When the fourth generation of cellphone networks—usually referred to as 4G LTE—rolled out, all of the internet was supposed to be available immediately at our fingertips. Networks advertise services around the world that are “blazing fast,” “super fast,” and even “ultrafast.”
It turns out, however, that what constitutes 4G connectivity varies wildly across the world.
OpenSignal, a network diagnostics company, today released a report on the quality of 4G connections, showing cellphone users receive a wide range of connection speeds and qualities across the world. OpenSignal acquired this data through its app, which lets users test the quality of the WiFi and mobile networks they are using. The app constantly checks what type of connection a phone has to the network, such as 2G, 3G, and 4G, and feeds the information back to OpenSignal.
Samuel Johnston, a strategist for the company, told Quartz that there are over a quarter of a million OpenSignal app users in the US alone.
The US’s measured LTE speeds were relatively low, around as fast as in the Philippines and Mexico—around 7 Megabits per second (Mbps). For comparison, the average US wired connection is 22 Mbps, according to Ookla, which provides a similar testing service of broadband connections. T-Mobile had the fastest average US download speed, about 10 Mbps. Cricket Wireless had the lowest average download speed of any provider in the world, at 2.94 Mbps.
That is not to say, however, that these networks are providing a poor service. “As networks roll out, they appear blazing fast, but more people start using them, and the networks slow down,” Johnston said.
Johnston said that while Spain had the fastest average download speed of any country, South Korea’s 4G networks were “incredibly impressive.” The networks in South Korea were some of the fastest, and were able to provide 4G connectivity about 95% of the time in the tests conducted on the OpenSignal apps. That means that South Koreans using mobile data only dropped down to 3G or 2G service about 5% of the time.
For reference, US networks were only able to provide 4G about 77% of the time.
These average country rates also widely vary by carrier. For example, Spain had the fastest single network in Vodafone ES, but also had one of the slower networks in Yoigo.
While the range in speeds across countries suggests that there is no real consensus on how fast “4G” actually is, OpenSignal found that 4G speeds are on average still faster than WiFi. The global average speed reported to OpenSignal on WiFi was 4.4 Mbps, whereas on 4G it was 9.3 Mbps.