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February 08, 2016

LTE in the U.S.? 'Not So Fast,' Says New Report

For those of us who reside in the United States, you would think that not only is every inch of our county covered with 4G LTE, but also that we have the fastest such networks in the world.  Unfortunately, the recent findings from the good folks at OpenSignal show perception does not match reality.

For those unfamiliar, OpenSignal is on a mission to provide insights into the coverage and performance of mobile operators around the world.  They do so thanks to the collection of data from the users of the OpenSignal app—a signal-toolkit that allows users to get a better connection in real-time, find nearby free Wi-Fi hotspots and view coverage maps. The information gathered via crowd sourcing is also reassuring in that OpenSignal does not ask for personal information, just the user’s signal stats.

In short, while the app is not on every smart device out there, the information is certainly more than anecdotal. 

Reality check

There’s good news about 4G around the world in terms of the acceleration of coverage, and then there is the sobering news about the U.S.

Based on a sampling of 357,924  OpenSignal users, things are moving along nicely. The caveat is that there are obvious regional, country and operator specific differences as to the pace of deployments and the speeds of the networks being deployed. 

While the chart is a big one (and can be found in its entirety here, along with a link to the full report) it should be noted that the U.S. is #7 in terms of coverage. This is not bad, considering the geographic expanse of the U.S., and the chart is not reflective of the fact that virtually every population center in the U.S. has coverage by typically more than one carrier.  

However, things get a bit more problematic when it comes to speeds being realized by customers.  In fact, in the last quarter for which data was collected, the U.S. ranks #55 with LTE speeds at an average of 10 Mbps versus the 37Mbps enjoyed by users in #1 Singapore. 

In fact, if readers would like a deeper dive behind the U.S. stats OpenSignal has a separate State of Mobile Networks: USA report, available for review.

The bottom line for us in the U.S. is that the real user experience tells a very different tale than the one we see on TV.  Indeed, what may seem fast to those of us fortunate enough to be on 4G LTE most if not all of the time does not exactly put us in the passing lane on the information super highway.  Given the fact that more and more we are going to be using our mobile devices for video of all kinds, using the OpenSignal app is not a bad way to get info on what will give us what we want. 

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