Study Says US Ranked 68th Out Of 100 In Mobile Video Quality

from the not-so-hot dept

While the telecom sector often enjoys crowing about the superiority of U.S. wireless, the reality is we're not all that superior. While the U.S. was among the first countries to deploy 4G LTE, US 4G speeds tend to be fairly pathetic, with one study ranking the US 47th out of 77 countries studied. US wireless data prices are also significantly higher than a long list of other developed nations, thanks in no small part to regulatory capture and revolving door regulators.

This week the US wireless sector was shamed further via a new report by OpenSignal, which found that US wireless video streaming quality also remains somewhat underwhelming. According to the study, the U.S. is ranked 68th out of 100 when it comes to video streaming quality, someplace between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The crowdsourced study is based on 94,086,045,513 measurements from 37,671,772 devices running Opensignal’s software between August 1 and October 30. The authors, by and large, place the lion's share of the blame at the feet of insufficient spectrum:

"While there was an improvement in Americans’ Video Experience — with the score increasing from 46.7 to 53.8 points — it was not enough to shift U.S. consumers up a gear into the Good category. Instead, Video Experience remained stuck in the Fair category. Americans had the lowest Video Experience score of any of the G7 economically leading countries as U.S. carriers struggle with the combination of enormous mobile video consumption and insufficient new spectrum. Opensignal’s results highlight the need for the release of more mid-band spectrum to help U.S. carriers meet the mobile video needs of Americans."

But it's not just spectrum. Another recent study showed that many of the problems with US video streaming come courtesy of bizarre restrictions imposed on U.S. wireless consumers' connections. Restrictions generally used to nickel-and-dime customers into paying significantly higher rates. Sprint, for example, has sold "unlimited" data plans that throttle all video, games, and music unless consumers pay more. Verizon has similarly been selling "unlimited" data plans that throttled all video to standard definition by default, making HD or 4K luxury options that require you pay even more money to obtain.

These restrictions are justified by claims of spectrum scarcity, but often have more to do with the US telecom sector's allergy to genuine price competition. There's a universe of reasons for that, from the monopolies companies enjoy over tower backhaul to revolving door regulators who prioritize profits over healthy markets or consumers. And it's a problem that's likely to get worse with the repeal of net neutrality rules that attempted, albeit imperfectly, to thwart a lot of this kind of predatory nonsense in the absence of more heated competition.

While 5G is propped up as some miraculous panacea for the sector, it can't stop the FCC from pandering to industry, fix backhaul monopolies, or stop our obsession with merger mania, which, as the T-Mobile Sprint deal will soon illustrate, only acts to erode competition and any incentive to compete on price. The real reason for substandard US Telecom has long been regulatory capture and limited price competition working in concert, something OpenSignal likely isn't keen on highlighting for fear of annoying its paying clients in the telecom sector.

Still, these studies tend to highlight how, while the US crows a lot about wireless superiority, we remain largely mediocre when it comes to most of the wireless metrics (availability, speed, quality) that actually matter. So while many prattle on about the "race to 5G" and how we must pander to AT&T and Verizon or risk losing our amazing edge in wireless, it's worth remembering that edge doesn't actually exist.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, fcc, innovation, mobile video, quality, regulation, us


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2019 @ 6:47am

    hmmm

    So while many prattle on about the "race to 5G" and how we must pander to AT&T and Verizon or risk losing our amazing edge in wireless, it's worth remembering that edge doesn't actually exist.

    Is... Is this a promise (by certain people/groups) to pull their heads out of the sand* if we stop coddling Tel-co companies?

    *or where ever else they might be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2019 @ 7:09am

    These restrictions are justified by claims of spectrum scarcity,

    While the real cause is too few cell towers. More smaller cells using the same spectrum will give fewer users per tower, and better bandwidth per user. That is how other countries have scaled up their mobile service, but once again it looks us providers are not investing in their infrastructure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 9 Dec 2019 @ 10:03am

      Re:

      Indeed. I expect that the telecos spend more on figuring out the fewest number of towers to cover an area than on actually building said towers. That's an issue where I live now - I barely have 4G (or 3G or 2G for that matter) because the towers are spread so thin that many areas have rather poor reception. It's not like I live in the sticks, either. I live in a city of over 100k. I have trouble receiving voice, forget about video. Fortunately for me, I don't use my phone in that manner.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Dec 2019 @ 7:25am

      Re:

      "That is how other countries have scaled up their mobile service, but once again it looks us providers are not investing in their infrastructure."

      At least in Europe several countries have government regulations forcing infrastructure providers to cooperate with other parties - the company owning cable must lease bandwidth capacity on equal opportunity, for instance.

      It usually ends up a great deal for the cable owner but it does mean they can't monopolize. As a result of this a LOT of infrastructure is built through joint ventures.

      In the US however, every actor has to build their own set of towers or separately sign complicated joint venture contracts. And everyone wants a monopoly in their own area. With predictable results. No one wants to invest in a barely covered area mainly controlled by a competitor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 9 Dec 2019 @ 7:19am

    How about that for a country sandwich?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2019 @ 7:20am

    wow! really surprised it's so high! given the way politicians take as much as possible from the companies concerned with anything to do with telecoms, mobile or otherwise, internet etc and how the public (customers) are ripped off from asshole to breakfast, i would have thought the USA would have been hard pushed to get out of the 90s! public money is thrown as hard as possible at these companies and the public receive absolutely fuck all in return except piss poor services at sky-high prices, useless customer service and connections that cant even match up to 4G, let alone 5G, that have streaming services that still have to continuously buffer, even though only 2mbps is required unless, of course, 4k is wanted and that all but disappears into the 'wild, blue yonder' unless a further rip-off fee is paid or you take on all sorts of other crap so as to use the providers own shitty service! for a nation that is supposed to be at the forefront of technology, the USA is a joke! look at how it's kicked Huawei into touch, not because of any wrong-doing but because it can. the problem now is there is nothing USA made that comes even close to what Huawei has been supplying (spyware and backdoor free) so, yet again, customers are going to be the losers!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Dec 2019 @ 9:19am

    The complaint..

    The USA is Soooo big, and there is So much land out there where People Arnt, Unlike other nations that are Small, congested, where everything is all in 1000 miles...

    How many of these Agencies/companies Are/WERE there??
    How many of them fight off, BEAT into the ground, any newbie, that tries to get a startup going??

    Dont know about now, but in the past.. Those Cell towers down freeways and out in the wild Rural areas, were NOT owned by the corps.. They were rented by those that installed them. Paying power and about $300-1000 per month, or they Paid as they were used, and a nice Fee on our bills for ROAMING..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2019 @ 12:09pm

      Re: The complaint..

      The USA is Soooo big, and there is So much land out there where People Arnt, Unlike other nations that are Small, congested, where everything is all in 1000 miles...

      Yes, absolutely, which is why the US (population density 33.6 people per square kilometre) is ranked 68th with a "Fair" score of 53.8, and Canada (population 3.92 people per square kilomere) is doing even worse, being ranked 22nd with a "Very Good" score of 69.8.

      Wait a minute...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 9 Dec 2019 @ 1:07pm

        Re: Re: The complaint..

        That's ECA - he's being sarcastic as usual. He can be a bit hard to read sometimes, but he's certainly not on the wrong side of things most of the time. Just another one of the TD regulars that you might not realize are joking or being sarcastic or employing dark humor if you didn't know them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 10 Dec 2019 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: The complaint..

        Dear AC..
        try this..
        THE USA has fixed the major part of the Backbone That Goes from here to there, already...
        We only ask those at the Ends to do the jobs we already paid for, with taxes(gov paid twice to get things done) as well as the money we pay for the services(we paid for TV/Cable/Sat/Phones/cellphones/ and a few other things) with extra fees everytime we turn around...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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