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The independent global standard for measuring

real-world mobile network experience

The State of Wifi vs


Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives
November 2018

By Ian Fogg,
VP Analysis

Report Facts

Report Location Sample Period Measurements Unique Devices

Global Aug 5 - Nov 3, 2018 63,223,150,678 7,788,215


Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Key Findings
Landscape In 33 countries smartphone users now experience faster average download speeds
using a mobile network than using Wifi according to OpenSignal mobile analytics.

The range of countries where mobile proves faster vary widely from richer countries
such as Australia, where the benefit of using mobile was greatest where
smartphone users experienced average download speeds13 Mbps faster on mobile
than Wifi, and France (+2.5 Mbps) to markets across every continent, for example:
Qatar (+11.8 Mbps); Turkey (+7.3 Mbps); Mexico (+1.5 Mbps) and South Africa
(+5.7 Mbps).

In three highly developed geographies – Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA – the
mobile experience bucks the global trend and significantly underperforms compared
with smartphone users’ Wifi download experience with a slower mobile experience
of -38.6 Mbps, -34 Mbps and -25 Mbps respectively.

The time smartphones spend connected to Wifi has no significant correlation with
users experiencing faster Wifi speeds relative to those on mobile, because
smartphones will automatically connect to known Wifi networks without including
speed as a factor in their decision.

Outlook Newer mobile network technology increases mobile’s superiority: In 50 countries,


63% of those studied, 4G networks offer a faster smartphone download experience
than Wifi, up from 41% of countries when compared with overall mobile download
experience instead of 4G.

Just seven countries saw a faster experience on 3G, and even in those countries
the speed advantage of a 3G mobile experience was modest, at best an increase of
3Mbps in Lebanon.

5G will accelerate the advantage of mobile technology because of the pace of


mobile innovation and the dependency of Wifi network experiences on the quality of
fixed network broadband deployments which are slow and expensive to upgrade
with fiber to the premise (FTTP).

Implications Mobile operators and smartphone makers must re-evaluate their Wifi strategies,
especially around mobile offload, automatic network selection and indoor coverage,
to ensure they do not accidentally push consumers’ smartphones onto a Wifi
network with a worse experience than the mobile network.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


2 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Background:
Why everyone has believed Wifi to be superior to cellular

There’s long been an industry assumption that Wifi is better than mobile networks in almost every
way. As a result, ever since the arrival of the earliest iPhone and Android smartphones around ten
years ago, smartphones have routinely jumped on the nearest known Wifi connection and used it in
preference to 2G, 3G or 4G mobile networks for data.

But now new OpenSignal mobile analytics indicates that mobile is no longer inferior to Wifi in every
regard and the mobile industry must change a number of design decisions as a result.

The reason early modern smartphones made the choice to stop using cellular for data if a usable Wifi
hotspot was nearby is simple to understand given the situation back then.

Ten years ago, Wifi:

- Was faster than mobile almost all of the time. The first iPhone only used slow 2G networks
— so of course, Wifi backed by ADSL or cable modems running at many Mbps was faster.
Even for later iPhones or Android smartphones, the mobile networks back in 2008/9 were
only 3G, and were often overloaded by the sudden surge of smartphone sales.

- Was cheaper, always. Wifi in the home or office had no marginal cost for the users, but often
mobile networks charged more for plans with more data volume or in some cases for the
privilege of even having any mobile data.

- Had much greater capacity. With the exception of those on initial iPhone plans with
unlimited data, smartphone users had to confront limited data volumes on mobile, but
unlimited data when they connected to Wifi. And, many of the mobile operators that initially
offered “unlimited” data with the iPhone soon backtracked.

Wifi was so important when the iPhone launched that some of the initial batch of exclusive iPhone
mobile operators bundled a free public Wifi access plan with the iPhone mobile tariff, for example O2
in the UK and AT&T in the US.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


3 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Landscape:
In 33 countries, or 41% of those analyzed by OpenSignal,
mobile delivers a faster download experience than Wifi

The world has changed dramatically since the dawn of the modern smartphone:

- 4G networks have launched. This new network generation has dramatically boosted the
quality of smartphone users’ experience.

- Almost everyone now owns a smartphone. In mature smartphone markets, this is leading
to concern of lower smartphone shipments affecting the revenues of smartphone makers.

- Mobile video consumption has exploded. Smartphones have become a mainstream way
to watch TV, to such an extent that Netflix is even trialling mobile-only tariff plans and
OpenSignal has pioneered new mobile video experience analytics.

Yet, the perception that mobile networks are inferior to Wifi has persisted, wrongly.

OpenSignal’s mobile analytics data demonstrates that in 41% of the 80 countries OpenSignal studied
for this report – representing 33 countries – the average mobile download speed experienced by
smartphone users is now faster on mobile networks than on Wifi.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


4 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Across countries there is an enormous range of download speeds experienced

The countries where mobile offers a faster download experience for smartphone users cover a wide
range of categories of country. As a result, it appears to be hard to categorize this set of countries:
They range from richer markets with industrialized economies such as Australia, the Czech Republic,
Austria and France… to countries across every continent, and a wide range of demographics,
income, state of development such as UAE, Turkey, Kenya, Myanmar and Mexico.

Wifi download speed Overall mobile download speed

31.1
Hungary
31.7

5.2
Bangladesh
5.1

34.3
Belgium
33.5

43.9
Norway
42.8

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
(Mbps)

In four countries – Hungary, Bangladesh, Belgium and Norway – there is no significant difference
between the Wifi and mobile download speeds that smartphone users experience. We consider these

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


5 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

countries to be “dead heats” because the difference between the experience of Wifi and cellular is
within the statistical confidence intervals we have calculated.

Such an equivalent download experience means:

- There is no “speed reason” for smartphone users to switch network type. When one
type of network is faster, then users may choose to manually switch to that network type for
the greater speed. But when the performance is similar on both Wifi and cellular, consumers
have no reason to override their smartphone’s automatic choice.

- Wifi experience is not being held back by fixed broadband quality. Most Wifi depends on
the quality of a home or office broadband connection. Therefore, if that fixed network is slow,
or otherwise performs poorly, then it will become a bottleneck which also affects the Wifi
experience.

- Mobile operators are using fixed networks effectively to support cellular networks.
Raising mobile network capacity, and hence usable speed, often involves deploying more
fiber optic cable to each cell site to improve “backhaul” capacity. Or, in other words, fiber
improves the ability of the site to support more simultaneous smartphone users. Deploying
fiber to cell sites tends to be easier in locations where there is already a high-quality fixed
network that has been widely deployed for other reasons, for example to connect homes or
offices.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


6 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Wifi offers smartphone users a faster experience in countries where fixed


networks are relatively strong

Argentina 11.5
11.1
Paraguay 7.68.3
Finland 25.9
24.9
Peru 9.410.4
Indonesia 6.78.0
Philippines 6.37.6 Wifi download speed
Sri Lanka 9.2 10.5
Cambodia 5.97.4
Brazil 12.313.9 Overall mobile download speed
Jordan 9.6 12.0 19.9
Italy 17.4
Bulgaria 20.4 23.3
India 5.8 9.6
Kazakhstan 10.6 14.5
Malaysia 10.4 15.0
Uruguay 14.2 19.1
Vietnam 11.6 17.0
Canada 31.6 37.1
Spain 22.9 28.4
Denmark 32.4 38.6
Poland 15.8 22.1
Netherlands 37.1 43.8
New Zealand 27.2 33.9
Portugal 19.3 26.5
Germany 19.7 27.9
Switzerland 32.3 41.4
Sweden 27.3 37.1
Chile 11.5 21.4
Ireland 15.2 25.3
China 13.8 23.9
Panama 7.3 17.7
Belarus 8.2 19.0
South Korea 45.0 56.3
United Kingdom 19.0 30.8
Ukraine 10.0 21.9
Japan 29.1 41.0
Russian Federation 10.7 22.9
Israel 12.7 27.0
Romania 19.1 35.6
Thailand 6.6 26.3
United States of America 17.2 42.4
Singapore 38.8 72.8
Hong Kong 14.7 53.3

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
(Mbps)

Today, there are still many countries where Wifi continues to offer a faster download experience for
smartphone users, although this is likely to change as newer mobile network generations launch
imminently.

Smartphone users’ Wifi experience depends not just on the quality of the Wifi but also on the fixed
network which Wifi depends upon for Internet access. The quality of fixed networks varies greatly
across countries. Typically, fixed connections will be provided by a telecom operator or cable TV
provider using technologies such as ADSL; hybrid fiber solutions such as VDSL, or DOCSIS; and in
relatively rare occasions in most countries a fully fiber option connection connects a home or office.

Wifi also has its own special challenges such as congestion of the unlicensed airwaves which Wifi
uses, as anyone can operate a Wifi network in the same location at the same time, leading to
unpredictable and often poor Wifi performance. Often, in busy urban locations there can be ten to
twenty active Wifi networks all trying to use the same spectrum.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


7 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

By comparison, mobile networks operate in spectrum where the operator pays a fee, or license, to
have the exclusive use of a set of frequencies which should in theory make the network experience
more predictable and consistent than Wifi.

However, these Wifi challenges due to unlicensed spectrum use apply in every country. As a result,
they are not likely to have caused the wide differences in the relative download experience delivered
by mobile networks and Wifi to smartphone users which OpenSignal’s analytics demonstrates.

Smartphone users do not spend more time on Wifi where the Wifi experience
is better

Time on Wifi vs Relative speed of Wifi / mobile


80
Correlation -0.15
70

60

50
Time on Wifi (%)

40

30

20

10

0
-60 -40 -20 0 20
Wifi speed relative to mobile speed (Mbps)

OpenSignal analyzed numerous factors to understand why smartphone users spent longer connected
to Wifi. Intriguingly, we found no significant correlation between having a relatively faster download or
upload experience on Wifi and smartphones spending longer connected to Wifi networks. On this
measure, a strong correlation is represented by a value near to either +1 or -1, while a figure close to
0 indicates little or no correlation.

This lack of connection between having a better Wifi experience than mobile, and smartphones
spending longer connected to Wifi, is most likely because modern smartphones automatically connect
to known Wifi networks without asking the user. Smartphone designers made this decision long ago
because they assumed that Wifi connectivity was superior to mobile networks.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


8 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Per capita GDP is a better indicator of Time on Wifi than relative speeds

However, there is a correlation between higher per capita GDP and more time spent on Wifi. This is
because the Time on Wifi metric is more affected by the presence of a suitable Wifi network than by
consumers’ decisions to connect each time to Wifi. And Wifi is more likely to be present in countries
with more developed infrastructure overall because both mobile networks and individual consumers
are more able to invest.

Degree of linear correlation with Time on Wifi

GDP per capita (nominal) 0.45

LTE availability 0.29

Mobile upload speed difference -0.17

Mobile download speed difference -0.15

Mobile upload speed 0.50

Mobile download speed 0.54

WiFi download speed 0.46

-0.20 0.00 0.20 0.40 0.60

Source: OpenSignal (11/2018) & GDP data from World Bank.

There is also a correlation between other indicators of a more developed country infrastructure that is
linked to higher GDP levels, such as: overall average mobile upload and download speeds; overall
Wifi download speeds; and LTE availability which indicates the time smartphones spend connected to
LTE rather than older mobile network technology generations.

Time on Wifi vs GDP per capita


70

60

50
Time on Wifi (%)

40

30

20

10

0
0 20,000 40,000 60,000 80,000 100,000
GDP per capita ($)

Source: OpenSignal (11/2018) & GDP data from World Bank.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


9 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Upload speed experience trend mostly follows download

Difference between mobile and Wifi


upload/download speed by country (Mbps)
10

Download
0 difference
-40 -30 -20 -10 0 10 20 (Mbps)

-10

-20

-30
(Upload difference Mbps)

In most countries where smartphone


users experienced faster download
speeds on mobile networks, they also
experienced faster upload speeds on
mobile. In only four countries did
smartphone users experience faster
downloads, but not also faster upload
speeds.

For consumers keen to share large video


or many photos, in seven countries
smartphone users enjoyed faster upload
speeds on mobile even though they did
not also have a superior download
experience.

There is a strong relationship between the


upload and download experience because
both are covered by the same cellular or
Wifi standards. Usually, improving the download experience also leads to an improvement in upload,
although upload speeds are normally slower than download on cellular networks.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


10 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

With LTE, in 63% of countries smartphone users enjoy faster download speeds
on mobile than on Wifi

Number of Mbps that LTE download is faster than Wifi for smartphones

Lebanon 25.0
Oman 18.4
Qatar 18.1
Australia 17.5
Greece 17.0
Serbia 16.2
Ecuador 16.0
Myanmar 15.2
Turkey 15.0
Czech Republic 14.2
Iran 13.8
Croatia 13.6
Egypt 13.2
Tunisia 12.6
Bolivia 12.6
South Africa 12.2
Guatemala 10.3
Kenya 9.9
United Arab Emirates 9.5
France 9.4
Colombia 9.3
Morocco 9.0
Sri Lanka 8.8
Dominican Republic 8.6
Austria 8.4
Pakistan 8.1
Mexico 8.0
Costa Rica 7.9
Bulgaria 7.6
Uzbekistan 7.1
Bangladesh 7.0
Slovakia 6.3
Saudi Arabia 5.8
Hungary 5.2
Brazil 4.5
Taiwan 4.4
Belgium 4.2
Kuwait 4.1
Algeria 3.8
Paraguay 3.5
Finland 3.3
Vietnam 2.9
Italy 2.8
Peru 2.4
Jordan 2.1
Argentina 2.0
Philippines 2.0
Kazakhstan 1.1
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
(Mbps)

With 4G, or LTE, there is a much longer list of countries where smartphone users have a faster
download experience on mobile networks than on Wifi. In Australia, on average smartphone users
receive 17.5 Mbps greater speed on LTE than on Wifi. There are similar increases across the board.

The countries where smartphone users have a faster mobile experience using 4G, but do not overall
on mobile, include major mobile markets such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Finland, and Vietnam.

There are a number of reasons why the cellular experience is faster:

- Relative ease of cellular deployments. It’s easier and usually cheaper to roll out new
cellular standards fast and improve cell site backhaul than it is to run fiber to every premise to
enable faster Wifi Internet access. Laying new fiber often requires special planning
permission, and requires a significant amount of labour to lay in existing ducts or poles, and
often requires new digging.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


11 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

- Smartphone design priorities do not focus on Wifi. Smartphones are extremely


complicated devices with enormous pressures to include almost every conceivable
technology in a tiny volume, with a low weight, without using too much battery power, and
without adding too much to the bill of materials cost. Smartphone makers must make trade-
offs and decide where to focus. And smartphone Wifi antennas and other Wifi hardware has
been a lower priority than almost all other parts of smartphone hardware designs such as
cellular modems, cellular antennas, display, audio, etc.

- 5 Ghz effect. Many smartphones do not work on 5 Ghz Wifi, so are limited by congestion on
the extremely busy 2.4 Ghz unlicensed spectrum band also used for Wifi.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


12 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Outlook:
New mobile network generations will increase mobile’s
advantage

On third generation mobile networks there are very few countries where mobile delivers a faster
download experience than Wifi for smartphone users. Older mobile network technology offers lower
maximum throughput speeds, with a theoretical maximum download speed of just 0.042 Gbps –
compared with 1.4 Gbps for current 4G LTE technology – despite numerous improvements from the
original 3G standard, released in 1999. Smartphone users’ average speeds are also considerably
lower on 3G than on more modern mobile network generations.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


13 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

5G will follow past 3G to 4G evolution trend and accelerate mobile experience

4G LTE networks enable smartphone users to experience much faster download speeds than do 3G
networks. This is why there are now so many countries where on average mobile delivers a faster
experience than does Wifi for smartphone users.

The pace of innovation is faster in the mobile industry than in almost any other industry. This will
continue with 5G rollouts which help mobile to leapfrog the experience of Wifi in countries where

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


14 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

operators are slow to roll out full fiber to the premise connections because of capital cost concerns or
logistical issues such as planning approvals.

New 5G networks offer many advantages for mobile broadband which smartphone users will benefit
from, including:

- Greater speeds, especially peak speed. Operators are targeting usable speeds in the
range of 1-3 Gbps with 5G technologies.

- Tremendous capacity increase. Many of the new frequency bands are high frequency,
which offers a lot more capacity to support more smartphone users; or, in practice, because
the number of smartphone users has plateaued, a lot more data consumption per smartphone
user at higher speed.

- More spectrum choices. As new frequencies arrive, mobile operators look to utilize the most
efficient technology, which is now 5G New Radio (5G NR). Some of the new bands such as
those targeted by T-Mobile US – for example 600 Mhz – will deliver wide high quality mobile
broadband coverage; others in the mmWave, which is the focus of other US operators such
as Verizon and AT&T as well as many Asian operators, will deliver extremely high speed and
capacity but as it requires almost line of sight, it will be poor for indoor use. In Europe,
operators’ focus is mostly on “midband” 3.4-3.6 Ghz which offers a compromise between
above fairly high capacity and reasonably good coverage.

State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


15 November 2018
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Implications:
Operators must re-evaluate how to position mobile and Wifi
Now mobile often offers a faster experience than Wifi, everyone must re-think when and how to use
Wifi to complement the mobile experience. In countries where Wifi is slow, there will be one major
less reason for consumers to choose Wifi over cellular for the best experience.

Operators must re-evaluate their Wifi assumptions:

- Operators must become smarter with Wifi offload strategies. If not, they risk worsening
aspects of their users’ experience, rather than improving it. There will be ongoing cost and
capacity reasons for offload, but operators must take care on execution.

- Relying only on Wifi for indoor experience will not be viable. Consumers will increasingly
override their smartphone’s automatic Wifi choice, and instead select cellular, to find the
fastest download speed. If when they switch off Wifi they find the mobile experience to be
poor, it will reduce satisfaction levels. Operators need to deliver good in-building mobile
network coverage to be successful.

- Devices will connect to Wifi and mobile at once. Assumptions that users will connect to
one network type at a time should be shelved, because smartphone designs will increasingly
allow the use of both Wifi and mobile network technologies simultaneously to deliver the
fastest data experience. Samsung already offers this feature on its flagship smartphones, and
it will become a more common option.

Wifi will continue to co-exist with mobile, but the relationship will change

Over the years, the position of Wifi and mobile technology has been presented by many vendors and
industry experts as a struggle to the death. The reality is that both will survive because Wifi continues
to have a few useful benefits over mobile technology.

Wifi’s ongoing advantages will be:

- Lower cost. Wifi uses free unlicensed spectrum and Wifi hardware is cheap and widely
adopted.

- Wide support across categories. Wifi is a ubiquitous feature across all mobile, smartphone
and most smart wearable devices.

- Capacity. While Wifi is constrained by congestion on unlicensed spectrum and by the fixed
networks which enable Wifi to connect onto the Internet, many Wifi networks have less limits
on capacity than busy mobile base stations at high traffic locations.

Wifi no longer has a guaranteed advantage over mobile in the speed experience it offers smartphone
users. With 5G, there will be many more countries where mobile delivers a faster experience than
Wifi. But Wifi still has a role.
State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives
16 November 2018
Our Methodology | Our Metrics

Operators, device makers and consumers need to alter the relationship they have with Wifi and
mobile to reflect the improvements in the mobile experience now and in the immediate 5G future.

About OpenSignal

OpenSignal, a mobile analytics company, is the independent global standard for measuring real-world
mobile network experience. Using billions of measurements collected from tens of millions of
smartphones, we analyze real-world mobile network experience at the largest scale and frequency in
the wireless industry: by operator and by country, regionally and worldwide. We believe measuring
how the network performs directly through users’ eyes is key to building better wireless networks. Our
insights are used across the industry by mobile operators, telecoms regulators, equipment
manufacturers and analysts.

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State of Wifi vs Mobile Network Experience as 5G Arrives


17 November 2018