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US is falling behind the world on LTE speeds

When it comes to LTE, there can be a first mover disadvantage

OpenSignal's most recent report about the state of global LTE coverage and download speeds tells some familiar stories. As we've seen in previous years, it's Asian nations such as South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong that offer customers the best coverage (97 percent, 90 percent, and 86 percent, respectively), while the US lags just a little behind (78 percent) and European countries like the UK and Germany pop up toward the middle of the list. However, when it comes to download speeds on LTE networks, some countries rank surprisingly high, reflecting the fact that it's sometimes better to come a little late to the party, when all the best technology is already in place.

New Zealand is a good example. The country only launched its LTE mobile networks two years ago, but in OpenSignal's speed tests it came out top, with average speeds of 36Mbps — ahead of both Singapore and South Korea, which were second and fourth place, respectively. And which country took that number three spot? It's "relative newcomer" Romania, which already has access to LTE-Advanced and 4G networks on multiple bands.

The top portion of OpenSignal's chart showing LTE coverage. Click here for the full report. (OpenSignal)

The top portion of OpenSignal's chart showing LTE download speeds. Click here for the full report. (OpenSignal)

Meanwhile, some countries that introduced LTE relatively early on (including the US, Japan, Sweden, and Germany) are starting to see their data speeds suffer by comparison. The US, for example, despite impressive coverage for such a large nation, only recorded average download speeds of 10Mbps — taking a spot toward the bottom of OpenSignal's table, sandwiched between India and Indonesia.

"In part, these older networks are suffering from their own success," notes OpenSignal. "In the US, for instance, LTE’s introduction in 2010 resulted in a huge base of LTE subscribers in the country today. Those subscribers are all competing for the same network resources, slowing down average speeds. In comparison, newer networks in South America and Europe are more lightly loaded." This first mover disadvantage isn't a hard and fast rule, though, and countries such as South Korea have managed to keep up by expanding their networks into new frequencies and upping their capacity. The US can still do the same.