Mobile subscribers across Canada’s vast rural landscape have benefited from having some of the fastest 4G networks in the world. Although a clear divide has existed between Canada’s urban and rural mobile experience, for example with download speed or multiplayer mobile gaming. However, Opensignal’s new analysis reveals that with 5G Canada’s urban-rural mobile experience gap has reduced markedly.

Opensignal has assessed the mobile network experience in rural and urban areas of Canada and compared it with three similarly large markets — Australia, Brazil and the U.S. — as well as with Germany.

The average overall download speeds of Canadian mobile users averaged ranged from 55.6 to 63.1 Mbps in different types of urban areas. This was 14.1-21.7 Mbps (34.1-52.2%) faster than the speeds in Canada’s rural areas. This gap in mobile download speeds between urban and rural areas is higher than the difference in Brazil (7.8%) and Germany (32.3%) but is lower than that in Australia (100.5%) and the U.S. (41.7%). However, the overall download speed experienced by Canadian rural users is much faster than the speed in all four other markets analyzed — 16.2-27% faster than users in rural parts of Australia, Germany and the U.S., and 2.5 times as fast as rural Brazil.

The urban-rural divide in Canada is impressively narrow when we compare 5G speeds. Our Canadian rural users experienced average 5G download speeds of 116.7 Mbps — just 12.2 Mbps (9.5%) slower than in large urban population centers of Canada. In fact, we saw no statistically significant difference between the 5G download speeds experienced in rural Canada and its small and medium urban population centers.

The other markets had a varied urban-rural speed situation. In rural and urban Brazil our users also saw statistically similar 5G download speeds. On the other hand, Australia saw the largest urban-rural gap in 5G Download Speed, followed by the U.S. and Germany.

Next, we look at the proportion of time users spent with no signal, as fast download speeds or a good Video or Games Experience are only useful when users are able to latch on to a cellular connection. Opensignal’s analysis shows that users in rural Canada spend 2.6% of the time with no signal, much lower than rural users in Australia (5.2%) and Brazil (6.8%) but higher than those in Germany (1.5%) and the U.S. (1.9%). Given the relative size of those markets, this is an impressive result for Canada.

Turning to 5G Availability — the proportion of time users spent with an active 5G connection — we found that our users in Germany observed no significant difference between 5G Availability in rural and urban areas. Australia saw the largest urban-rural divide, with a difference of 12.6 percentage points, followed by the U.S. and Brazil. In Canada, there was little difference between rural (9.6%) and Urban small (10.4%) 5G Availability, but a bigger difference with Urban Medium (14.7%) and Urban Large (14.2%) areas.

The time our rural Canadian 5G users spent with an active 5G connection (9.6%) is higher than the 5G Availability in rural Australia and Brazil but slightly lower than in rural Germany. Overall, the U.S. saw the highest 5G Availability in rural and urban areas, across all compared markets.

Across all markets and regions, 5G Games Experience was higher than overall Games Experience indicating the value of 5G. However, there are also urban-rural differences in Games Experience too which adversely affects the experience of rural mobile gamers.

Looking at Games Experience, we found significant disparities between urban and rural areas across all five markets. The urban-rural gap in overall Games Experience ranged from 6.4% in Germany to 37.5% in Australia. Our analysis also shows that playing multiplayer mobile games over a cellular connection in rural areas can be challenging in three out of five markets. The overall Games Experience in rural areas of Australia, Brazil, Canada and U.S. placed in the Poor rating bracket (40-65), while that in rural areas of Germany placed in the Fair rating bracket (65-75).

The urban-rural gap in Games Experience was noticeably lower with 5G. While Germany saw no statistically significant difference between the 5G Games Experience in rural and urban areas, Australia saw the largest relative difference of 10% followed by Brazil (2.7%), Canada (1.9%-3%) and the U.S. (1.8%). Our analysis also shows that our users across the majority of compared markets enjoyed a significantly better Games Experience with 5G regardless of whether they connected from urban or rural areas. The 5G Experience scores in rural areas of Brazil, Canada and Germany placed the markets within the Good (75-85) category, while those in the U.S. and Australia achieved a Fair rating.

Canada fares well on an international urban-rural mobile experience comparison

Opensignal’s analysis shows that 5G has not only provided significant uplift to Canada’s mobile network experience, but 5G has also helped close the urban-rural gap in aspects of mobile network experience, for example with download speeds and gaming.

However, while rural Canada has benefited from some of the fastest 4G experiences globally in the past, our new analysis shows that this is not yet true with 5G services. This is because Canadian carriers have been limited by the amount of brand new spectrum that has been usable for 5G. Often, the carriers have had to deploy 5G in lower bands with less capacity and which offers users a weaker 5G experience. This is now changing because they are able to use the high capacity 3.5 GHz spectrum they acquired in the July 2021 auction. This will help Canadian carriers accelerate and improve the 5G experience.