OpenSignal Insights

Big swings in urban 4G speeds highlight why the US needs 5G

Wildly seesawing 4G speeds throughout the day are common in U.S. cities. Over a 24-hour period consumers in major metro areas will often see their 4G Download Speeds drop by 20 Mbps or more as consumer demand increases and networks become more congested. It’s not a issue that should be taken lightly. The consistency of our network connections will determine the mobile content and services they are able to support. Developers are forced to design their apps for the slowest speeds seen throughout the day, which is precisely the time most consumers want to use those apps. Luckily 5G will provide some relief, and in the U.S. that relief will start arriving this year.

In Opensignal’s The 5G Opportunity report published today, we found that over 24 hours there were huge fluctuations in speed in countries all around the globe, an issue that 5G networks will help address by providing solid foundations of capacity that will help even out the peaks and troughs we see in speed over the day. Our analysis further found that cities stand to benefit most from this 5G infusion as the problems of consistency are exacerbated in urban areas. Cities are where the majority of mobile users live and where congestion levels often reach their zenith. We definitely see that trend playing out in the U.S. The hour-by-hour fluctuations in download speed are far bigger in the 20 largest cities in the U.S. than for the country as a whole.

US Cities Speed Range

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Owners of the newest, most popular iPhone don’t experience the best speeds

Two of the leading smartphone makers, Apple and Samsung, have both recently reported a slowing smartphone market because consumers are struggling to see the benefits of the latest models and are choosing to hold onto their existing smartphones.

But by choosing to keep a less capable older iPhone model – such as the iPhone 5s or 6 – consumers are unable to benefit from the latest network technologies launched by the carriers. In OpenSignal’s measurements they experience significantly slower mobile network speeds than those with newer iPhone models: in the U.S., iPhone 5s users experience 4G Download Speeds of just 10.2 Mbps compared with 21.7 Mbps for the latest iPhone XS Max.

For carriers, this slowing smartphone upgrade cycle also means the many millions spent deploying the latest mobile technologies only reaches a part of their customer base. The more consumers choose to postpone upgrading their phone, the greater the proportion of customers that own smartphones lacking the necessary technologies. For example, smartphones that only include older 4G standards – lower LTE Category numbers– cannot support the advanced techniques such as carrier aggregation that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are deploying.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 16.16.00

While it may seem obvious that owners of newer, larger and more highly specified iPhone models would enjoy a better mobile network experience, this is not shown for all models in OpenSignal’s data:

  • iPhone XR owners – the newest and most popular iPhone – don’t experience the best speed. iPhone XS and XS Max owners enjoy a significantly superior speed experience to those with the iPhone XR or those with older iPhone models in our measurements. OpenSignal predicted this improvement in iPhone XS network experience in the analysis we published ahead of Apple’s announcement of their 2018 models. This is because the iPhone XS models have a more capable modem than the XR and older iPhones. The design of LTE Category 16 modems aims to improve the efficiency of network performance as well as the maximum possible speeds.
  • iPhones launched between 2015 and 2017 see no network speed improvement.  Users with iPhone 6S, 7 and 8 experienced statistically identical 4G Download speeds, despite improved device specifications as the LTE capability rose from Category 6 to Category 12. While speeds may appear different, they are within the range of our confidence intervals. As a result, consumers considering upgrading their iPhone must look beyond specifications to consider measures of real-world experience to guide their decisions.
  • Users with larger “Plus” iPhone models do not experience better 4G speed. This is counterintuitive because larger devices have more room to include high grade antennas and should be better able to support the rising complexity of mobile networks with the growing numbers of frequency bands in use. But for each generation, the iPhone Plus has a statistical draw with the smaller model. For example, both iPhone 7 Plus OpenSignal users and those with the iPhone 7 experienced effectively the same 4G Download Speed allowing for the confidence intervals.  

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When we examine OpenSignal’s mobile analytics data, it reveals three main groups of iPhone models based on the mobile network experience of OpenSignal’s smartphone users:

  • New iPhone XS models with LTE Category 16. The industry made a big push around the importance of this particular advance, marketing it as “gigabit LTE”. While we are far from seeing real world speeds reach a gigabit, OpenSignal’s data does show that owners of iPhone XS and XS Max models experience by far the fastest 4G Download Speeds, which are 26% faster than the middle grouping of iPhone 6s, 7, 8, X and XR, and a tremendous 83% faster than the slowest grouping.
  • “Middle aged iPhones” which support LTE Category 6 – 12. These models include all iPhones released between 2015 and 2017, excluding the iPhone SE and including 2018’s iPhone XR. Our data shows they experience average 4G Download Speeds of 16.82 Mbps which is 4.4 Mbps slower than the latest iPhone XS models.
  • “Senior iPhone models”. The group of iPhone models where users experience the slowest speeds includes not only the oldest models from 2013, but also 2016’s iPhone SE, which remains on sale in some markets. Owners of iPhone models in this group experienced average speeds of just 11.6 Mbps according to our data, or 9.7 Mbps slower than the XS range, and will see the biggest improvement if they switch to a more capable model.

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When we examine 4G Upload Speeds, we see a very similar trend. Owners of an iPhone XS or XS Max experience measured by OpenSignal faster upload speeds than owners of older models. This means they will be able to share videos or photos more easily while using a mobile network.

With both 4G download and upload experience we see a difference between the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS. This highlights how the choice of modem, chipset and antenna design influence the mobile network experience that consumers receive.

See how your iPhone’s mobile network experience compares:
Download the OpenSignal or Meteor app for iPhone and run a test.

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Why confidence intervals are vital in analyzing mobile network experience

In the world of scientific experiments there is no such thing as an exact measurement. Instead, the standard scientific approach is to deal in degrees of confidence. Things we have greater confidence in are things that we can state to a higher degree of precision, but no matter how well we measure something it will never get to the point where it can be stated as an absolute number. Scientists represent this level of precision with what is known as “confidence intervals”, a standard that has been adopted in all industries and domains across the globe. One of the best-known examples of confidence intervals in everyday life are the margins of error that are typically disclosed in opinion polls.

So what are confidence intervals? They represent the range in which the true value is very likely to be, taking into account the entire pool of data measurements. Confidence intervals aren’t set in stone at a specific range, they’re determined for each set of data by a number of factors: most prominently, the number of measurements and the variability of those measurements. So the more data measurements for a particular metric, the closer the confidence intervals will be to the average value. Likewise, if measurements do not vary much, the confidence intervals will be small. So, the smaller the confidence intervals, the better. If confidence intervals for two comparable values overlap, this means there is no meaningful difference between these two values — so this result is a “draw”.

Anyone who ignores any level of uncertainty of measurements — such as confidence intervals — is potentially drawing spurious and misleading conclusions. At OpenSignal, we strongly believe in treating operators fairly so where any results are statistically not significantly different we declare a “draw” rather than incorrectly declaring a winner. We calculate our confidence intervals using a standard statistical approach, and include them as part of our commitment to report robust and transparent information based on our data. Continue reading

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Amsterdam tops Europe’s rugby cities for 4G video loading

This month sees the start of the 6 Nations rugby championship  — one of the oldest competitions in the sport featuring the cream of European rugby union. And from the moment these games kick off, there will be millions of fans looking to stream live video feeds and highlights to their mobile phones across the continent. But how many of these fans wanting to see the top tries and tackles will be frustrated by waiting for their mobile videos to load?

OpenSignal’s 4G video load time metric measures the average time it takes from pressing play to load the initial video buffer and display the first frame. Video loading is linked to our 4G latency and 4G download and upload measurements, and forms part of our first-of-its-kind Video Experience metric.

The 6 Nations includes the crème de la crème of European rugby — but how do these countries perform compared to their European rugby peers? OpenSignal has selected 15 cities that are home to the top 15 international teams in European rugby (based on the World Rugby rankings, 07 Jan 2019) to see how they compare for video load time experience over 4G networks. And the bad news for the top-tier 6 Nations teams — England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales — is that their home cities fared pretty poorly compared to their neighbours.

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NFL underdogs win OpenSignal Mobile Video Experience Super Bowl

Even as traditional TV ratings decline, Super Bowl LIII could find plenty of new viewers on mobile phones this year. The NFL and its media partners have lifted virtually all restrictions on watching the big game on smartphones or tablets. Official Super Bowl broadcaster CBS will offer free access without registration to every tackle and down through its CBS Sports app and website, while the NFL and Yahoo Sports will carry their own free streams on their respective mobile apps. Given the recent renaissance in unlimited data plans in the U.S., there are also far fewer financial barriers this year for mobile consumers wanting to stream the Super Bowl from kickoff to trophy presentation.

This year’s showdown between the Rams and Patriots should be the most watched Super Bowl on mobile devices ever. Given that, we thought it would be fun to pit the NFL markets against one another, but not in a contest of football prowess. Rather we compared the mobile video experience offered in the 29 U.S. metro areas that host one or more NFL teams. In OpenSignal’s Video Experience Bowl, the winner is the city that will likely support the best possible mobile video quality when streaming the Super Bowl itself.

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The Race for Network Leadership is Heating Up in OpenSignal’s latest U.S. Mobile Network Experience Report

Today marks the seventh time we release our semi-annual industry report on the state of mobile networks in the U.S. And what a report it is!  

We’ve seen major moves from Verizon (winning 3 out of 5 awards) with T-Mobile hot on their heels and AT&T and Sprint playing catch up. Video is an important new addition to our U.S. report — with US operators improving but still behind when compared to their global neighbors.  And while everyone is talking 5G, 4G availability in the U.S. is at an all-time high, as more mobile users are able to connect to LTE signals than ever before.

Additionally, the report includes a deep dive into the regional performance of the four national operators, casting an eagle eye at 57 cities across the U.S. While most of the results mirror our national scores, we’ve also seen some very impressive numbers, especially in Download Speed Experience, where multiple metro areas saw their scores rise above 30 Mbps.

NYC regional analysis USA 2019 01

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Mobile latency improvements help Germany’s challengers take on Telekom’s dominance

According to OpenSignal’s analysis of Latency Experience in Germany, there have been some notable improvements on the networks of some of the key operators over the second half of 2018. And these improvements are allowing Germany’s other operators to challenge the dominance of market leader Telekom.

Our Latency Experience metric is calculated as an average of the individual 3G and 4G latency measurements based on the proportion of time OpenSignal users spend connected to each network type. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network. Read more information on our metrics and methodology.

Our measurements in Germany found that O2 has shown the greatest improvement in its Latency Experience since the middle of 2018, falling from 54ms in the 90-day sample period of May-July to 50ms in October-December — an improvement of over 7% in six months. Our analysis shows Telekom’s Latency Experience improved by 2ms (or 4.6%) in the same period, while leader Vodafone stayed almost flat, with less than 1ms change in its score. In the October-December period there was less than 1ms separating Telekom and Vodafone’s Latency Experience scores, according to our measurements.

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India’s 4G download speeds are up to 4.5 times faster at night

OpenSignal has measured 4G download speeds across 20 of India’s largest cities and observed that smartphone users experience varying speeds depending on the city they live in: while Navi Mumbai scored 8.1 Mbps in average LTE download speed in our measurements, Allahabad came last with an average of 4.0 Mbps – half the speed.


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Understanding mobile experience in the growth continent of Africa

Across Africa, the download speeds experienced by smartphone users vary greatly, even for countries with similar 4G availability. While users in South Africa, Morocco, Senegal and Kenya connect to 4G signals on average between 72% and 75% of the time, download speeds vary from just 4.4 Mbps in Senegal to 14.4 Mbps in South Africa. This wide difference is because of a number of factors including the capacity of cell site backhaul most commonly used – microwave links are common in Africa yet support fewer users at high speed than fibre links – as well as the number of users and the quantity of mobile video consumption.

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Understanding mobile network experience: What do OpenSignal’s metrics mean?

In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into the very core of OpenSignal: explaining the metrics we use, what they all mean and what their roles are in measuring the real-world mobile network experience as users see it.

How do we collect the data in the first place?

We collect and analyze more than 3 billion measurements every day, from more than 100 million smartphones across the world. We collect data every day of the week, at all hours and in all the places people live, work and travel: no simulations, no predictions, no idealized testing conditions. Our data comes from actual smartphone users and we report users’ actual network experience, whether they are indoors or out, bustling in a busy city or trekking in the countryside.

We collect the vast majority of our data via automated tests that run in the background, enabling us to report on users’ real-world mobile experience at the largest scale and frequency in the industry. These automated tests are run at random points in time and therefore represent the typical experience available to a user at any given moment.

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