South Africa leads the continent in mobile network experience

Peter Boyland, Senior Analyst

Opensignal's recent State of Mobile Network Experience report ranked 87 of the world's mobile nations across our key metrics, with the usual suspects – Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea – topping our global rankings. But how did mobile-first markets in Africa stack up against each other? We compared 10 mobile markets from the continent — and the winners weren't necessarily who you would expect. 

South Africa topped our Africa Download Speed Experience chart with a fairly impressive score of 15 Mbps, while Tunisia, Morocco and Kenya also managed average speeds of over 10 Mbps. South Africa's score was quite a way behind the leading global scores, but the country still just managed to sneak into the top half of our global rankings. Indeed, in our most recent South Africa Mobile Network Experience report, we found two operators had Download Speed Experience scores over 17 Mbps. But the other two players scored around the 10 Mbps mark, pulling down the national average and showing a pattern we've observed of a “two tier” mobile network experience in the country.

Almost all the African countries we analyzed saw their Download Speed Experience scores increase over the past year, with only Algeria seeing its average speed dip slightly. Between the first three months of 2018 and the same period of 2019, Tunisia saw the biggest increase in terms of Mbps, as its score grew 3.6 Mbps to reach an average of 13.4 Mbps. But our users in Senegal experienced the greatest Download Speed Experience boost by percentage, as the average speed in the country jumped close to 50%.

Our 4G Availability analysis showed Kenya, Morocco and South Africa also featured in the top four — but the winner was something of a revelation. Senegal topped our Africa table with a score of 77.2% — beating some much more advanced markets in our global rankings. Senegal can be proud of a relatively advanced 4G mobile network experience, as Orange has already launched LTE-A in the country, while Tigo's 4G network rollout is well underway.

Much like in our download speed analysis, only one African country saw its 4G Availability fall over the past year — Ghana saw its score drop nearly five percentage points to 61.2%. Our users in Senegal saw a big improvement in their chart-topping 4G Availability score, which increased over 15 points to reach 77.2% — but Egypt saw the greatest improvement of over 17 points in the past year to top 65%, while Algeria and Nigeria also saw their scores grow by over 10 points.

South Africa also topped our Video Experience table — one of two African nations which scored a Good rating (55-65 out of 100) in this metric. A Good Video Experience is characterized by video streamed from the internet to a phone or tablet rendering at both low and high resolutions, but exhibiting some loading time before playback begins and some stalling, especially at higher resolutions.

Tunisia also managed a Good rating, while three African countries — Egypt, Morocco and Kenya — scored in the Fair range (40-55). Our users in these countries should expect longer loading times and frequent stalling at higher resolutions, but a better Video Experience at low resolutions.

Half of the African countries we analyzed rated as Poor for Video Experience (0-40), characterized by frequent stalling during video playback and long loading times, even at low resolutions. Since 4G is still in its infancy in many African markets, a large proportion of the continent's mobile networks are not yet suited to delivering a good mobile video experience. 

But nonetheless, mobile coverage — and particularly data connectivity — are transforming the lives of billions of people on the continent. The majority of Africans have never experienced fixed-line broadband, meaning mobile is opening up services such as mobile banking and payments, social media and even instant messaging that many of us have taken for granted for decades. And as 4G connectivity improves and 5G comes to the continent, more and more people will see their lives transformed by their mobile network experience.