SA among world's most consistent for 4G download speeds

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SA's slowest and fastest 4G download speeds throughout the day only differed by 40%, according to Opensignal research.
SA's slowest and fastest 4G download speeds throughout the day only differed by 40%, according to Opensignal research.

South Africa is one of the world's most consistent countries when comparing the difference between the slowest and fastest 4G download speeds that mobile users experience throughout the day.

This is according to the latest global analysis from mobile analytics company, Opensignal*.

Opensignal found SA was one of the most stable countries in terms of its time-of-day analysis.

"South Africa's slowest and fastest speeds throughout the day only differed by 40%, meaning consumers likely see only small differences in speeds even during busy demand periods. That put SA on par with South Korea, Norway and the Netherlands in terms of consistency," Opensignal told ITWeb.

Opensignal independently measures the true experience consumers receive on wireless networks across every major network operator around the globe. The latest research, which ITWeb was given access to ahead of its official release, analysed 77 countries including SA, and the data was collected between 1 January and 31 December 2018.

"The 4G networks we enjoy today are light years beyond the 3G networks that kicked off the mobile data revolution at the turn of the millennium, but they have their faults. The biggest among them are inconsistency and congestion," the report says.

Across the hours of the day, Opensignal's analysis shows the enormous extent to which 4G speeds drop when most people are awake, using their smartphones and wanting a great mobile data experience. This fall in speeds indicates the pressure from millions of simultaneous users with which operators must cope.

"Today's 4G networks suffer from huge fluctuations in speed throughout the course of a day. Depending on the country, the 4G download speed a user experiences at one hour could be as much as 30Mbps faster than speed experience just a few hours later," according to Opensignal.

While some countries, like SA, offered much more consistency in speed than others, every country had some degree of speed fluctuation throughout the day.

The most consistent country was the Czech Republic, where the difference between best 4G download speed and worst speed over 24 hours was only 20%. While the most consistent countries included several established 4G powerhouses in Asia and Europe as well as Qatar, SA and Canada.

Speed queens

South Korea has the fastest 4G download speed of the 77 countries analysed at 55.7Mbps and its slowest speed is a whopping 40.8Mbps. Even though there was a significant variation in their speeds hour by hour, South Korea and Singapore (41.4Mbps to 54.7Mbps) were the only countries where users averaged more than 40Mbps at all times of the day.

The most extreme examples of hourly variation included Switzerland, where the average 4G download speed yo-yoed between 29.2Mbps and 55.5Mbps throughout the course of 24 hours, while in Belarus that range was even bigger, seesawing between 7.8Mbps to 39.1Mbps.

When looking at SA, the 4G download speed ranged from 17.5Mbps to 24.5Mbps during the slowest to fastest times of the day, making it the fastest of the African countries measured. South Africa's slowest speed was actually faster than the slowest speed in the United States of 15.3Mbps, although the US beat SA in terms of its fastest speed of 28.8Mbps.

In North Africa, Egypt's download speeds ranged from 13.7Mbps to 22.8Mbps and Morocco ranged from 11.8Mbps to 24.4Mbps. Nigeria was even slower at between 9.5Mbps and 16.2Mbps, while Algeria's slowest speed of 2.6Mbps was the worst in the world. However, Algeria's top download speed of 16.4Mbps still beat the fastest speeds in Thailand (11.7Mbps), India (14.6Mbps) and Nigeria (16.2Mbps).

The top five countries in terms of 4G download speed experienced at the fastest hour were: South Korea, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Singapore and Norway. The slowest five were Thailand, India, Nigeria, Algeria and Bangladesh.

All five African countries measured ranked in the bottom quarter of the 77 countries measured when it came to fastest speed during the day.

The slowest time of day tends to be in the evening, but varies between countries. While most countries experience the slowest speeds in the evening, between 9pm and 11pm, there were notable exceptions. For example, smartphone users in Singapore and Norway saw speeds slowed much earlier at 6pm and in the UK and the Netherlands the peak periods were even earlier, 5pm and 4pm respectively, overlapping the working day.

The fastest average speed was found at 3am when 4G downloads were at 22.1Mbps. In comparison, the slowest hour on average was 9pm when speeds were at just 11.9Mbps.

Like most countries in the world, SA's slowest time of the day for downloads was 9pm. This was also the slowest time for African peer Nigeria. Algeria and Egypt's slowest time was 10pm and Morocco's was 11pm.

In terms of specific cities, users in Paris, France experienced the greatest range of 4G download speeds, fluctuating between 21.5Mbps and 51.4Mbps in a 24-hour period, followed by Sydney, Australia and Santiago, Chile.

Interestingly, New York's fastest hour for 4G speed of 40.8Mbps was in a virtual dead heat with the 40.6Mbps Seoul in Korea experiences at its slowest hour of the day. But Seoul's slowest hour of day is still faster than the fastest hour of day in Taipei (38.2Mbps), London (38.3Mbps) and 21 other cities analysed, including Johannesburg. Johannesburg's download speeds on 4G ranged from 16.2Mbps to 26.2Mbps, with an average speed of 22.6Mbps experienced.

5G promises

Opensignal believes 5G will solve the congestion problems of today's 4G networks shown in the new data.

"5G will add new capacities to help with these wide time-of-day speed variations. 5G won't just deliver faster speeds. 5G will provide a blanket of capacity, built using new high-bandwidth, high-frequency spectrum bands that will help mitigate the daily cycle of congestion we see on today's 4G networks. These 5G services will support more simultaneous users at very fast speeds," Opensignal says.

The mobile analytics company believes that even the fastest 4G countries need 5G to counter big drops in speeds at busy times. In the fastest two countries in Opensignal's analysis, South Korea and Singapore, users experienced a speed gap of 13Mbps between fastest and slowest hours, despite the two highest average 4G download speeds measured of 55.7Mbps and 54.7Mbps respectively.

The report says "tremendous speed volatility is untenable for future mobile applications".

"To launch all the most demanding new applications, such as augmented reality or autonomous driving, operators and app developers must be able to break free from today's limitations where they are forced to create services and apps for the worst-case congestion conditions. The world needs new 5G networks to offer increased capacity, and more consistent speeds to sustain new innovations."

* As of late February 2019, the company has changed the spelling of its name from OpenSignal to Opensignal; however, OpenSignal is the correct spelling for its app.

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