Mobile networks overtake WiFi for download speed


Mobile operators and smartphone makers must re-evaluate their WiFi strategies

There has 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, smartphones have routinely jumped on the nearest known WiFi connection, using it in preference to 2G, 3G or 4G mobile networks for data.

However OpenSignal, a mobile analytics company, has delved deeper with its new study, the State of WiFi vs Mobile Network Experience, and its analysis 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.

In 33 countries smartphone users now experience faster average download speeds using a mobile network than using WiFi according to OpenSignal. OpenSignal concluded that 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.

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 speeds 13Mbps faster on mobile than WiFi, and France (+2.5Mbps) to markets across every continent, for example: Qatar (+11.8Mbps); Turkey (+7.3Mbps); Mexico (+1.5Mbps) and South Africa (+5.7Mbps).

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

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 fibre to the premise (FTTP).


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