The world is still waiting for its next big infusion of speed. For more than a year now, the fastest countries in the world seem to be stuck in a holding pattern, getting close but not surpassing the 50 Mbps threshold for average 4G speed. What the mobile industry has failed to gain in power, though, it has achieved in reach. 4G availability continues to expand around the world at a steady pace. In Opensignal's latest global report, we analyzed 50 billion measurements collected in the 4th quarter to compare 4G performance in 88 countries.
The fastest LTE speeds seem to have hit a plateau at around 45 Mbps. For the last several global reports, we've failed to see any sizable increase in 4G speeds among the top performing countries, and the Holy Grail of 50 Mbps remains just as elusive.
While top-line speeds may be stagnant, 4G availability among the elite countries is still steadily rising. Consumers in five countries had access to an LTE connection more than 90% of the time — up from a mere two countries just three months ago.
It's become quite clear that the global mobile industry is now focusing on expanding access to LTE signals to more people and places, rather than growing the raw speed of 4G networks. We saw significant increases in LTE availability across the board in our latest results.
While 4G speeds have stalled in much of the world, there were a few regional exceptions. We saw some sizable increases in speed in multiple European countries, most notably the Netherlands and Spain. In North America, Canada's speeds surged past 30 Mbps on the strength of Telus's recent LTE upgrades, while the U.S. regained the lost momentum caused by AT&T and Verizon's reintroduction of unlimited plans.
This chart shows the average download connection speed that users in each country see when connecting to LTE networks. Though some operators sometimes refer to HSPA or other technologies as 4G, we only count LTE connections in our 4G speed tests.
How fast a country's 4G speed is can depend on many factors: how much spectrum is devoted to LTE, whether it has adopted new 4G technologies like LTE Advanced, how densely networks are built and how much congestion is on those networks. In general, though, the countries with the fastest speeds tend to be the ones that have built LTE-Advanced networks and have a large proportion of LTE-Advanced capable devices.
This chart compares 4G speed against 4G availability for all of the countries covered in this report. Countries higher up and toward the right in the chart have both fast LTE networks and a high proportion of LTE signals, reflecting more developed 4G infrastructures. Countries in the lower-left hand side of the graph are typically in the early stages of their LTE rollouts. There's no hard and fast rule, though. Countries can have highly accessible networks, but their speeds can be limited by capacity constraints. Meanwhile countries with new LTE networks may have limited 4G availability but, due to their light loads, can support considerably fast speeds.
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.
This chart compares the average download connection speed globally of the major wireless network technologies. 2G includes GSM and CDMA 1X connections, while 3G includes UMTS, HSPA and CDMA EV-DO connections. Opensignal defines 4G as LTE technologies only.
That spark will come, and it will likely come sooner rather than later as operators embrace the latest iterations of LTE-Advanced technology. But the industry is keeping itself busy in the interim. 4G speeds have temporarily plateaued, but 4G availability most certainly has not. Operators around the world have spread their LTE signals into more and more nooks and crannies, giving consumers unprecedented access to mobile broadband connections. Three months ago, there were only two countries in the world that could claim their consumers had access to an LTE connection 90% of the time. Now five countries can make that boast. But LTE reach isn't just expanding among the top tier countries. The developing world is making huge strides in increasing 4G availability. Throughout the world, it's much easier to find an LTE signal now than it ever has before.
In our latest State of LTE report, we parsed more than 50 billion measurements collected between Oct. 1 and Dec. 29 of 2017 by more than 3.8 million smartphone and tablet users across six continents. We analyzed the average LTE speed and LTE availability of 88 countries (up from 77 in our last report) to see just how far their 4G services have come. While more than 88 countries have LTE services today, we only included the countries for which we had enough data to provide meaningful analysis. As more countries ramp up their LTE deployments and we collect more data within them, we'll include them in future reports.
In 4G speed, we find the usual suspects at the top of our charts, though our top 10 did change slightly since our last State of LTE report. Belgium climbed into the top 10, replacing Luxembourg. Meanwhile the Netherlands jumped into 2nd place, displacing South Korea. Until this report, South Korea had consistently ranked in the top 2, vying for the title of fastest 4G country with Singapore, but we saw average 4G speeds in South Korea fall from 45.8 Mbps to 40 Mbps. While that speed still ranks among the fastest in the world, it may be an indication that South Korea's vaunted LTE-Advanced networks may be showing their first signs of capacity constraints.
In our last report, we found that speeds were stagnating among the fastest 4G countries, and when it comes to the fastest of the fast that trend still holds true. The top four countries — those that average LTE downloads of 40 Mbps or more — are nowhere nearer reaching the 50 Mbps benchmark. In fact, speeds among those top four countries actually declined as a whole. Three months ago the fastest 4G speeds we measured were in Singapore with an average LTE download of 46.6 Mbps. In this report, Singapore still tops the speed charts, but its average download speed is now below 45 Mbps.
The good news is that once we get beyond the top 10, we do see signs of 4G speeds improving in certain regions of the world. In our last report, only 13 countries averaged speeds greater than 30 Mbps. Three months later, 18 countries have surpassed the 30-Mbps mark (though one of those countries, Macedonia, didn't appear in our previous analysis). What's more, three months ago, 55% of the countries we analyzed had LTE speed averages of 20 Mbps or greater. Now that number is 60%. We're definitely seeing a lot of activity in Europe that helps explain this trend. In just three months, we saw Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Romania, Croatia and Lithuania make significant gains in speeds. We also saw big jumps in 4G downloads from Australia and Canada (reflecting big network investments from Telus, Telstra and Vodafone). One other area of note was the U.S. where LTE speeds have been traditionally slow compared to the rest of the world. Average 4G speeds increased from 14 Mbps to 16.3 Mbps in just three months, which is a direct result of AT&T and Verizon recovering from the impact of unlimited plans.
Those localized increases in speed led to an uptick in our overall global LTE speed average, up from 16.6 Mbps to 16.9 Mbps. While most of the countries we analyzed have speeds greater than 16.9 Mbps, a good deal of them are small European countries with small populations. Meanwhile, the bottom ranks in our speed chart feature several countries with large populations — and therefore large mobile subscriber bases — that bring down the global 4G average. For instance, India and Indonesia both averaged 4G downloads below 10 Mbps. The large population of the U.S. was also a major contributing factor to our global speed benchmark.
At Opensignal, we've always considered a 4G availability score of 90% to be truly exceptional on the countrywide level. It means not just a single operator, but, on average, every operator in a country is able to provide an LTE connection to their 4G customers in nine out of every 10 attempts. In the history of our State of LTE report, only two countries, Japan and South Korea, have ever surpassed the 90% 4G availability mark. However, in our latest test period, two more countries and one territory made that leap: Norway, Hong Kong and the U.S. They could soon be joined by a sixth — the Netherlands was on the cusp with a 4G availability of 89.6%.
We didn't just track improvements in availability among the top 10. LTE reach continues to increase around the globe. In our last report, there were 20 countries that had LTE availability of 80% or higher, which is generally a sign of a mature 4G market with widespread access to LTE. Since then, Thailand, Belgium, Latvia, Finland, Canada, Uruguay, Denmark and Croatia have crossed over the 80% threshold, bringing the total number of countries to 30. In addition, 67% of the 88 countries we analyzed for this report had 4G availability scores higher than 70%.
We have to go to the bottom of our chart before we find countries in our analysis that failed to deliver an LTE connection more than 60% of the time. Most of those countries are still in the earlier stages of LTE development. For instance, Belarus debuted in this report with a 4G availability of 57% after operators there made substantial progress in 2017 in building out their LTE footprints. There were some notable underperforming countries in the lower reaches of our chart, though, for instance Ireland with a 4G availability of just 56.7%
In the Full Spectrum of Mobile Performance chart, we looked at 4G speed and 4G availability together to show just how far along these 88 countries were in their LTE development. Countries with high availability fall in the upper regions of our chart and those with faster speeds fall toward the right-hand side. Most countries are clustered in a large mass in the chart's center, averaging speeds between 15 Mbps and 30 Mbps and with a range of LTE availability scores between 65% and 85%. In general, Europe and other more developed economies around the world fall toward the upper right-hand side of that cluster, while developing economies in Latin America and Southeast Asia tend to fall in the grouping's lower left. The most interesting countries, though, are the outliers.
In the extreme upper-right-hand corner we find a group of countries we can call the LTE elite: South Korea and Singapore in Asia; and Norway, the Netherlands and Hungary in Europe. All five provide not only stunning LTE speeds, but an impressive level of LTE access — consumers can connect to 4G often and enjoy a broadband-level experience when doing so. In the upper left corner we find India and Thailand. Both countries provide far-reaching access to LTE signals, but in both cases their 4G networks lacked the capacity to deliver connection speeds much faster than 3G technologies.
At the top of the graph, Japan stands alone. This early 4G adopter's level of LTE availability may be breathtaking, and its speeds are by no means slow, but it is still well away from matching the LTE speeds of the elite countries. Japan still has the advantage over the U.S., Kuwait and Hong Kong, which are clustered to Japan's left. All three were in the top 10 in 4G availability, but capacity limitations restricted their speeds to the global average. In the lower reaches of the graph, we find many of the countries that are still in the midst of their first LTE network rollouts, hence their low availability scores. That didn't prevent those countries from offering impressive 4G speeds. Ecuador's average 4G download of 23.3 Mbps, for instance, was well ahead of the global benchmark, but our users there could find 4G network connections in only one out of every two attempts.
The stagnation we see in speed among the fastest LTE countries might seem concerning, but we won't have to wait for 5G to see top-line speeds start increasing once again. There are still plenty of enhancements left in the LTE standards that operators can tap into. We've already seen the earliest LTE adopters deploy so-called Gigabit LTE technologies and other upgrades designed to push the 4G envelope further. In our most recent Canada report, we found Telus offering average 4G downloads of 70 Mbps in Toronto and 62 Mbps in Montreal. In several South Korean and Northern European cities, we've seeing individual operators sporting average speeds well over 50 Mbps.
What's needed now is diffusion. The operators pioneering these advanced 4G iterations are rightly starting in the major cities — urban cores and highly trafficked zones where demand for fast mobile data is biggest. The smartphones and other devices that support these technologies are high end, with the latest generation baseband processors and sophisticated antenna configurations necessary to tap into these high-powered signals. Once these pioneering operators can prove the merit of these super-fast services — both from a technical and business standpoint — they'll begin extending these upgrades beyond major economic centers to smaller cities and towns. Their competitors will then follow in their wake, adopting the same technologies and rollout plans, and handset vendors will meet the increasing demand for higher-order connectivity by supporting these advanced capabilities. All of this will serve to raise the average speeds in these early adopter countries beyond 50 Mbps — and possibly much faster.
And what about the rest of the world? That technological diffusion will cross state borders as it has always done. Two years ago an average speed of 30 Mbps was unheard of except for in a handful of the advanced mobile countries. Now it's an achievable milestone for most countries in the developed world. In a few years, 40 Mbps will likely become as an achievable a goal in those some regions. In the meantime, global operators are keeping plenty busy expanding the reach of their 4G networks. That means when those faster connections finally come, far more people will have access to them far more often.
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