Declining 4G download speeds in quarantined Italy as networks congest
Italian 4G users have seen their speeds drop significantly during March as the coronavirus restrictions have tightened.
In the second week of March, network analysis company Opensignal observed that Italian smartphone users experienced significantly lower 4G download speeds during most of the day – from 10:00 to midnight local time – compared with the previous five weeks. While speeds in the afternoon usually stabilised at around 25Mbps before falling further in the evening, in the second week of March the company observed 4G download speed below 23Mbps at 14:00, and falling to 19.6Mbps at 21:00.
London-based Opensignal analysed the hourly 4G download speeds that Italian smartphone users have experienced in the last six weeks, including the four weeks of February and the first two weeks of March.
“While our users experienced similar speeds during the first five weeks in our analysis, we observed a significant change in the last week – the week commencing on Monday 9 March – following the government’s restrictions imposed on the population on 10 March as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis,” said the company.
“We did not observe any significant change in our users’ 4G download speed in the early hours of the day, when fewer people connected to mobile networks, suggesting that the overall capacity of the mobile network did not change over the period.”
Opensignal noted that US operators are temporarily deploying additional spectrum to cope with the exceptional increase in data demand.
Opensignal previously analysed how big swings in download speeds across the hours of the day usually reflect congestion on mobile networks.
Opensignal has also observed that Italian smartphone users’ time on Wifi has increased, with users spending more time at home connecting to Wifi and fixed networks and yet are also using mobile networks more – for example for watching video and playing online mobile games – increasing the load on mobile networks and leading to a reduction in 4G speeds.
Following a sharp rise in novel coronavirus cases, the Italian government placed the country’s 60 million residents on lockdown from 10 March. The government extended restrictions and told Italians to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel. The significant measures include blanket travel restrictions, a ban on all public events, the closures of schools and public spaces such as cinemas, and the suspension of religious services including funerals or weddings.
Opensignal’s data shows that Italians started changing their behaviour in many northern provinces during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak before the government imposed restrictions in many of those regions. By the end of February, the data indicated that people were spending significantly more time indoors.
The company also analysed the average time users spent connected to Wifi in each Italian province across the working week – Monday to Friday – in February. “We observed that users spent considerably varying amounts of time connected to Wifi in different parts of Italy, ranging from less than 30% in provinces like Piacenza and Vercelli to more than 52% in the province of Naples.”
The company added: “In the first three weeks of February we saw no statistically significant changes in the time our users connected to Wifi across any Italian province during weekdays. However, on the fourth week, starting 24 February, we observed a considerable increase in the time our users spent connected to Wifi networks in 23 Italian provinces, clustered in the northern regions.”
Last month Opensignal reported, before the impact of the virus, that only four countries reported excellent signals for mobile games, These were Singapore, the Netherlands, Japan and the Czech Republic.