Mobile broadband speeds in the United States can’t keep pace with networks in other countries. In a study of 16 countries, the average US download speed in 2013, at 6.5 Mbps (Megabits per second), was faster only than the Philippines, and then just barely. Despite broad coverage and plenty of competition, when it comes to “fourth generation long term evolution” (4G LTE)—the fastest version of the set of mobile internet standards broadly known as 4G—US speeds compare unfavorably with the rest of the world (see chart above).
OpenSignal, an app that tracks mobile network coverage and speeds on smartphones, just published data from 6 million of its users who are on 4G networks. OpenSignal also measured how much time users stay on a 4G network, a novel way of looking at coverage which, instead of a network’s advertised geographic reach, examines how well users are actually served by these connections in real life:
The results are revealing: Although Brazil has some of the world’s fastest speeds, its users are connected to a 4G network less than half of the time. Despite slower speeds, Americans can still expect to stay on a 4G network for the majority of the time they use their devices. In South Korea, 4G users can expect to stay connected 91% of the time.
Perhaps most revealingly, OpenSignal also looked at how speeds have changed over time, comparing its latest results with a similar study published a year ago. Most countries showed an improvement in speed, with Australia and Japan the standout performers. America, however, saw speeds drop by a third last year. In a sense, US operators are victims of their own success, OpenSignal says: While operators are constantly rolling out to new areas and making improvements to their network, “increased users combat these improvements, as increased network load brings down average speeds.”
Bear in mind that the speeds listed in these charts are national averages, and thus don’t account for differences between operators. Of the seven US networks OpenSignal examined, T-Mobile was the fastest and, with its acquisition of MetroPCS last year, also had the best coverage, confirming a study last year that found T-Mobile the fastest 4G mobile broadband provider in several US cities.