Mobile analytics firm Opensignal said in a report that all three mobile operators — Spark, 2degrees and Vodafone — provided acceptable services in comparison to operators in other countries.
But the firm's Sam Fenwick said 5G threatened to complicate the rural-urban picture further, unless both government and operators used 5G to further boost the rural experience.
"With the arrival of 5G, the difference may narrow if operators are able to successfully use the latest technology on lower frequency bands to support rural areas," he commented. "Or, if operators focus on new, high-capacity high frequencies in their 5G rollouts then the gap between rural and urban areas may increase further."
The company grades mobile firms based on a number of categories, and said that 2degrees was a global high performer in four out of six categories: video experience, games experience, voice app experience and upload speeds.
Spark was rated a global high performer in voice app experience and download speed experience with scores of 79.9 out of 100 and 38.8Mbps, respectively.
The third operator, Vodafone New Zealand, was found to be a a global high performer in download speed experience, with average download speeds of 36.6Mbps, 13Mbps faster than the global average of 23.6 Mbps.
These ratings are used to decide Opensignal's global mobile experience network awards.
The major findings of the report:
- New Zealand's rural-urban mobile divide is shrinking
- The proportion of time that rural users spent connected to 4G
- 4G availability has increased significantly across all three operators between late 2019/early 2020 and late 2020/early 2021.
- The rural/urban gap in 4G availability shrank by 7.0 percentage points for 2degrees users, 5.8 percentage points for Spark users and by 4.8 percentage points for Vodafone users between these two periods.
- Rural users had a good or very good video experience
- Video experience in New Zealand’s urban areas ranged between very good (65-75) and excellent (75 or above) in late 2020/early 2021, while in rural areas it ranged between good (55-65) and very rood (65-75).
- Playing multiplayer mobile games over a cellular connection was found to be challenging in both urban and rural areas. The games experience of users in late 2020/early 2021, on all three networks, in the urban areas was in the fair category (65-75), while in rural areas, the games experience fell into the poor category (40-65).
- Rural users experienced significantly lower download and upload speeds
- The average download speeds observed in rural areas in late 2020/early 2021 were between 32% and 44% slower than those in urban areas depending on the provider.
Fenwick pointed out that the government had asked "the Rural Connectivity Group — a joint venture between 2degrees, Spark and Vodafone — to deploy more than 500 cell sites to improve rural connectivity and the operators will share spectrum as part of this initiative. The RCG said that it went live with its 200th cell site in late February 2021 and hit the 100-cell site mark in June 2020."