Opensignal analyzed the download speeds that South African users experience when they connect to mobile networks compared to Wifi, and found that cellular technology provided faster download speeds at all times of the day. Opensignal's data shows our smartphone users on average enjoy 14.8 Mbps in download speed when they access the internet using cellular networks — which we measured by looking at all 3G and 4G readings — but only 8.8 Mbps in download speed when connected to Wifi.
In the last twelve months we observed 4G Availability rising in the country, contributing to the increases in download speeds measured in our latest South Africa report. In the first quarter of 2019 smartphone users could access the internet over 4G networks three quarters of the time. However, recent analysis suggests that price is still one of the key concerns for South Africa’s smartphone users when they consume mobile data. Many users prefer to access online content over Wifi — when they can find an available connection — in order to preserve their mobile data allowances.
Opensignal’s measurements indicate that South Africa’s smartphone users are connecting to Wifi networks more often than ever before. Our Time on Wifi metric, which represents the percentage of time mobile devices are connected to Wifi networks, increased from 36.3% at the beginning of 2018 to 39.7% in the first quarter of 2019, showing that our smartphone users now access the internet over Wifi two-fifths of the time.
But are they getting a similar experience with both technologies? In November last year, Opensignal published our State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience report and found that users in South Africa enjoyed download speeds 5.7 Mbps faster over cellular networks when compared to Wifi. And this difference increased to 12.2 Mbps when we compared users’ 4G-only download speeds to smartphone users’ average Wifi speed in the country. However, in Opensignal’s latest 5G Opportunity report we observed that users’ mobile experience varied widely across the hours of the day, with the fastest speeds experienced late at night and slowest speeds in the early evening. So, we wondered if South Africa’s users also enjoy faster download speeds over cellular networks during those times of the day when demand for data increases and speeds fall.
We analyzed users’ download speeds over cellular and Wifi networks across the hours of the day and found a similar trend across both technologies. Download speeds were fastest in the middle of the night — when most users are asleep — before decreasing throughout the day to reach slowest speeds in the early evening — when more users access the networks — and then rose again late at night.
South Africa’s download speeds over mobile networks — which we measured by using our 3G and 4G readings — were slowest between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., but smartphone users could still experience 12.4 Mbps over cellular networks compared to 7.1 Mbps over Wifi. When speeds were fastest — between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. — users faced a similar difference across the two technologies with our measurements across 3G and 4G reaching 17 Mbps, while speeds over Wifi peaked at 10.8 Mbps.
An increasing number of users in South Africa now connect to the internet and consume data using their smartphones. Cisco recently estimated a 98% YoY growth for mobile data consumption in South Africa in 2017 — which made it one of the top countries with the fastest growing mobile data consumption — and predicted that this will grow nine-fold between 2017 and 2022.
However, the speed fluctuations we observed suggest that the surge of data traffic and congestion are challenges not limited to mobile, but also common to Wifi networks. Users might consider accessing the internet over Wifi as an alternative option to mobile, but analysis of Opensignal’s data indicates that, on average, they would experience better speeds on cellular networks at all hours of the day than on Wifi.