that made them feel like they had control over the game and received immediate feedback on their actions when connected to 5G. 



Au comes first for both 5G Availability and Time on 4G/5G around the Japanese airports, meaning our users on this network spend the highest amount of time proportionally connected to the newest generations of mobile networks. However, we observed no statistical differences between au, NTT Docomo, and SoftBank for Availability — which measures the proportion of time all Opensignal users on an operator’s network have either a 3G, 4G, or 5G connection. Operators’ Availability scores are also much lower than their national averages, which exceeded 99% for each of the operators in the latest Japan Mobile Network Experience report.


Our smartphone users observe no statistically significant differences between au, Rakuten Mobile, and SoftBank when it comes to the consistency of mobile services around airports. Again, these scores are lower than the national results in the latest Mobile Network Experience report, where all operators scored over the 80% milestone.


5G roll-outs around airports have been a point of contention, especially in the U.S., due to the risk of altimeter equipment interfering with 5G infrastructure. Given how close the 5G spectrum assignments of mobile network operators are to the ratio altimeter band (4.2-4.4GHz) in Japan, the country’s Electronic Navigation Research Institute has recommended that operators should not deploy masts under runway approach paths and ensure enough guard bands (of at least 60MHz) between the frequencies in use around the airports, to avoid blocking the altimeters. The results of our analysis demonstrate that 5G Download Speed and 5G Availability scores exceed the national average, which means the implemented measures impact the experience of mobile users to a small degree.

In our analysis, we included the following 23 Japanese airports:

  • company-managed airports: Chubu International, Kansai International, Narita International, Osaka International.
  • national airports managed by the central government: Fukuoka, Hakodate, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, Kitakyushu, Kochi, Kumamoto, Kushiro, Matsuyama, Miyazaki, New Chitose, Nagasaki, Naha, Niigata, Oita, Sendai, Takamatsu, Tokyo International (Haneda), Wakkanai.


You can download the Opensignal app to check your network experience!