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Who has the best network in the Nordics? Winter 2018 update.

When we again dive into OpenSignal‘s crowdsourced stats from the Nordics it is to see if something changed with regards to the network experiences of mobile customers in the region.


This is an update of the previous version of this comparison which was based on data from the autumn of 2017. The old blog contains more background and reasoning.


The data is gathered from December 2017 to February 2018 and covers about 380 million readings from about 12000 unique devices. The data has not been published by OpenSignal but has been shared with us through OpenSignal’s analyst program.

4G availability

The graph below ranks the fourteen operators in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland after how large proportion of time 4G LTE capable devices have been connected to 4G LTE. OpenSignal calls this 4G availability.

The values from the previous data period (Sep-Nov 2017) are also shown in the graph.

Telenor Norway is providing its customers with 4G 95% of time. Telenor wins this category – just like last time. This is lower than the 99% population coverage that Telenor communicates in its marketing. The difference can be explained by customers being indoors whereas population coverage normally is defined outdoors – and customers spending time in other locations than their home.

Customers of three operators are at 4G 92% of time: Tele2 Sweden, Telia Norway and Ice Norway. Even though Ice is the latest addition to the three operator market of Norway, Ice’s customers are almost as much of the time on 4G as customers to other Norwegian operators. Ice just communicated that its own network now reaches 80% of the population, but Ice’s customers are most of the time roaming on Telia’s network (only 41% of the data traffic was on-net in Q1 2018) so it’s logical that Ice and Telia are close to each other.

In Denmark, TDC is leading in 4G availability whereas DNA has a slight lead i Finland.

3 Sweden has the lowest value among the Nordic operators, 74%, far from Tele2, Telia and Telenor. If we look at statistics from the Swedish regulator, PTS, we see that 3 is heavily under-indexed on the share of data traffic that is carried on 4G: 61% vs. competition’s 89-91%.

3’s operation in Denmark is also behind the local competition in 4G availability. But 3 is slowly closing some of the gap in Denmark and Sweden. The 4G availability graph shows that 3 Sweden and 3 Denmark together with Telenor Denmark had the biggest lift in 4G availability since autumn 2017.

Who has the network with the highest 4G availability in the Nordics? Telenor Norway.


Overall (3G/4G) speed

Our next graph ranks the fourteen operators after average download speed – regardless of if 3G or 4G has been used.

The Norwegian operators Telenor and Telia are leading the speed race in the Nordics – just like last time. Ice Norway has though been passed by TDC Denmark and Telia Sweden and is the only operator for which the overall download speed hasn’t increased since the autumn of last year.

In the bottom of the chart we find the Finnish operators – with Elisa providing the lowest overall download speed of all – together with 3, Telenor and Tele2 Sweden.

Could load explain some of the speed differences between the Nordic networks? In the graph below we plot the download speed as given by OpenSignal vs. the average mobile data usage per SIM.

It’s interesting to note that the operator with the highest average download speed, Telenor Norway, also has the lowest average data usage per SIM. The adherence to the regression line is quite strong. Since mobile networks share the available capacity between the users, speeds should in theory be higher in lower loaded networks and lower in higher loaded networks. This seems to be true also in practice.

Networks with lower usage tend to be faster.

Having said this, we have to point out that some Finnish mobile subscriptions with unlimited data volume have been sold with a limitation on the maximum throughput. 23% of the Finnish postpaid non-M2M SIMs subscribed to a speed tier slower than 10 Mbit/s in December 2017.

Who has the network with the highest overall download speed in the Nordics? Telenor Norway (but it is in part due to the lowest data usage).


3G speed

We just concluded on the overall download speed, but we thought the 3G-only speed provides an interesting comparison. After all, there are many customers out there with terminals that aren’t capable of 4G – and, as seen, 4G networks aren’t available 100% of the time – making 3G networks important or even critical for the overall experience and speed (not to speak about voice where 3G massively dominates 4G’s VoLTE – only 1,6% of the Swedish mobile voice volume was VoLTE in the second half of 2017).

The differences are large in 3G speed. Like last time, Telenor Norway tops the chart with 13,1 Mbit/s (subject to a wide confidence level in 3G: 11,7-14,4 Mbit/s). This is particularly interesting given that Telenor has announced that the 3G network will be shut down by 2020 and as late as last week displayed coverage maps showing that the 3G network coverage will be reduced to half already in 2019. The fastest 3G network in the Nordics is thus likely to be the first 3G network to be shut down. Telenor states that the frequencies are ‘too valuable’ to use on 3G.

The slowest 3G network experience – with roughly only half the speed of Telenor Norway – is offered by DNA Finland, 3 Denmark and Elisa Finland.

In Finland, the 3G speed ranking is inverse to the data usage rank; DNA has the highest data usage, Elisa is in the middle and Telia has the lowest usage.

Who has the 3G network with the highest download speed in the Nordics? Telenor Norway (but the network will close soon).


While the engineers and management of Telenor Norway now has another opportunity to celebrate, we would just like to remind everyone that whereas Telenor Norway provides the best mobile experience in the Nordics based on these three metrics for its customers where they tend to be, it doesn’t mean that Telenor would have the best network in every location. It is also difficult to compare different countries as customers have different usage and location patterns. One thing is clear, though: We have access to extraordinary well covering 4G networks in the Nordics. The graph below highlights the position of the 14 Nordic operators (in green) when it comes to 4G availability when compared to operators in the Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Poland and Greece.

Why is there a best before date on mobile data?

Fresh milk and mobile data seem to share the same bacteria problem. Even if treated carefully, it eventually goes sour. To protect consumers from a possibly unpleasant experience, dairy producers put a best before date on milk cartons. Mobile operators go further – they revoke unused mobile data before those gigabytes have become a health hazard.

But consumers have started to question if unused data really is unhealthy and deserve a similar down-the-drain treatment as sour milk. Clever mobile operators realised that they can offer rollover data. One of the pioneers globally is New Zealand’s 2degrees. In this video they ask what is happening to all that leftover data.

So is this just another plug on rollover? It’s hardly new – we wrote about in already in January 2015. No, it’s not about rollover. Because even though rollover is a good thing, operators are still limiting it:

  • Saved data is voided after 1 month (as with e.g. Virgin Media)
  • Saved data is voided after 1 year (as with e.g. 2degrees)
  • You can save a maximum of 100 GB in your account (as with e.g. Telia, Hallon and Vimla in Sweden)
  • You can save 3x the monthly allowance (as with ‘3’ in Austria)
  • You can save as much as the monthly allowance (as with e.g. all Norwegian operators)

Let’s be clear: All of these implementations are of course still much better than no rollover at all – which is the case for a majority of operators worldwide.

But the business model is still to take something away that customers have bought – and sell it back.

Add-on data is often treated worse than regular data – albeit more pricey. If you run out of data a certain month, operators offer you to buy additional data – often at a premium compared to how much you paid for the data in your regular allowance. Whereas operators are broadcasting their pricing of regular plans, the information around add-ons is often well hidden.

But in many cases – UK’s Tesco Mobile and the two Swedish operators ‘3‘ and Telenor are some examples – add-on data expires at the same time as your monthly allowance, i.e. in less than a month. Let’s say your billing month ends the 25th. The day before, the 24th, you get an SMS stating that you’ve now run out of data. As you can’t imagine a life without it, you buy 1 GB of add-on data for 9.9 EUR. You actually just use 0.3 GB of that data but the remaining 0.7 GB is voided the day after, the 25th.

Some operators treat add-on data better: O2 and ‘3’ in the UK let it live for 30 days, Telia in Sweden for 31 days and Tele2 in Sweden for 6 months.

But even premium add-on data is eventually voided.

So also with add-on data, the business model is to take something away that customers have bought – and sell it back.

A vast majority of consumers – 76% to be exact – want their unused mobile data not to expire and instead roll over. This is shown in fresh research from Ericsson ConsumerLab.

But many operators have painted themselves into a corner as they have super-sized their mobile data buckets – relying on that the unused data anyhow is voided by the end of the month. France is a good example of the imbalance between buckets and consumption: The average French non-M2M SIM uses about 2.5 GB of mobile data in a month. But a 20 EUR per month plan in France comes with a bucket of 20 to 100 GB.

If the French operator Free – that offers 100 GB of mobile data on a stand-alone plan for 19.99 EUR per month – would allow customers to save unused data, their average 19.99 EUR customer (who consumed 8.4 GB of data per month by the end of 2017) would accumulate more than 1000 GB of unused data in a year. Yes, one terabyte.

This gives us one key to understand why unlimited mobile data suddenly has become popular among operators.

By leaving the bucket plan, operators that have painted themselves into the bucket inflation corner can jump out of it. Unlimited operators aren’t selling gigabytes. Therefore they do not need to get involved in the questionable practice of revoking unused gigabytes. They don’t risk having to refund unused data as e.g. Google’s Project Fi and UK’s Smarty (picture below) do.

Unlimited customers consume the data they consume and will no longer think about best before dates. It’s a relief for everybody.

The future lies in monetising customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, not in monetising gigabytes.

The world’s best 4G LTE isn’t getting faster

OpenSignal, the company that crowdsources mobile speed and availability experiences from smartphone users worldwide, released its latest State of LTE report today.

It is based on 59 billion measurements and shows that 4G LTE speeds in the fastest countries are in a holding pattern where they don’t increase. The availability of 4G LTE is still improving though, and five countries have now joined the 90% of time club. Three months ago, that club only had two members.

Continue reading The world’s best 4G LTE isn’t getting faster

The secret behind Elisa’s financials

The Finnish-Estonian operator Elisa just published its 4Q 2017 results. And it was a new record in revenue and profitability.

How is that even possible? Readers of our public analysis of mobile data usage know that Finland is the mobile data usage powerhouse of the world – and that Elisa is no exception.

But Elisa doesn’t charge per gigabyte – so where is the revenue growth coming from? How can the company make more profit when it needs to handle all that traffic? This blog reveals their secret. Continue reading The secret behind Elisa’s financials

Six calls to action – directly from consumers

Ericsson ConsumerLab today published a new consumer and industry insight report titled Towards a 5G consumer future.

The research insights are based on a survey of 14000 Android and iOS smartphone users between 15 and 65 in fourteen countries: Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the UK and the US.

To prepare this consumer research, we worked with Ericsson ConsumerLab to analyse and benchmark the mobile data strategies of operators globally. When we had the research results, we jointly reviewed them.

The findings can be summarised in six calls to action – from consumers for operators: Continue reading Six calls to action – directly from consumers

Who has the best network in the Nordics?

There are several ways to measure network performance and the results of published tests can therefore differ.

Mobile operators have a tendency to criticise test results when they have lost and promote results when they have won.

An example of this is the recent drivetest by Connect Magazine in Switzerland as performed by P3 Group. Whereas Salt seems furious – the CEO-commented release is an interesting read – Sunrise uses the results in its marketing.

Who will be the first operator – anywhere – to complain about a test methodology after having won?

What differs even more than the network test results is the perception of network quality. For an operator it is much more important that its customers are having the perception of the best network than actually having the best network. Continue reading Who has the best network in the Nordics?

Seven undaunted predictions for 2018

Our nine predictions for 2016 were designed to be measurable. The outcome wasn’t bad. Consequently, inspired by Apple’s self-proclaimed ‘courage’ to remove the headphone jack on the then-new iPhone 7, we upped our game when publishing our eight (courageous) predictions for 2017.

We didn’t think it would play out as well as it did. We predicted that Verizon would dump bucket plans and go all-in on unlimited. It happened. Verizon doesn’t call its unlimited plan “Kick the bucket”, but still. We predicted that the “control & zero-rate content” bundle would fail in the light of unlimited and the clouds have never been darker for AT&T with regards to its thirteen-months-have-elapsed-but-yet-to-be-approved attempt to take control over Time Warner. We also predicted that BT and Deutsche Telekom would eat crow and admit that their copper-embracing access strategy wasn’t future-proof just to realise that they now need to speed up to meet the demand for FTTH – or be run over by competition.

We weren’t right on everything – Vodafone didn’t pause 5G plans to focus on unlicensed spectrum; the company just asked the industry to sober up – but we are nevertheless so encouraged that we for 2018 present seven undaunted predictions:

Continue reading Seven undaunted predictions for 2018

Carriers moved away from subsidizing handsets. Now they subsidize customers’ video consumption.

Mobile operators are abandoning the previously predominant model to subsidize handsets and to, in return, lock customers in on long contracts with elevated service fees.

The death of the model should be mourned by no one since end-users have been given choice and flexibility through a multitude of non-binding, cheaper and flexible service options with generous – or even unlimited – allowances. Operators have seen customer churn decrease as end-users hold onto their handsets longer. As a direct consequence, EBITDA margins have increased.

Investors might still complain about the revenue growth, but measured as percentage of revenue mobile carriers currently produce the best margins on record. Continue reading Carriers moved away from subsidizing handsets. Now they subsidize customers’ video consumption.

Fast networks, light payload

Ookla, the company behind Speedtest, has just published its Speedtest Global Index for August 2017. As always, it’s interesting.

According to Ookla’s crowdsourced data, the fastest average mobile data experiences in the world are found in:

  1. Norway – 55.72 Mbit/s
  2. Netherlands – 48.30 Mbit/s
  3. Hungary – 46.72 Mbit/s
  4. Singapore – 46.62 Mbit/s

But since all mobile networks are based on shared capacity, we decided to cross correlate Ookla’s speed data with our own mobile data usage data. Is there – or is there not – a relationship between mobile data usage and experienced speed?

The graph below correlates the two (click to enlarge).

Continue reading Fast networks, light payload

Bundles and churn: Nexterday North 2017

Also the 2017 version of Nexterday North was a true ‘anti-seminar’ with futuristic and insightful speakers in a great, sometimes quirky, mix. May Comptel‘s spirit thrive also now that it is a part of Nokia.

This year, tefficient held a keynote presentation focused on bundles and the effect on churn.

Continue reading Bundles and churn: Nexterday North 2017