Site density is key to LTE network performance – and critical for 5G
February 2019

Analysis of 99 mobile networks across EU28, Norway and Switzerland, key network performance drivers and implications on 5G infrastructure and spectrum investment strategies

Country highlights
  • Finland has the densest LTE cell site grids but below average number of spectrum bands deployed per LTE site, and outperforms most European countries in key LTE performance metrics – even in the most loaded hours of the day – despite having 8x the EU28+NO+CH and 17x the German traffic load, normalised for population
  • Germany, the largest European mobile market, has the weakest LTE cell site grids and also relatively few LTE bands deployed per cell site – unsurprisingly, it is lagging behind in LTE performance
  • Play Poland has the most LTE bands deployed per cell site on average
  • Telenor Norway has the most LTE band transmitters deployed normalised for population (sites x band per site / pop)
Key findings
  • Some countries stand out in average LTE throughput but have comparatively high occurrence of sub-3Mbit/s download speed samples
  • Dramatic differences in data traffic volume (Finland vs Germany) do not necessarily lead to congestion issues, at least not in the form of decreased download or latency performance at peak times. Five of the six countries with the heaviest relative data traffic load (Finland, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden) have better than EU28+CH+NO average LTE performance
  • A dense LTE grid is a stronger predictor of consistently good performance (particularly handling peak traffic loads) than number of spectrum bands deployed
  • Contrary to the often-heard small-cell-centric 5G rollout narrative, we are not aware of any European operators that are planning to undertake a significant 5G small cell rollout
  • Operators that so far relied heavily on low-band (800 MHz) based LTE coverage will face greater challenges in rolling out consistent high capacity 3.5 GHz-based 5G indoor coverage than those that invested into relatively more dense, higher-band-centric (LTE 1800, 2100, 2600 MHz) macro site grids

With the indispensable help of Tutela, a mobile data and analytics company serving the mobile and telecommunications industry, we conducted an in-depth analysis using Tutela’s live network statistics, selected a set of LTE performance indicators and assessed the performance of 99 4G LTE EU28, Norwegian and Swiss mobile networks. In addition to exploring LTE performance, we also analysed how key LTE network architecture metrics differ across European networks.

Tutela crowdsources more mobile network statistics than any other company in the world, collecting over 30 billion location-based mobile quality data points every day, from over 250 million mobile handsets, embedded into the codes of over three thousand partner applications like games and weather apps (Tutela pays to the app’s developers in return for hosting its code). In addition to measuring throughput, latency and other key performance indicators, Tutela also collects detailed information on signal strength, cell site IDs and the used frequency bands.
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