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COVID-19 Saw Big Falls in 4G Mobile Speed and Rise in WiFi Use

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 (9:05 am) - Score 2,184
wireless wifi and lan computer network

Opensignal, which specialises in crowd-sourced testing of 4G and 5G based mobile networks, has updated their study of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis to show how much of an impact it had on Smartphone users across the UK and the world. Suffice to say that mobile users spent a lot more time on WiFi via home broadband.

The company previously reported (here) that they first detected a “statistically significant week-on-week increase” in the percentage of time British Smartphone users were spending on WiFi in the third week of March (starting March 16th), which saw the “Time on WiFi” jump to 68.9% (up from 64.7% in the prior week).

All of this naturally coincided with the growing movement toward home working and school closures, which began to peak once each country entered a lockdown phase. Similarly countries that were ahead of the UK in this crisis, such as Italy and South Korea, began to show similar indications a few weeks earlier.

However Opensignal’s original report was produced at the same time as the COVID-19 crisis was only just starting to kick into high gear. By comparison their latest analysis covers a much longer period to the end of May 2020, which for example shows that the UK’s time on WiFi peaked at 77.9% for the week commencing 30th March and has more recently started to reduce as the lockdown softens.

opensignal_time_on_wifi_world_to_May_2020

In theory by placing higher data demands on to home broadband via WiFi then you also reduce the pressure for mobile (3G, 4G and 5G) networks, although it’s interesting to note that 4G based download speeds actually decreased during the lockdown in most countries (lower network congestion might ordinarily result in an increase).

The UK in particular is notable because our 4G speeds dropped sharply to a peak of -29% during the first week of lockdown (most likely caused by people struggling to adapt to the lockdown), but then they suddenly recovered and speeds even increased. By comparison many other countries showed a much longer period of instability as operators appear to have struggled.

We identified a number of drivers that have likely contributed to those speed drops, including increasing mobile data consumption, operators relaxing data limits, changes in the time and location of users’ mobile usage, as well as pre-emptive measures adopted by operators to ensure continuity of service on their networks,” said Opensignal.

opensignal_covid19_4g_speed_variation

As usual we should caution that crowd-sourced based data can be impacted by any limitations of the devices being used and the end-users location, which at the same time removes the ability to establish a solid baseline of performance. Nevertheless Opensignal are one of the better outfits at putting such data together.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Tim

    Vodafone has taken a massive hit in speeds. Made worse by high usage allowance and limited LTE-A coverage. Hopefully they are planning to rollout a lot more LTE-A coverage soon as their network is falling to pieces.

    • I suspect the focus now will be on 5G, although 4G will also benefit as a result of that.

    • Avatar Roger McDuck

      I distinctly recall reading (perhaps even on this site) a quote from Vodafone claiming they could “crank up the bandwidth” any time they wanted. If that’s the case, why did I go from 100mbit + down to 20 during this whole pandemic business.

      Did vodafone misplace the crank?

    • Avatar Tim

      Yeah it is a shame that they are now concentrating on 5G… bringing faster to those that already have fast LTE-A. In the right place I get over 160Mbps on Vodafone LTE-A. Sadly “the right place” is only in London and other large cities. Everywhere else is often below 10Mbps and sometimes completely unusable even with a good signal.

  2. Avatar Roger McDuck

    Just swapped from Voxi because they killed the unlimited data and there was a network issue in my area for 3 months that they only fixed yesterday. 3 months to fix a mast when they make bazillions.

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