Brits have the lowest mobile download speed among G7 users

New report on mobile experience from Opensignal shows the UK has the lowest average download speed among the G7 countries, and it has barely improved since a year ago.

The user experience measurement company has just published its 2020 report to compare mobile experience in 100 countries across six domains: upload and download speed, video, voice and games experience, and 4G availability. On all parameters the UK has delivered a respectable but not spectacular performance.

In download speed, the UK ranks 36 out of the 100 countries, with an average 22.9 Mbps. This puts the UK on the bottom of the G7 countries. The minor improvement of 1.2 Mbps over last year’s 21.7 Mbps is also the most meagre incremental among the G7 countries. Globally, Canada just manages to edge South Korea to the top spot with 59.6 Mbps, a whopping 17.1 Mbps increase from a year ago. South Korea, which topped last year’s table, has clocked up an average download speed of 59.0 Mbps and sits in second place.

The authors of the report observed that, countries that have launched 5G services typically registered higher download speed and registered bigger increase than those that have not. However, with the exception of South Korea, where 5G penetration is approaching 10% of mobile users, 5G’s lifting impact on average download speeds in other countries is minimal. Surprisingly, among the 5G countries, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all reported average download speed decrease. The report does not say why, and by the time of writing, Opensignal has not responded to Telecoms.com’s request for explanation. In a separate research published earlier the company compared 5G download speeds in different countries. Saudi Arabia led with 291 Mbps, followed by South Korea at 224 Mbps.

The G7 Comparison

The UK’s 7.5 Mbps average upload speed gives it a mid-table position. Switzerland leads with 16.2 Mbps, followed by South Korea (16.1 Mbps), Norway (15.7 Mbps), and Singapore (15.0 Mbps).

In video streaming experience, by which the company consolidates scores on picture quality, video loading time, stall rate, as well as perceived video experience as reported by mobile video users, the UK sits in the “Very Good” category with a score of 71.7 (out of a total of 100). The “Excellent” category, with scores over 75, has 15 countries, led by the Czech Republic with 79.1.

When it comes to 4G availability, UK mobile users were able to connect to 4G networks 89.2% of the time, up by 4.5% from a year ago, putting the country on position 31 in the table. Japan sits on the top with 98.5% availability closely followed by South Korea at 98.1%.

In games experience, the company measures how mobile users experience real-time multiplayer mobile gaming on mobile networks including latency, packet loss, and jitter. The Netherlands comes top in this category with 85.2 (out of a total of 100), edging the Czech Republic to the second place with a score of 85.1. The UK, with a score of 77.5, ranks among the better ones but is still trailing the best countries by a sizeable margin.

The last category measured in the Opensignal report is voice app experience, by which the company measures the quality of experience of OTT voice services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. Again, the score consolidates both technical measurements and perceived experience. South Korea leads the table with 84.0 (out of 100). Japans comes a close second with 83.8. The UK’s 80.6 is among the better scores.

In general, to look at it globally, UK mobile users enjoy a better than average experience across multiple categories. Meanwhile the benefits of 5G have yet to visibly spread more broadly. In the 5G research published by Opensignal, the UK’s 5G smartphones only connect to 5G networks in slightly over 5% of the time.

Google updates Android for entry-level smartphones to be faster and safer

Google has announced a new version of Android Go, claiming the updated operating system for entry-level smartphones will run apps faster and support new data encryption technology.

The update will take the stripped-down OS to Android 10 (Go Edition). The company claimed the new version will load apps 10% faster then the current iteration, Android 9 (Go Edition).

Android Go was first introduced on top of Android Oreo (Android 8) at the end of 2017. At that time the target was for entry-level Android phones with 1 GB RAM or less. Despite the threshold has risen to 1.5 GB RAM for the latest version, the memory demand is still much lower than those on mid-range or high-end phones. As a comparison, Pixel 3, Google’s own signature smartphone, has 4 GB RAM, while Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 both have 8 GB RAM.

The new version of OS can also run a native encryption software, called Adiantum, which was launched by Google at the beginning of the year. Google said running Adiantum on Android 10 (Go Edition) will not affect the devices’ performance. Unlike earlier data encryption tools, Adiantum does not need specialist hardware, therefore all entry-level Android phones can command a similar experience.

A number of Google services are also optimised for Android 10 Go. The “Read-out-loud” feature, which was first introduced in 2018, is updated. So is Lens for Google Go that can read out texts on signs and pictures, supported by on-board AI.

There is also the new Gallery Go, which essentially is the light-weight version of Google Photos. The software is only 10MB in size and can use on-board AI to help users sort and arrange pictures

Thanks to its business model, Google has little control over the user experience on the plethora of devices launched by the hundreds of Android OEMs, most of which would modify the OS one way or another. It has tried reining in the fragmentation, especially on the low-end. Sundar Pichai, the current Google CEO, was leading the Android One program, a version of Android that cannot be customised by OEMs. It was initially designed for entry-level Android phones in the Indian market, but has since been expanded to mid- to high-end products. Only a handful of OEMs, primarily Xiaomi, Nokia (HMD), and Motorola, have taken it seriously though.

Google believes the Android Go momentum is stronger and the appeal is broader. It said over 1,600 device models from more than 500 OEMs have been launched with Android Go over the last 18 months. These have made up over 80% of the total entry-level Android phone market, with wholesale prices ranging from $27 to $77.

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Three gives forgotten child 4G some much-needed attention

With 5G networks being switched on left, right and centre, let’s not forget 4G experience is still going to be the major concern of the vast majority of users for a long-time to come.

In its pursuit of a more established ranking in the UK mobile league, Three has announced a number of initiatives to improve the 4G experience for its customers. 5G might dominate the headlines, but 4G is going to dictate the fortunes of the telcos for some time.

“5G is a game changer for Three’s current and future customers. It will bring faster speeds, a better experience and masses of capacity which will benefit our 4G customers as well,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “While we are investing heavily in 5G, 4G is still very important for our mobile and home broadband services.

“These upgrades will ensure that our data hungry customers are getting the best possible 4G experience as 5G rolls out.”

The two initiatives announced here will continue to build the 4G experience for customers. Firstly, the introduction of new spectrum and site upgrades. Secondly, the re-farming of 3G spectrum to further bolster the armoury in the fight for 4G supremacy.

6,000 mobile sites, which account for 80% of the traffic which flows across the Three network, will get an upgrade. These upgrades, which will run alongside the 5G deployment initiatives, will include new antennas and new spectrum. Three is claiming the introduction of 1400 MHz spectrum should increase download speeds by 150%, assuming of course you have the right device.

Although the range of compatible devices is quite large, a simpler way to describe it would be any device which has been released in the last 12-18 months. For those who have older devices, Three suggests the download speed gain could be as much as 50%. It’s not necessarily a mind-blowing number in comparison to others which are floating around the mobile domain, but it would certainly make a notable impact on experience.

The second initiative involves the 3G spectrum. All of the telcos are undertaking the process of re-farming 3G spectrum for higher purposes, but Three does seem to be leading the way. As part of the announcement today, Three is suggesting 12,500 sites will see speed improvements of up to 40% as 3G spectrum is handed over to 4G.

Looking at the bigger picture, none of the telcos can forget about 4G. 5G might be much more attractive to the consumer (the bigger, meaner, faster mentality is very strong), but for years to come the 4G networks will continue to define user experience.

Firstly, you have to look at the adoption of 5G tariffs. This will of course depend on the user purchasing an expensive 5G-compatible device, but then also signing-up to a 5G contract. It will take time for this migration to occur, and we suspect it will be years before economies of scale bring down the price of the devices, opening the euphoria up to the mass market.

Secondly, you have to consider how long it will be until the telcos are demonstrate ubiquity for their 5G networks. Not only does this mean upgrading all mobile sites across the country, but it also means network densification initiatives to compensate for shorter spectrum range and mobile radio propagation. The work to ensure the 5G world is everywhere, all the time, is only just beginning.

Both of these factors mean 4G will be just as, or more important than 5G over the next few years. 5G might generate headlines, but 4G will continue to drive revenues.