In our second U.S. rural analysis (see the first part here), we have investigated smartphone users’ mobile experience in the 50 states using the urban and rural definitions by the U.S. Census Bureau, and found there remains a gap between what our urban and rural users experience. However, this urban-rural mobile experience divide varies widely across states, with rural users from the East Coast sometimes enjoying a better experience than urban users in some West and Mountain states.
The urban-rural divide in Download Speed Experience was greater than 10 Mbps in nine states, with Michigan and Minnesota showing the largest gaps of 13.4 Mbps and 12.8 Mbps respectively between the experience of urban and rural users.
In all states but Rhode Island our users had a slower Upload Speed Experience in rural areas than in urban areas. Opensignal users in Rhode Island had a similar Upload Speed Experience of around 7 Mbps, whether they were in urban or rural areas.
Two states were notable for Latency Experience: Alaska and Montana. Alaska showed the largest divide, with our rural users experiencing a 36.1 milliseconds slower latency than our urban users. Meanwhile, Montana was notable for its urban users’ Latency Experience — on average a 95.3 milliseconds score, which was slower than what our rural users experienced in 46 states.
Alaska and Wyoming had the largest divide in 4G Availability between urban and rural areas. Our rural smartphone users in Alaska were able to connect to 4G networks 66.2% of the time, 22 percentage points less than their peers in urban areas, while our Wyoming rural users on average experienced a 69.7% 4G Availability, 18.9 percentage points less than urban users in the same state.
The United States has launched a number of initiatives over the years to close the digital divide and promote access to high-speed internet for all Americans. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also unveiled plans to create a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in order to promote the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in rural areas, proposing to commit tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. But because of the sheer vastness of the country's landmass — 97% of which is actually rural — bridging the digital divide remains a challenge.
Michigan sees the largest gap between urban and rural Download Speed Experience
In nine states the difference in Download Speed Experience between urban and rural areas was higher than 10 Mbps, with Michigan and Minnesota showing the largest divide of 13.4 Mbps and 12.8 Mbps respectively.
Interestingly, states like Alaska and Wyoming that showed the largest 4G Availability gap between urban and rural areas did not show the same magnitude of difference in speed, mainly because users, on average, had a slower — and therefore more similar — Download Speed Experience in both urban and rural areas. Opensignal users in 41 U.S. states saw a difference of 10 Mbps or less in Download Speed Experience between urban and rural areas.
Although our rural users in the majority of the United States enjoyed a Download Speed Experience between 10 Mbps and 20 Mbps, eight states stood out with average speeds above 20 Mbps, while our rural users in Alaska and Mississippi, on average, experienced less than 10 Mbps — 8.8 Mbps and 9 Mbps respectively. And while our users in Alaska had the lowest Download Speed Experience both in urban and rural areas, our New Jersey users on average enjoyed the fastest download speeds across both locales.
Rhode Island rural users have a similar Upload Speed Experience to urban users
In all except one of the U.S. states, our users had a slower Upload Speed Experience in rural areas compared to urban areas. However, Rhode Island bucks the trend, with our smartphone users having a very similar Upload Speed Experience — close to 7 Mbps across both locales.
Upload Speed Experience in urban areas across the 50 states ranged from 4.5 Mbps to 10 Mbps, while it varied between 2.4 Mbps and 7 Mbps in rural areas.
Our rural users could on average enjoy an Upload Speed Experience of 5 Mbps or more in just six states, while our urban users had a 5 Mbps or faster Upload Speed Experience in 46 states.
Similar to what we observed in Download Speed Experience, our rural users in Mississippi and Alaska experienced the slowest upload speeds among the 50 states — on average below 3 Mbps. On the other hand, among the urban users, those in South Dakota and North Dakota had the fastest Upload Speed Experience, on average 8.2 Mbps and 10 Mbps respectively.
Montana’s urban users have a slower Latency Experience than rural users in most states
The urban-rural divide in Latency Experience ranged from just above 3 milliseconds in New Jersey to 36.9 milliseconds in Alaska, where our rural users saw a Latency Experience score of 111.7 ms.
Our rural users in 32 states had between 10 ms and 20 ms slower Latency Experience than their peers in the urban areas, while in 16 states the gap was lower than 10 ms.
Alaska stood out, showing the largest gap in Latency Experience — a 36.9 ms divide — between urban and rural areas along with the slowest rural latency scores. But also notable was our users’ Latency Experience in Montana, where urban users saw on average a latency score of 95.3 ms — slower than what our rural users experienced in 46 states.
Alaska and Wyoming have the largest urban-rural gap in 4G Availability
Opensignal analyzed the proportion of time our users could access mobile services in urban and rural areas of the 50 U.S. states. We found that users experienced larger connectivity gaps in those states with vast rural areas and lower population density, where operators likely find it more challenging to deploy mobile networks.
Our rural users in 38 states connected to 4G networks more than 85% of the time on average, with 14 states — mostly on the East coast — enjoying rural 4G Availability higher than 90%. Only five states had a 4G Availability lower than 80% in rural areas, with our rural users in Alaska and Wyoming experiencing the lowest 4G Availability, and the largest divide compared to the urban users in the two states.
Our rural smartphone users in Alaska were able to connect to 4G networks 66.2% of the time, 22 percentage points less than their peers in urban areas, while our Wyoming rural users on average experienced a 69.7% 4G Availability, 18.9 percentage points less than urban users in the same state.