Kevin Fitchard, Principal Analyst
As the summer months get into full swing, families across the U.S. are planning their balmy-weather vacations. And regardless of whether you are a seasoned or casual holiday traveller, the smartphone has become a critical tool on any journey to a new locale. The mobile internet helps us plan activities and make reservations. Navigation apps help us find our way from the hotel to points of interest. Our camera phones have replaced the point-and-shooters that were once mainstays on any trip. And for the social-media inclined, our smartphones let us Tweet, Instagram and Snapchat our experiences for the friends and family back at home.
With the spirit of the summer holidays in mind, Opensignal examined the consumer mobile experience offered in some of the most popular destinations across the U.S. We looked at a mix of big urban vacation spots and quaint towns like Barnstable in Massachusetts' Cape Cod and resort getaways like Kahului in Hawaii. We also made sure to balance our choices of destinations among different regions of the U.S.: the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West.
First let's look at Download Speed Experience, which is the average mobile data download speed our users see across mobile broadband networks. There is a big variation in speed across the 30 destinations in our analysis. Ocean City had a whopping score of 39.1 Mbps while at the bottom of our chart Cheyenne averaged download speeds of just 13.7 Mbps. Four of the top five vacation spots in our chart were in the Northeast, which gels with our recent analysis of all 50 states. The fastest regions in the Union were the state of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to our measurements.
As we move further down our list we see some of the larger vacation destinations in the Midwest and West averaged considerably fast download speeds. Seattle; Kansas City; Chicago; Portland, OR; and San Diego all had Download Speed Experience scores over 25 Mbps, putting them well above the national average of 21.3 Mbps, as measured in our State of Mobile Network Experience report.
It's also interesting to note that the biggest cities didn't necessarily have the fastest download speeds, even though operators tend to concentrate their network investment in the densest urban areas. Two of the smallest communities on our list, Ocean City and Barnstable, ranked the highest, with Ocean City averaging download speeds a full 7 Mbps faster than than the highest ranking big city, Minneapolis. But as we move further down our chart, we see that the big-vs.-small divide rearing its head. All of the destinations that scored below 20 Mbps in Download Speed Experience were smaller cities.
While upload speed doesn't get as much attention as download speed, upload is a critical tool for any vacationer. All of those photo uploads, video sharing and social media apps depend on a good uplink connection to perform at their best. When it comes to holiday content sharing, you can't beat the Big Apple. New York City placed highest among our vacation spots with an Upload Speed Experience score of 9.1 Mbps.
While Northeastern cities did well in upload, the Northeast wasn't quite as dominant in Upload Speed Experience as it was in Download Speed Experience. NYC and Boston shared the spotlight at the top of the chart with Midwestern meccas Chicago and Minneapolis and sunny west coast destinations Los Angeles and San Diego.
The big-vs.-small divide was also much more prominent in upload than it was in download. The top of our chart was dominated by the biggest cities in the U.S., though Ocean City, Virginia Beach and Honolulu turned in some impressive results with Upload Speed Experience scores above 7 Mbps.
For our final vacation metric, we looked at 4G Availability because fast download and upload speeds don't really matter if you can't find a mobile broadband signal. The good news is that 4G connections are ubiquitous in the country's vacation spots. All but three of our 30 destinations had 4G Availability scores above 90%, a sign of excellent 4G reach. And of the three that didn't pass the 90% mark, two — Burlington and Anchorage — were on the cusp.
While Southern destinations didn't impress in our Download and Upload Speed Experience metrics, the South did shine in 4G Availability. Of the seven vacation cities with exceptional 4G Availability scores of over 95%, four of them were in the South: Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach and Orlando. The Midwest also had several standouts with Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City surpassing the 95% mark in our measurements. Western holiday destinations, however, fell short of their peers in 4G Availability. Apart from Los Angeles, all of the West-region vacation spots landed in the bottom half of our chart.
As was the case with Download Speed Experience, the big cities didn't automatically lay claim to the top spots in 4G Availability. Savannah and Myrtle Beach led in our chart, while small cities like Omaha, Barnstable and Milwaukee kept pace with massive cities like Los Angeles and New York. That said, it's hard to be critical of any of our summer get-away destinations when it comes to 4G reach. One thing U.S. operators have done well is make 4G connections ubiquitous throughout the country, and that trend is exemplified in nearly every vacation spot we examined.