A report by UK-based Opensignal says the gap between rural and urban mobile experiences is closing. It warns the arrival of 5G mobile could muddy that picture.

Opensignal says while disparities between rural and urban mobile remain, rural mobile is improving. The report says this is “… likely as a result of government and operator efforts.”

The proportion of time rural users spend connected to 4G networks has increased at a faster rate than the improvement in urban areas. Although rural comes from a lower base.

Customers on the Vodafone network saw the gap between urban and rural time on 4G networks fall 4.8 percent. For Spark users the drop was 5.8 percent. At 2degrees it fell 7 percent.

Opensignal says before the Covid lockdown 4G availability for rural users was close to 25 percent behind urban levels. Now it sits at around 17 to 18 percent behind.

The report goes on to compare the mobile experience with different types of use. It says only 2degrees urban customers enjoy an excellent video experience. The company’s rural customers do better than Vodafone’s urban customers.

Meanwhile the mobile games experience is underwhelming everywhere. The three carriers deliver a ‘fair’ gaming experience in urban areas. This drops to ‘poor’ outside the towns and cities.

Opensignal scores for rural download and upload speeds are a long way behind urban speeds. Spark is fastest overall. Its urban customers can download at an average of 41.9Mbps. In rural New Zealand, 2degrees’ customers get less than half that speed: 20.2Mbps.

The report concludes that if carriers use 5G on lower frequency bands in rural areas, the performance gap with urban mobile would close. If they choose to focus on high capacity, high frequencies in the cities, then the gap will open again.