Mobile Networks Faster Than Wi-Fi

A report by OpenSignal has highlighted how the fact that smartphone users in 33 countries get faster average download speeds using a mobile network than Wi-Fi means that mobile operators and smartphone makers need to ensure that consumers’ smartphones aren’t simply pushed onto a Wi-Fi network, only to receive a worse experience than the mobile network.

Assumption Wrong

The report, by Ian Fogg of OpenSignal, highlights the fact that the long-held industry assumption that Wi-Fi is better than mobile networks in almost every way appears to be wrong in today’s environment.

For example, the report showed that in 33 countries, or 41% of the 80 countries analysed by OpenSignal, mobile delivers a faster download experience than Wi-Fi.

Also, the report shows that it appears to be hard to categorise the range of countries where mobile offers a faster download experience for smartphone users.  For example, according to the report, these range from richer markets and industrialised economies e.g. Australia, the Czech Republic, and France to countries across every continent, and a range of demographics (income, and state of development) e.g. UAE, Turkey, Kenya, Myanmar and Mexico.  The report did find, however, that there is a correlation between higher per capita GDP and more time spent on Wi-Fi, mainly because of the presence of a suitable Wi-Fi network rather than by a consumer’s decisions to connect to Wi-Fi.

Big Changes in 10 Years

The OpenSignal report acknowledges that while the assumption that Wi-Fi is better, faster, and cheaper than a mobile network may have been true 10 years ago, some big changes in the connectivity environment mean that is no longer the case.

For example, 4G networks have launched and boosted the quality of smartphone users’ experience, almost everyone now owns a smartphone, and mobile video and consumption has exploded as smartphones have become a mainstream way to watch TV (Netflix is even trialling mobile-only tariff plans).

Some A ‘Dead Heat’ With Wi-Fi

It was also noted in the report that in four countries – Hungary, Bangladesh, Belgium and Norway – there is no real difference between the Wi-Fi and mobile download speeds experienced by smartphone users.

What’s The Problem?

The problem, therefore, is that the failure to take into account the current connectivity environment, and operators working on what may now be a mistaken assumption is that smartphone users have actually been given a worse experience as they are dumped onto Wi-Fi wherever possible.

Not All The Same

The report did find, however, that not all operators always switch users to Wi-Fi.  For example, Huawei switches connections from a slow Wi-Fi link to a faster cellular connection.

Why Are Cellular Phone Networks Faster?

Reasons why cellular networks are faster with 4G in some countries (e.g. in Brazil, Finland) is that it’s easier to lay the (fibre) cables there, smartphone design priorities don’t always focus on Wi-Fi in those countries, and many smartphones there don’t work on 5 GHz Wi-Fi.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The report indicates that there needs to be a re-think about when and how to use Wi-Fi to complement the mobile experience, and it may be necessary for operators to challenge the old assumption that Wi-Fi is best.  To provide the best experience to their users in today’s environment, the report notes that operators need to become smarter with Wi-Fi offload strategies.

Also, Operators will need to deliver good in-building mobile network coverage from now on, because consumers will increasingly override their smartphone’s automatic Wi-Fi choice in favour of selecting cellular in order to get the fastest download speed.

It is also likely that smartphone makers are will be changing the designs of smartphones to allow the use of both Wi-Fi and mobile network technologies simultaneously to deliver the fastest data experience.

For those users of mobile services, the realisation by mobile manufacturers and operators that they must change their products and services to rely less on Wi-Fi is likely to bring a better experience going forward.

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