It’s been a pretty busy year here at OpenSignal. And 2018 was an interesting time in the mobile world overall, with data abuse and increased regulation casting something of a shadow over some of the top tech launches of the year. But what can we expect in 2019? We’ve cast a look into our crystal ball to bring you our top predictions for mobile in the coming year.
Start of the 5G Era
5G will increase mobile speed variability, not solve mobile network experience problems
Already ahead of 5G launches, 4G/LTE speed differences between countries are increasing: 70% of countries where smartphone users experienced average download speeds above 30 Mbps in September 2018 saw the metric improving during the first nine months of the year, while in only 38% of countries with download speeds lower than 30 Mbps did overall speeds increase.
5G will increase the existing trend towards wider speed variation because the high frequency bands which 5G will typically launch on — mostly 3.5Ghz and some mmWave bands — mean 5G services will offer both very high capacity and very high speeds in good conditions. But where 5G services do not reach, users will fall back onto slower 4G, and even down to just 3G.
Successful 5G mobile operators will use “experience” to market 5G services, not technology
Much industry discussion of 5G revolves around terms such as theoretical maximum speeds which consumers will never experience, or technology terms such as mmWave, latency, or massive MIMO. None of these are mainstream terms consumers will understand. Operators who choose to market 5G on performance alone will struggle to persuade consumers to pay more for 5G.
Instead of marketing a technology solution, operators will find success by explaining how 5G will deliver meaningful improvements in mobile experience. For example, by explaining how users’ mobile video experience will improve, how multiplayer online games play better, or how video chat will be smoother and more reliable.
4G/LTE will remain the main way smartphones connect until at least 2021, well into the 5G era
Despite initial 5G network launches in 2019, both 5G availability and the number of devices able to connect to 5G will remain very limited. Mobile operators will use LTE to deliver a foundational blanket of mobile coverage alongside islands of high speed 5G availability.
Global LTE availability will top 85% in 2019, an increase from 81.1% at the end of October 2018. North America will have the best LTE availability across regions building on its current leadership position: In 2018, North America LTE availability is 90.9% compared with South Asia’s 87.3%, and Europe’s 75.1%.
Speed variability will increase in India on existing networks
Across India, smartphone users experience the slowest speeds around 9pm, with average mobile download speeds of 3.8 Mbps. However, at 3am, users are able to experience speeds almost four times faster, with downloads averaging 14.8 Mbps. As India rapidly becomes increasingly digital, mobile growing pains will cause this difference in download speeds to widen in 2019. This is because operators will succeed more quickly in growing smartphone users and driving higher data usage than they will be able to match with adding mobile network capacity especially at peak times. Operators will use their greater scale, following several years of consolidation, to tackle the growing pains from the rapid transition to a digital India.
Smartphone users will experience 4G/LTE download speeds over 50Mbps in South Korea & Singapore
Even without 5G, South Korea and Singapore will be the first two countries in the world where overall average downloads top 50 Mbps. However, the overall speeds smartphone users experience across Asia will be considerably lower than in these two leading countries. As 5G launches, users with 5G smartphones switching across to 5G bands will free up LTE capacity and help LTE smartphone users enjoy faster speeds,
Europe will be the first continent with average 4G speeds over 25 Mbps, up from 24.2 Mbps in October 2018 and compared with 13.5 Mbps in East Asia. These improvements in speed will happen without requiring 5G launches, although where 5G services do arrive overall speeds smartphone users experience will be even greater.
Multiplayer Mobile Games Accelerate
Operators will market new gamer tariff plans and differentiate on mobile game experience
In anticipation of 5G’s lower latency, but triggered now by the arrival of mass market multiplayer mobile games such as Fortnite, Pokemon Go and PUBG, mobile operators will launch new mobile tariffs aimed at gamers in 2019. OpenSignal sees 48% of 81 countries analyzed experiencing improved LTE latency in 2018. Overall latency in Latin America will fall below 70ms, and in Europe and North America, latency will be below 60ms.
5G’s lower latencies will encourage new cloud gaming services
Lower mobile network latencies will trigger renewed interest in cloud game streaming services but now aimed at smartphone users, for example Hatch or Microsoft’s xCloud. However, cloud game services will continue to be frustrated by inconsistent mobile network experiences and the great differences between the mobile network experience offered on 4G and 5G networks.
Mobile Video Experience Improves
More than 50% of 73 countries analyzed will have a good or very good overall mobile video experience
OpenSignal predicts mobile video experience will polarize: We expect more than half of countries will have at least a “good” mobile video experience in 2019, with a score of at least 55 (on a scale 1-100). However, in the remaining countries mobile video experience will either stagnate or worsen, as high network usage will trigger greater use of aggressive network management techniques which will hurt mobile video experience.
Latin America and MENA will join Europe with good mobile video experience overall
Latin America and MENA will pass scores of 55 in 2019, up from 54.1 and 53.6 respectively in 2018. Europe will still be ahead of the other regions in overall video experience with a score passing the 60 mark in 2019, while North America will keep its ‘fair’ rating with a score just below 50 (slightly above their score of 47.2 in 2018).
US mobile video experience will stagnate, despite 5G’s arrival.
OpenSignal expects the number of early 5G adopters in the U.S. will not be sufficient to relieve the video pressure on 4G networks. As a result, the ongoing network management techniques U.S. operators use to prevent mobile video users damaging the experience for other applications will continue to hold back improvements in mobile video experience. In October 2018, the U.S. stood ranked 54 out of 73 countries in our evaluation of mobile video experience. OpenSignal expects the U.S. to see an even lower ranking compared with other countries in 2019. But as 5G adoption ramps in 2020 and will then move quickly up global rankings to become a leader.
What do you think of our predictions, and what are your top tips for mobile in 2019? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.