LTE may be the technology du jour, but 4G can only tell us so much about a country's overall mobile networking progress. In our first Global State of Networks report, Opensignal has examined the overall mobile data performance of the 95 different countries to see how they stack up. While 4G is a big factor especially in the most developed nations, 3G is still an important component of most countries' mobile data infrastructure and Wifi has a major influence on the way the majority of the world uses smartphones.
3G has definitely taken hold in most countries. On the 95 countries in our sample, 93 of them had 3G or better signal availability more than half the time, while the vast majority had availability greater than 75%, according to our data.
Though 3G or 4G connections may be the norm, there are some sizable gaps country-to-country in our overall speed metric, which measures the average download performance across all networks. South Korea had the fastest overall speed of 41.3 Mbps, while the slowest average we measured was 2.2 Mbps in Afghanistan.
We found high levels of mobile Wifi connections both in countries where mobile broadband is ubiquitous and in countries where mobile data infrastructure is more limited. The most mobile-Wifi-hungry country in the world was the Netherlands, where Wifi accounted for 70% of all of the smartphone connections we measured.
When we correlated overall speeds with 3G/4G availability, we found distinct clusters of countries in similar stages of mobile development. Examining 3G and 4G together paints a much clearer picture of a country's network progress than measuring 4G alone.
This chart shows the availability of a 3G or better data signal in different countries. Opensignal’s availability metric measures the proportion of time our users can connect to a particular network or networks. In this case, we’re measuring how often users can see a 3G or 4G signal.
Opensignal defines 4G as LTE, while 3G can be either a CDMA EV-DO or UMTS/HSPA connection. A 3G or better signal is a useful benchmark since consumers can accomplish most basic smartphone tasks on a 3G connection.
This chart shows the overall download speed that users in each country see over its data networks. We define overall speed as the average mobile data connection a user experiences based on both the speeds and availability of a country’s 3G and 4G networks.
Overall download speed measurements vary considerably from country to country depending on their particular stage of 3G and 4G development. For instance a country with fast LTE speeds but low 4G availability might have a much lower overall speed than a country with moderate LTE speeds but a very high level of 4G availability.
This chart provides an overall look of the mobile data performance of countries by plotting speed against availability. Countries higher up and toward the right in the chart have both fast overall speeds and a high proportion of 3G or better signals, reflecting more developed mobile data infrastructures. These countries typically have deployed LTE on a broad scale, since it would be virtually impossible to achieve overall speeds averages greater than 10 Mbps without a sizable number of 4G connections. Meanwhile countries in the left hand side of the graph are typically in the early stages of their LTE rollouts and in some cases are still completing their 3G networks.
All of the countries examined in this report are shown on this interactive map, detailing the distribution of mobile networking capabilities across the world. Those countries that perform better in a particular metric are shaded darker, and you can select different metrics to view in the drop down menu. Countries not included in this report are shaded in grey. Our sample only included the countries for which we had enough test data to make a statistically meaningful analysis. As our user base grows, we’ll continue to add more countries to our reports.
Opensignal has now run six iterations of its Global LTE Report, which tracks 4G performance around the world, and we've been able to glean a lot about the growth of the world's newest mobile broadband technology from those reports. But we felt it was time we took a more holistic look at mobile networks. After all, while LTE may have become the dominant mobile data technology in countries like South Korea, Japan and the U.S., dozens of countries have yet to launch their first 4G service and many others are only in the infancy of their LTE rollouts. 3G still forms the backbone of mobile data services in many places, and in some developing regions 2G still reigns supreme. That's why Opensignal is proud to publish its first Global State of Mobile Networks report.
We're highlighting some new metrics, thanks in a large part to new updates to our data collection methodology, which allows our Opensignal network testers to collect more data and take new kinds of measurements. First, we looked at the combined availability of 3G and 4G networks in 95 different countries. Next, we looked at each of those countries' overall speed, which tracks the typical bandwidth a user sees across both 3G and 4G networks. We then compared how those countries stacked up in speed versus availability. Finally, we looked at the proportion of time users were connected to Wifi networks. In all, we examined 12.3 billion measurements taken by 822,556 Opensignal users in an 84 day period.
One thing is clear from our results: a decent mobile data connection isn't hard to find in a majority of the world's countries. Rather than measure geographic coverage, our availability metric tracks the proportion of time mobile users have access to a particular network. In this case we measured how often our users could latch onto either a 3G or 4G signal, which we feel is a good benchmark for performing most basic internet tasks like surfing the web or using messaging apps. Of the 95 countries on our list, all but two had 3G-or-better signal availability more than half the time in our measurements. In fact, the vast majority of those countries scored an availability metric of 75% or greater, while 23 countries were able to provide a 3G or better signal more than 90% of the time. The leader in this category, South Korea, was notable not just for its impressive 98.5% availability metric, but also for being well ahead — by a full 3 percentage points — of the next country on the list, Japan.
A 3G or better signal, however, can mean a lot of things when it comes to the typical data experience. There's a huge variation in speeds between the slowest 3G network and the fastest 4G network. CDMA EV-DO connections, for instance, typically average download speeds under 1 Mbps, while high-powered LTE-Advanced connections can push speed well beyond 30 Mbps. That's why we see some considerable differences in the country rankings when we measure overall speed. Our overall speed is essentially an aggregate of the speeds across a country's 3G and 4G networks based on the availability of each network. For instance, South Korea had the highest overall speed of 41.4 Mbps not necessarily because it has the fastest 4G networks in the world (though they are among the fastest); rather South Korea had the most ubiquitous 4G signals in the world. In that country it's actually easier to find an LTE connection than it is to find an HSPA connection, according to our data.
Those combined differences in 3G and 4G network performance and availability determined different rankings on our overall speed table. Japan placed second in 3G/4G availability, but it landed 9th in overall speed, due to its more moderate LTE speeds. The same factors applied to the U.S. — just more dramatically. The U.S. ranked 19th in availability, but a mere 39th in overall speed. In the U.S.'s case, not just its 4G networks but also its 3G networks were slow, reflecting operators' large-scale use of CDMA. In fact, the spectrum of different speeds across our 95 countries was quite broad. The top country in our list had speeds 19 times faster than the country with the slowest overall speeds, Afghanistan. Speeds also dropped off very quickly from the top of the list. We found only two countries that averaged data speeds faster than 30 Mbps, and only nine had averages greater than 20 Mbps. Meanwhile, 21 countries averaged less than 5 Mbps. The median speed in our list was about 8.5 Mbps.
In our Full Spectrum graph, we plotted our speed numbers against our availability numbers. The chart gives a new view of the world's mobile data networks that much more clearly describes the current state of a country's mobile evolution than examining 4G performance alone. While most countries are stacked high up on the chart due to the generally high level of 3G/4G availability, the big differences in overall speed mean those countries are fairly well distributed across the chart. Moving from left to right we see clumps of countries in similar stages of mobile network deployment.
The far left column highlights countries that averaged overall speeds less than 5 Mbps. Those countries tended to be developing nations in Africa and Asia that either haven't yet deployed 4G or have only recently seen their first 4G service. In the 5-10 Mbps overall-speed column we see more developed countries from Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, many of which have had commercial 4G services for several years but are still completing their network rollouts and transitioning their customers over to 4G devices. The majority of the countries we examined fell into these two columns, as do all of the countries in the bottom half of our 3G/4G availability ranking, reflecting the fact that 2G is still a key technology in those regions.
In the two columns between 10 and 20 Mbps, we find the U.S., Canada, China and most of Europe. All of these countries reached 3G maturity long ago and have since built out robust LTE infrastructures. As most of them are highly developed countries, they've also managed to achieve high levels of LTE smartphone penetration quite quickly. Moving to the righthand half of the chart we see the countries with average overall speeds greater than 20 Mbps. The handful of Asian and European countries in these columns are the ones outperforming the rest of the world. These are the countries that have built powerful new LTE-Advanced networks with far-reaching coverage, and are often the most aggressive in pursuing new spectrum and implementing the latest network upgrades. In many cases LTE has displaced other mobile technologies so effectively in these countries that operators have shut down their 2G networks completely.
The final metric we examined was the proportion of time users in different countries spent connected to Wifi networks. You could argue that in many places Wifi has become a far more important mobile data technology than 3G or 4G. In the Netherlands, close to three quarters of the total connections we measured were over Wifi networks, and in 46 countries (almost half of our sample) our smartphone users spent more than 50% of their time connected to Wifi. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether a country’s smartphone users seek out Wifi: cost and availability of broadband, the affordability of mobile data, the prevalence of public hotspots and even cultural attitudes. That makes it difficult to identify broad trends by looking at a single factor alone. For instance, South Korea has one of the most developed broadband infrastructures in the world, but 18 other countries make more use of Wifi than South Korea. You might argue that South Korea's 4G connections are so fast and ubiquitous that consumers see less benefit in tapping Wifi networks. But you could make the same argument for the Netherlands, yet smartphones users there are flocking to Wifi networks in droves.
In fact, the countries that make up our top 20 list for mobile Wifi are quite diverse. Several of the most developed economies in the world make the cut, but so do Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic. Guyana had the lowest 3G/4G availability in our sample of 95 countries at 36.5%, yet it had a fairly high time on Wifi rating of 50.6%. It seems Guyanans are making up for their country's lack of 3G and 4G signals by leaning heavily on Wifi.
Wifi obviously plays a big role in mobile data services today, but the big question is how long its outsized influence will continue. As more countries push the boundaries of 4G technology — and adopt new 5G technologies in the future — the perceived differences between the two technologies may disappear. On a smartphone at least, there's nothing to distinguish a 30 Mbps 4G connection from a 50-100 Mbps Wifi connection. Wifi, however, will have a cost advantage for some time. In many developing regions a mobile data plan can represents a significant chunk of average income. As long as the price per mobile gigabyte remains high while free Wifi is readily available, consumers will keep using Wifi to augment their mobile data services.
Wifi versus cellular will be an interesting metric to track, but it's just one of the many changing dynamics we're seeing in mobile networking across the globe. As we continue to publish this report in the coming years, we'll see many of the developing nations on the far left of our Full Spectrum chart shift to the right as they deploy their first LTE networks or complete their current 4G rollouts. We'll also see a general trend upward on the chart as some of these countries upgrade and expand their 3G networks. We may even see a few countries backtrack to the left as increased 4G device penetration and congestion slow down overall speeds. So stay tuned and sign up below for our newsletter to be notified when our next Global State of Mobile Networks report comes out in six months.
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