Mobile speeds overtaking wi-fi in multiple countries

A study of 80 nations around the globe has found that mobile data is now faster than broadband in over 40 per cent of countries, as download speeds prove increasingly competitive between 4G and wi-fi.

The report by wireless coverage mapping firm OpenSignal found that in 33 of the 80 countries surveyed, mobile signal outpaced wi-fi on average, largely due to the different way the two are regulated. Mobile networks have to license the spectrum they use, limiting the number of connections possible at any given time. In contrast, any number of wi-fi networks can be set up in a given location, causing performance to lag due to congestion and resulting in a less consistent experience for users.

Australia saw the biggest advantage for mobile, with download speeds over 4G typically 13Mbps faster than wi-fi. Qatar, France, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa were among the other nations to see mobile faster than broadband.

However, in the US, Israel, Russia, Hong Kong and Thailand, wi-fi speeds averaged more than twice that of mobile data, suggesting that there is still a considerable way to go to reach true parity between the two channels. In the UK, wi-fi was typically around 60 per cent faster than mobile, with the relatively mature fixed network helping data reach hotspots quickly.

“The perception that mobile networks are inferior to wi-fi has persisted, wrongly,” said Ian Fogg, analyst at OpenSignal and author of the report. “Mobile operators and smartphone makers must re-evaluate their wi-fi strategies especially around mobile offload, automatic network selection and indoor coverage, to ensure they do not accidentally push consumers smartphones onto a wi-fi network with a worse experience than the mobile network.”

The advent of 5G should see mobile signal become even more efficient and overtake wi-fi in more countries. Some experts have even predicted that it could lead to network convergence, when the separation of fixed boardband wi-fi and mobile networks will essentially cease to exist, and devices will effortlessly move from one to the other with no change in download speed or service.

That theory is supported by OpenSignals report, which found that in nations where 4G was available, 63 per cent saw mobile signal outpacing broadband. However, the nature of 5G means that the rollout will likely be slow and initially limited to urban areas, so while mobile may soon prove the connection of choice for some, its likely to be some time before all consumers have the same experience.