#MobilePerf Insights: Why LTE Has Slowed by 50% in the US This Year

MobilePerf Insights: Why LTE Has Slowed by 50% in the US This Year

October 19, 2016 by Christina Hug

LTE Has Slowed by 50%

This post is part of a series in following the release of the Twine Prime, State of Mobile Performance Report, which is a comprehensive 33-page analysis of the current state of mobile performance in the US, Europe and India. Download the report today.

LTE first launched in the US on Verizon’s network almost 6 years ago. A relatively early adopter; the US was the fifth country to launch LTE services. Since that time, and as a result of concerted efforts to build out capacity and populate the network with LTE devices, LTE has progressed to the point that it now carries the majority of total mobile cellular traffic in the country.

In the last 8 months alone, the LTE traffic share has increased by 20% to represent 91% of the total cellular traffic in Twin Prime’s network. With 55% subscription penetration (according to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report Q1 2016), LTE users now generate the vast majority of mobile traffic in the US.

LTE Share in the US 2015-2016

Bigger isn’t Always Better

Given that over 90% of traffic is on LTE, we at Twin Prime wanted to analyze how its performance measured up from city to city. One of the most dramatic shifts we saw in the US was New York City, which went from being ranked 1st to 7th after an overall drop in performance of 44% since 2015.

Upon further analysis, the Twin Prime data revealed that in mature markets (like the US), LTE’s median speeds have become as much as 50% slower within the last year.

The US is ranked in the top 10 of countries building out their 4G coverage and yet LTE is 18% slower in the US than in Europe, a less mature market.

LTE speed in the US

Why the slowdown?

OpenSignal’s State of LTE from Q4 2015, cites “lack of spectrum, lack of technological innovation or just sheer network oversubscription” as reasons for the US’s inability to keep pace with leaders like Singapore and South Korea, who are adding capacity and increasing peak speeds by deploying LTE on new frequency bands, and bonding those disparate bands together with new LTE-Advanced technologies.

While the US LTE capacity has remained relatively constant over the last 12 months, the number of users, as well as the bandwidth consumed per user via video and music streaming, video calls, and real-time entertainment like Netflix has resulted in an overall slowdown of LTE across the network.

The reverse effect is observed in new regions like South America, or Eastern Europe. As these areas begin to come online to 4G networks they experience impressive speeds due to the lack of initial subscribers. Eventually, their performance slows as carriers sign up more 4G customers and the LTE resources become more scarce as a result.

By the numbers

More LTE Traffic: LTE traffic has increased in the US from 74% in 2015 to 91% in 2016 H1, creating more demand on the networks and slowing response times.

More Mobile Subscribers: Based on the CTIA.org survey there has been a 6.5% increase in mobile subscribers from early 2015 to early 2016.

Increased Bandwidth Usage: From early 2015 to early 2016 there was a 56% increase in data usage according to Cisco.

Mobile Data Usage 2010-2015

Media Usage: According to the Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena report, Real-Time Entertainment traffic (Netflix. Hulu, etc.) continues to be by far the most dominant traffic category, accounting for almost 40% of the downstream bytes on the network.

What does the future hold for LTE?

Looking at the trajectory of current trends, it is safe to expect that by the time the first deployments of 5G come about (estimated in 2017), LTE traffic share will reach 95%. 3G and HSPA follow, with 5% and 4% respectively

With that in mind, according to the 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report, in 2015 the average monthly bandwidth per device was 3.7GB/month. With the onset of functionality like 4K video streaming, this number is set to increase to as much as 22GB/month.

In addition, it is predicted that mobile video traffic, in the US, will increase by 86% to 2.2 Exabytes/month by 2020. Meaning video content will be 77% of the United States’s mobile data traffic by 2020, compared to 61% at the end of 2015. (Source Cisco VNI Mobile 2016)

There is no doubt that the US will need to set up the infrastructure to keep pace with the rapid changes in usage and content expected in the future. Like any instance of supply and demand, we will continue to see a give and take in this market. As operators catch up to the current demand and LTE becomes faster, users will opt to use it over others – thus creating greater demand, supply scarcity, and decreased performance. At which point the cycle will begin again.

What you need to know about LTE

According to Twin Prime’s State of Mobile Performance Report:

  • When it comes to LTE, T-Mobile is the fastest carrier in the US and offers the lowest latency.
  • Verizon has the broadest LTE coverage at 95.3%, followed by T-Mobile with 91.7%.
  • Last week we discussed optimal file sizes for under 200ms delivery. Developers should stay within 78KB for file sizes to ensure an optimal experience on LTE, for under 200ms delivery. Developers should stay within 78KB for file sizes to ensure an optimal experience on LTE.
  • As a developer, there is a 90% percent probability that a cellular user in the US will use your app on LTE.
  • Network speeds are not what they advertise or what you see in the Bay Area, test your app in multiple scenarios to ensure a consistent user experience both globally as well as within the US.

Stay tuned and grab your passport for next week’s post regarding the top cities and countries for mobile performance. Subscribe to be notified with its release .

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