by Ian Fogg, VP Analysis, Opensignal
The type of smartphone model affects the quality of mobile network experience that users receive. Newer models, and those with higher user equipment LTE Category support more of the mobile carriers’ network features enabling higher possible speeds. For this reason, smartphone makers create cheaper models with less capable modems and chipsets. Additionally, older smartphone models continue to be used by consumers, often these are less capable simply because the technology was not advanced at the time of their release. This leads to a wide variety of smartphone models in use.
In Opensignal’s comprehensive analysis of Germany smartphone models, we find users with more capable smartphone models experience significantly faster mobile download speeds. However, the difference in the upload speed experienced across handset makers and individual smartphone models is more modest.
The lead smartphone handset brand for download speed differs by market tier
Not everyone owns, or can afford to own, a premium smartphone with prices of the latest top models now well over $1000. Cheaper smartphone models typically have less capable modems and chipsets.
All smartphones are not created equal; they vary in network capability as well as cameras and displays. To analyze the differences, Opensignal split smartphone users into three groups — low, mid and high-tier — based on a smartphone’s mobile network capabilities. Opensignal’s tiers are: High-tier model with at least LTE Category 16; Mid-tier with LTE Category between 5 and 15; and Low-tier models with LTE Category 4 or less.
When Opensignal examined each different smartphone tier we found the position and relative strength of handset makers varied in each tier:
High-tier smartphone users: OnePlus, Apple and Google smartphone users ranked equal fastest for the 4G download speed they experienced in Germany. iPhone users’ experience relative to other high-tier smartphone users was much better in Germany than in the U.S. Currently, only 2018’s iPhone Xs and Xs Max are included in this category now, but the 2019 models will likely all have “Gigabit” class LTE Category 16 or better capabilities and also join this tier. The other two large handset makers — Samsung and Huawei — were extremely close to each other in their users’ experience, but were not top.
Mid-tier: Among smartphones with mid-range network capabilities, HTC and Google were joint top. Former market leader, Nokia, and current market leader Samsung were close behind. This category contains most iPhone models, but Apple ranked mid-table alongside Sony, LG, OnePlus and rugged smartphone brand CAT. Chinese smartphone brands Huawei and Xiaomi had users with the slowest download speed experience.
Low-tier: ZTE and Sony smartphone users lead the way. As in other tiers, Samsung users experienced good download speeds but were not leading, while Apple, Huawei, and CAT’s position was also similar.
Samsung, Sony and Huawei models dominate the top 50 for 4G download speed
Users with Android smartphone models dominate the top 50 smartphone models ranked on download speed in Germany. There are multiple high-end models from Samsung, with 36% of the top 50 models, followed by 18% made by Sony and Huawei, and 8% made by both OnePlus and Apple.
Unlike in our U.S. analysis, where just two Apple iPhone models made the top 50 on 4G Download Speed, in Germany four iPhone models featured in the top 50 list. With litigation over modem supply now behind them, Apple will hope to improve their users’ download mobile network experience with future iPhone models.
Apple is not the only well-known brand to have a limited presence. Users of the former market leader, Nokia-brand smartphones represented just 2% of the top 50 models, as did smartphone market leader HTC, also with just one model in the list.
Experience varies by smartphone model as well as smartphone maker brand
Across the board, Opensignal’s analysis of the top 50 German smartphone models by network experience has confirmed that users with high-end, premium smartphones experience much faster download speeds than those with low or mid-tier phones. Fifty percent of users owned models with high-tier capabilities, and 48% had mid-tier, which mostly represented premium smartphones released in previous years with capabilities at the very top of the mid-tier category. Only one model featured from the low-tier category, 2014’s Samsung Galaxy Note 4 because the Samsung Exynos chipset-powered European version featured a slower Category 4 design compared with the equivalent Qualcomm-powered US version of the Note 4 which offered Category 6 capability.