US vs Europe – who has the best mobile networks?

May 30, 2013
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GSMA

As someone who pays a fair bit of attention to the mobile industry, it’s clear to see that there are glaring differences between mobile markets throughout the world. Here in the UK, we’re still waiting on the full rollout of our LTE networks, but, on the other hand, I’ve often thought that US prices seem a little steep compared with here in the UK.

But rather than looking at small individual case studies, the GSM Association (GSMA) has released a report that looks deeper into the quality and usage differences between mobile networks in the US and European markets. The verdict — there’s a growing disparity between the two, and it’s the US which appears to be pulling out further ahead.

For starters, on average, US consumers spend more each month than their EU counterparts, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a good thing, but they are consuming five times as many voice minutes and twice as much data than consumers in the EU.

But perhaps the biggest lead however comes in the form of network speeds. According to GSMA’s findings, the US is far ahead when it comes to next-generation networking technologies, with nearly 20% of all connections in the US set to be on LTE networks come the end of 2013, compared with less than a measly 2% in Europe.

To top off the embarrassment, the average mobile data connection speed in the US is now 75% faster than those in Europe, and this trend is set to continue. GSMA estimates that, by 2017, US data speeds will be more than twice as fast at the speeds available in European countries.

Anne Bouverot , Director General at GSMA, summed up the report:

Europe has lost its edge in mobile and is significantly underperforming other advanced economies

Look back a few years though, and you would have found the tables reversed. Europe was far quicker at rolling out widespread 3G access when the standard first appeared, and carriers were also quick to improve on their services with HSPA and HSPA+ rollouts shortly after. However, in more recent years, the US has increased infrastructure spending by 70%, whilst European spending has dwindled, resulting in a much better rollout of LTE in the US and a lack of investment in many European countries.

But there’s always the opportunity to turn things around, and the report has quite a few recommendations to bring Europe back up to par. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, Europe could certainly do more to improve business opportunities across countries. For a start, Europe could ease its network sharing restrictions, improve co-ordination across borders on issues like consumer protection, and could help kickstart broadband investments.

EU regulatory policies have resulted in a fragmented market structure

The European Commission should also immediately address the slow progress being made on spectrum allocations and harmonisation, according to GSMA. Europe is supposedly facing a significant spectrum shortfall, as network demand continues to grow, which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later to ensure that future mobile broadband services have adequate space allocated.

Finally, there’s the obvious option to remove, or at least further reduce, expensive European roaming fees. By taking advantage of the European free trade area, there is little reason why companies shouldn’t be able to operate more easily across borders.

Looking at GSMA’s findings there appears to be a lot of work to be done in Europe, but on the other hand the lack of investment could simply be due to a lack of demand for such services. I’m personally not desperate for 4G networking, and consumers in Europe could simply be more sensitive to cost rather than caring about having the latest technologies at premium prices.

How do you feel about your nation’s networks?

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