LTE. Usually quicker than its predecessor, 3G, the 4G standard is being heavily marketed to consumers as carriers around the world upgrade their networks and infrastructure to accommodate higher data consumption and increased connectivity. However, even as subscribers adopt the new technology -- and pricing to match -- there is a broad range of experiences when it boils down to download speed, the proportion of time spent using LTE, and overall customer satisfaction.
Network monitor OpenSignal has released new data examining the state of LTE networks worldwide, reminding us that just because next-generation wireless networks are established does not mean they remain stable or constant.
According to OpenSignal's data, as operators roll out new areas and make improvements, an increase in subscribers can make networks creak under the strain -- lowering average download speeds. As shown in the chart below, which documents the change in speed over a year, increased adoption can result in service deterioration.
While many average country 4G network download speeds have stayed the same, others have made substantial progress. Australia's average speed, for example, increased 42 percent to 24.5Mbps, and Japan improved by 66 percent, bringing average 4G speeds to 11.8Mbps. The quickest network was Claro Brazil with 27.8Mbps, but the roll out is far from complete and coverage is extremely limited.
The U.S. is performing poorly. Despite continual infrastructure improvements, OpenSignal says that average speeds have fallen 32 percent to 6.5Mbps, which is one of the slowest averages worldwide. The only country with even slower speeds was the Philippines at 5.3Mbps.
But how does the user experience fit in? Coverage -- and the proportion of time a user has access to the LTE network -- is also important, and so the researchers have provided a metric based on typical coverage experienced by a user based on area demand.
South Korea is performing best, with the average user experiencing LTE 91 percent of the time. The best performing individual network is in Sweden, Tele 2, where users experience 4G 93 percent of the time. While the U.S. performs poorly in terms of speed, the country performs well on this coverage metric -- with users experiencing LTE coverage 67 percent of the time.
According to OpenSignal, 4G networks provided by U.S. carriers vary wildly in both speed and time spent on the networks:
Time spent on LTE networks: 76.8 percent
Average download speeds: 7.82Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 50.9 percent
Average download speeds: 4.32Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 59.2 percent
Average download speeds: 11.5Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 68.5 percent
Average download speeds: 9.12Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 57.2 percent
Average download speeds: 3.23Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 49.5 percent
Average download speeds: 4.05Mbps
Time spent on LTE networks: 84.7 percent
Average download speeds: 2.43Mbps
Unsurprisingly, LTE is one of the fastest wireless technologies currently available -- although research is being conducted for even quicker connections. Google, for example, is currently trying to develop networks capable of supporting Internet speeds of 10Gbps, which is ten times faster than Google Fiber.
As of February 2014 there are 76 countries with LTE currently active, but there is a lot of scope for expansion -- especially in Africa, a continent which currently lags behind in modern cellular technologies.