Canada's LTE wireless speeds ranked in new report

Want to download something fast? A new report reveals the actual speeds Canadian smartphone users are getting from their wireless carriers - and how different carriers stack up.

OpenSignal finds SaskTel, Videotron are speediest, but Bell is the fastest of the Big 3

Telus, Bell and Rogers all averaged more than 17 megabits per second, according to a new report. Bell edged out its rivals with an average speed of 19.9 Mbps. (Antionio Guillem/Fotolia)

Want to download something fast? A new report has released average LTE wireless speeds in Canada, and its results may come as a surprise.

U.K.-based OpenSignal reports that regional carriers Videotron and SaskTel had the top average speeds in the country between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, 2015. Average speeds on those two high-speed LTE networks was greater than 27 megabits per second (Mbps), and OpenSignal called the results "impressive" in its latest State of Mobile Networks report for Canada.

OpenSignal makes an app that measures wireless download speeds to help smartphone users locate a better wireless signal or provide evidence for complaints about their wireless service. It generates data for its report by automatically measuring the download speeds of users who have installed its app several times a day. In Canada, that included 27 million data points from more than 15,600 users.

Telus, Bell and Rogers, the three carriers with 90 per cent of the Canadian market, were measured as being slower than SaskTel and Videotron. They all averaged more than 17 Mbps, according to the report. "Bell, however, edged out its rivals with an average speed of 19.9 Mbps."

We measure the speed you get on a day-to-day basis in reality.- Jasmin   Schawalder, OpenSignal marketing director

But it's not fair to compare the speeds of those national carriers with smaller carriers likes SaskTel, which operates only in Saskatchewan, and Videotron, which operates only in Quebec, said Jasmin Schawalder, marketing and PR director, OpenSignal.

"They can focus on a much smaller area and be really strong there," she said in a phone interview. "But if you're a national operator, especially in a country like Canada where you need to cover very remote places, your overall score might not be that high. It's kind of like comparing apples to pears."

Slower than advertised speeds

All average speeds measured by OpenSignal are much slower than advertised speeds. Bell may have the fastest LTE speeds among the Big 3, but 19.9 Mbps is still much slower than the 4G speeds of up to 42 Mbps and LTE speeds of up to 150 Mbps it advertises on its website.

"We measure the speed you get on a day-to-day basis in reality," Schawalder said.

Users usually only get a fraction of the theoretical maximum speed for their network. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Users usually only get a fraction of the theoretical maximum speed, she added — if another user connects to the same cell tower as them or if they are farther away from the tower, their speed will be reduced. The type of phone they have may also make a difference.

"Carriers get away with promoting theoretical maximums because there aren't any standards around displaying typical speeds,'" Schawalder added in an email. "It's a practice that has gone on in the fixed line world for years, but it's our mission at OpenSignal to provide consumers with access to this more useful, realistic data."

OpenSignal's measured speeds are also slower than the speeds measured in at least one other report using crowdsourced data. The report by PC Mag released last September relied on network speed testing by Seattle, Wash.-based Ookla. Ookla and OpenSignal confirmed that they use different methodologies — OpenSignal says it tries to show speeds during typical use, while Ookla tries to eliminate factors that are beyond the control of the carrier when its measurements are recorded.

While the measured speeds from Canada's wireless carriers might not sound that high, OpenSignal notes that Canada's Big 3 wireless carriers are "far above" the global average of 12.6 Mbps among 140 countries included in an OpenSignal report last September. Overall, in that report, Canada ranked 17th for wireless speeds. New Zealand was first with an average LTE speed of 35 Mbps.

Many Canadian carriers have also started rolling out even faster LTE-Advanced technology, which Bell says can offer speeds of up to 335 Mbps.

Canada is "definitely one of the most advanced markets when it comes to 4G in the world," Schawalder said.

On the other hand, Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the world for wireless service and prices are rising.

About the Author

Emily Chung

Science and Technology Writer

Emily Chung covers science and technology for CBC News. She has previously worked as a digital journalist for CBC Ottawa and as an occasional producer at CBC's Quirks & Quarks. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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