World Cup fever is upon us! Starting Thursday, 32 countries will vie against one another in the tournament of tournaments with the goal of lifting the most coveted trophy in football (or as we yanks call it, soccer). Will reigning champions Germany take the title again? Will Brazil recover from its embarrassment in the semi-finals of 2014 to claim a 6th championship? Will the young guns of France or the old dogs of Spain seize another chance at World Cup glory? Or will a new contender like Belgium or Portugal claim the trophy for the first time?
Given all of the excitement surrounding the FIFA World Cup, we at OpenSignal have decided to host a tournament of our own and invite all of the participating countries. Instead of having our 32 nations compete on their football prowess, though, we pitted them against each other in our mobile metrics. We followed the same format as the FIFA tournament, starting with eight groups, the winners of which advance through a series of knockout stages to the final. For each round, the countries competed in one of our speed metrics drawn from a three-month test period between March and May -- the higher scores determining the stage winners. As you might expect, the powerhouses of our OpenSignal World Cup aren't necessarily the same as the powerhouses of world football, but the winner of our tournament may still surprise you. And as with the FIFA World Cup, the leaders of the OpenSignal World Cup depended on advantageous match draws — and even a bit of luck — to fight their way through the rounds.
With that bit of background, let's blow the whistle to kick off the OpenSignal World Cup.
Group Stage: Overall Download Speed
The first part of the FIFA World Cup is a grueling mini-tournament called the group stage, where four countries in each group play one another in rotation. To score the points necessary to progress to the knockout stages, a football team has to be well rounded. It can't depend on the success of a single star or even a well executed tactical plan. It has to bring all of its skills to bear. That's why we picked overall download speed as the metric for our group stage contest as it takes multiple mobile broadband measurements into account: 4G speed, 3G speed and the availability of each type of network. The country with the highest overall download speed was our group winner, while the second highest score determined the group runner-up.
As you can see from our group stage chart, many of the favorites in the real World Cup are already eliminated, including Argentina, Brazil, France and Germany. The two South American teams may be superstars on the global football stage, but on the mobile broadband stage they still have much work to do. Meanwhile Germany and France actually didn't fare too badly in our overall speed results, but both countries had the misfortune of being drawn in the OpenSignal World Cup's two "groups of death". France succumbed to mobile broadband powerhouses Denmark and Australia. Germany not only faced Sweden, the first country in the world to launch LTE, but it drew South Korea, which had the single highest overall speed score in our group stage at 45 Mbps.
Mirroring real World Cup trends, European countries did quite well in the OpenSignal group stage. Twelve of the 16 countries that advanced were flying European flags, with Eastern Europe making a particularly strong showing. The ultimate Cinderella team in FIFA football, Iceland, also made the cut in our first round, as did the tournament's host nation, Russia. Unfortunately all four African countries failed to move on, reflecting their status as relatively new 4G adopters. But the Americas had one representative in the knockout rounds, Uruguay, which always ranks highly among Latin American countries in our global reports. Joining it were three mighty 4G powers from Asia: Australia, Japan and the Korea Republic. As we'll see in the next round, though, powerful 4G networks aren't always enough to bring your country glory in the OpenSignal World Cup.
Round of 16: 3G Download Speed
In the first knockout stage we get back to the basics. After surviving the three-game trails of the group stage, no footballing nation wants to suffer the ignominy of going out in the first elimination game. The objective at this stage is to grind out a result — a meager 1-0 win will do — in order to claim greater glory in the later rounds. Thus we chose 3G download speed as the metric over which our 16 contestants battled in the round of 16. Like a strong defence in football, 3G is rarely sexy. But it's a foundational technology of mobile broadband, one that every country can fall back on regardless of the state of their 4G rollouts.
At this stage, our Asian countries make their exit. Australia, Japan and Korea were all favorites coming into the tournament, as all three have consistently ranked in the upper echelons of our 4G metrics. But having invested so much in LTE-Advanced, the one thing they weren't prepared for was a schooling in the rudiments of 3G. Croatia, England and Serbia definitely took advantage of their opponents' 3G weaknesses, knocking the three Asian powers out of the tournament. Iceland's fairytale run ended as well, losing to our eventual champion. The two Iberian countries advanced, with Spain knocking out host Russia. Sweden, however, was the star of the round, racking up the highest 3G speed score in the tournament: 11 Mbps.
uarter-Finals: 4G Upload Speed
For the quarter-final round, our focus turns to the counterattack. A potent counterattack can give any opposing manager nightmares. It just takes one errant pass or one well-timed tackle to reverse the flow of play, sending your opponents marauding down field toward your goal while your defenders are out of position. For the quarter-finals we're judging our remaining eight contestants via the mobile broadband equivalent of the counterattack, 4G upload speed, as the ability to move data upstream has become a key component of any mobile data service.
The two Iberian contestants, Spain and Portugal, fell to the upload pressure of Croatia and Denmark, with Denmark producing the highest score in the round, 16 Mbps. Serbia's counterattack proved too much for plucky England, while Belgium beat 4G innovators Sweden to join the semi-finalists.
Semi-finals: 4G Download Speed
Sometimes a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Lionel Messi sticking goal after goal in the back of the net is all you need to win, even if the rest of your team is performing poorly. Talismanic stars can be the difference between winning and losing when the chips are down. For the semi-finals, we focus on the star player of mobile broadband — the metric that garners all the headlines — 4G download speed. And as we've seen on so many occasions in our State of LTE reports, Northern Europe holds a decisive advantage in the raw power provided by its 4G networks. Croatia and Serbia were far from slow. Both posted 4G download speed scores of 31 Mbps, placing them among the fastest 4G countries in the world. But Belgium and Denmark's 4G stars were just powerful enough to propel them to our final game.
Final: Overall Download Speed
For the ultimate game of the OpenSignal World Cup, we return to our premier speed metric, overall download speed. Winning the FIFA World Cup final requires all of the skills the two finalists can muster; so too does winning the OpenSignal World Cup. And we couldn't have asked for a better showdown between two global mobile broadband giants. Belgium-Denmark was a high-scoring nailbiter, the equivalent of a final settled after added extra time and penalty kicks. Belgium turned in a truly awesome overall download speed performance of 30 Mbps, but Denmark was able to sneak one more megabit past the goalkeeper to claim victory.
So does this mean Denmark is the fastest country of our 32 contestants by every measure? Not necessarily. Denmark is unquestionably among the global leaders in every mobile broadband metric we measure, but a lot of Denmark's success in the OpenSignal World Cup depended on the luck of the draw. Denmark did survive one of our groups of death, but only as runner-up. Thanks to the early 3G stumbles of Australia and South Korea, Denmark managed to avoid the intimidating 4G threat of those Asian countries in the penultimate stages. That, in turn, allowed Denmark to dominate the later rounds, all the way up to its skin-of-its-teeth win over Belgium in the final game.
But as any champion will tell you, it doesn't matter how you arrived, it's the end result that counts. Just ask Euro 2016 winners Portugal. With that we are proud to declare the Danes the champions of the 2018 OpenSignal World Cup. May you lift the trophy with pride.