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U.S. Leads in 4G Wireless Networks, but Speeds Are Just Middling

The U.S. leads the world in customers using LTE networks, but performance is roughly on par with Germany and South Korea.

Shutterstock/Stephen Coburn

We all know the U.S. leads when it comes to the deployment of LTE networks and getting subscribers. But when it comes to getting the full speed of those networks and making sure packets don’t get lost along the way, we are just in the middle of the pack, according to a new report.

The U.S., for example, has more than 100 million LTE subscribers — tops in the world — and more than two in five subscribers in North America are on those high-speed networks. However, a new study from Kwicr found that cellular performance was on par with countries like Germany, Korea and Russia. In large part that’s because while the U.S. has deployed fast LTE networks nationwide, those networks are also getting lots of traffic and have to cover a larger geographic area than other countries that have been quick to adopt 4G. Singapore, for example, boasts performance 50 percent greater than the U.S.

“The U.S. is a lesson for countries,” said Kwicr’s Hugh Kelly. “When you build it, they will come and start using it.”

When it comes to packet loss, for example, the U.S. is also in the middle of the pack, with both Wi-Fi and cellular dropping packets at a roughly similar rate. That compares to developing countries where sparse deployment of Wi-Fi makes those networks far less reliable than cellular ones.

“That speaks to a well-developed but heavily utilized infrastructure,” Kelly said.

Kwicr’s study also found that the performance of wireless networks varies quite widely based on factors such as how many people are accessing the network from the same place. So it’s quite common for speeds to fluctuate both among locations as well as in the same location, depending on traffic patterns.

“I think that just speaks to what is the nature of mobile broadband,” he said. “Radio signals in a shared environment are going to be subject to a much wider range of available bandwidth.”

Kwicr comes at this with an interest in convincing companies to utilize its services, which help ensure content being sent over mobile networks reaches its destination efficiently and reliably, much the way content delivery networks like Akamai have helped with the wired Internet.


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