Why are mobile internet speeds in the United States so slow compared to other countries?

Besides being one of the richest countries in the world, the United States is also home to some of the biggest tech companies on the planet. Yet despite this, customers across the country suffer from poor mobile internet speed compared to other developed countries.

Time and time again, research has shown that the speed of mobile internet in the United States lags behind other countries. But how bad is your cell phone signal and why is it? This article will explore three possible reasons.

How slow is the speed of mobile internet in the United States?

According to the April 2021 Global Speed ​​Test Index, the United States ranks 18th for mobile internet download speeds.

Despite progress and speeds above the world average, the country still ranks below a whole list of developed countries. Some countries with higher average moving speeds than the United States this month include Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus.

When it comes to 5G, the United States doesn’t rank well either. Research published in 2020 by OpenSignal found that 5G speeds in the country were only 52 megabytes per second when tested. It was slower than 4G speeds in some countries including the Netherlands, Canada, and South Korea.

Related: 5G vs 4G: What’s Faster?

Now that you know how slow US mobile internet speeds are, let’s take a closer look at why this could be the case.

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Population density

From a spatial perspective, the United States is huge. And with a population of over 320 million, it’s not the smallest country in this regard either.

But a big differentiator is the population density in the country. According to World Bank data, the United States has 36 people per square kilometer. By comparison, the European Union has 112, South Korea 529 and China 148.


Street scene in Seoul, South Korea

One possible explanation for the average slow speed of mobile Internet in the United States is that providers may find it easier to provide better service in denser areas.

Related: The Most Important Steps To Speed ​​Up A Slow Mobile Data Connection

Compared to countries with a larger geographic extent, countries with a higher population density may concentrate their efforts more in a smaller area. This could be one of the reasons why smaller countries like Luxembourg and Cyprus rank above the United States in the World Speed ​​Test Index.


Competition (or lack thereof)

Verizon and AT&T are among the most recognizable company names in the world. But in the United States, there are concerns that the lack of competition is preventing citizens from enjoying faster mobile speeds.

In 2013, Susan Crawford, who previously worked in a tech-related role for former US President Barack Obama, told the BBC:

We deregulated high speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we have seen huge consolidations and monopolies, so on their own the companies that provide internet access will charge high prices because they face neither competition nor surveillance.

In the same way that it charges higher prices, the lack of competition is also a potential reason why mobile internet speeds are so slow. Without a lot of disruptors, larger companies can feel like they can stay popular, even without drastic speed improvements.

Infrastructure

Linked to population density, the size of the United States also makes it more difficult to set up the right mobile Internet infrastructure.

While maintaining constant speeds in big cities like San Francisco and New York can be fairly straightforward, doing the same in a rural part of Alaska may not be easy.


Photo of a landscape in Alaska

Speeding up Internet speeds is not the sole responsibility of the mobile operators themselves. Rather, it is a joint effort between them and engineers, as well as local governments.

Internet speeds of cellphones in the United States lag behind other developed countries

US cell phone users have to endure slower speeds than their European and Asian counterparts. It is often confusing why such a powerful country has slow mobile internet, but the explanation is complex.

Lack of competition is one reason, but not the only one. The density of the US population also makes it more difficult to meet everyone, especially in rural areas.


Infrastructure also plays a role in low internet speeds. All of these challenges will need to be met before the United States can raise its standards.


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