4G is now standard, but do we want faster?

Wednesday 21 September 2016 | 16:11 CET | Background

Dutch mobile networks regularly score high in international research comparisons on speed and coverage. The Dutch are also massive adopters of mobile data services. According to the telecom regulator ACM, the Dutch consumed 112 billion MB of mobile data last year, almost twice the amount in 2014. 

Dutch mobile users can currently access speeds from 20 to 100 Mbps over mobile networks. Is this enough or do they need more? The Telecompaper Consumer Panel (TPCP) asked consumers whether they expected to need 150 Mbps or more in future. Around 10 percent said they already use such speeds, over 4G+ networks. The Dutch operators started rolling out LTE-Advanced last year in some cities and are already faster speeds of up 400 Mbps using tri-band carrier aggregation.

Netherlands leads on speed

Already over 7 million Dutch consumers user 4G networks, and use of the faster services has grown steadily since they were first launched in 2013. Telecompaper also asked consumers in 2013 about their expectations for mobile broadband. Then, 39 percent expected to eventually need a fast mobile network with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. By 2015, this had fallen to 27 percent.

On average Dutch mobile networks deliver download speeds of 22.6 Mbps, putting the country seventh worldwide, according to measurements by Open Signal. In ten years the average speed has increased from just 1.8 Mbps over HSPA.

While speeds continue to increase, the question is whether consumers want or need the faster networks. The Telecompaper Consumer Panel found that a third (34%) of the Dutch can't say whether they will need at least 150 Mbps in the future. A small minority, 15 percent said they expect to need such speeds within four years.

Over a third (35%) said they don't expect to need such speeds. Half of this group (16%) doesn't use mobile internet now; these are mainly people over the age of 65, but also around a tenth (12%) of teenagers don't have mobile internet. However, the younger consumer with mobile internet is the most attached to the service and most likely to say he or she expects to need over 150 Mbps in future (25%).

Men are also more likely to say they want faster speeds. A fifth (20%) of men expect to need 150 Mbps within 1-4 years, compared to 10 percent of women. More men than women also already use such speeds, at 16 percent versus 11 percent. Women were more likely to say they don't know whether they will need 150 Mbps for mobile internet, at 41 percent versus 28 percent of men. 

4G fast enough

Most mobile services on the market suffice with an average speed of 7-8 Mbps, according to Richard Mes, a spokesman for Vodafone. The operator said demand for 4G+ is becoming more important in areas where there is not enough capacity, such as city centres or business parks. Vodafone is responding pro-actively to the demand, he said. 

KPN agreed that the current speeds are largely enough for how consumers use mobile internet these days and in many cases exceed expectations. Furthermore, continuity is very important to consumers, that they can go from home to office or anywhere else and still be online, KPN said. Most important is that the services over the smartphone and mobile network always work well, such as video watched on the commute home without buffering or breaks. Customers don't always need the fastest speed for this, but do want a consistent, good level. KPN measures this as the 'Retainable Data Rate', an important indicator for customer satisfaction.

T-Mobile also sees the importance of a quality service and offers since late 2015 a free trial of its 4G network. If customers aren't satisfied with the network performance, they can cancel their contract, no questions asked, said spokesperson Kathleen Loods. T-Mobile said customers should be able to use the network without having to think about it, at sufficient speed and quality, for example for continuous streaming, even at busy times. As this is considered a minimum requirement for a mobile network, most consumers do not consciously question it when deciding on a network, said the operator. 

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