Opensignal study slams U.S. carriers’ streaming-video quality

It’s a good time to stream video on your phone—if you don’t see the Stars and Stripes anywhere nearby.

Opensignal’s latest study of streaming-video quality gives the United States the numerical equivalent of an F grade that looks even worse in context. The State of Mobile Video Experience November 2019, posted Wednesday morning, ranks the U.S. 68th out of 100, between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

The States’ video-experience score of 53.8, as measured in “picture quality, video loading time and stall rate,” left it far below its six most-industrialized peers.

“Video Experience remained stuck in the Fair category,” authors Ian Fogg, Sue Marek  and David Nedescu write of the U.S. streaming situation in the 19-page report. “Americans had the lowest Video Experience score of any of the G7 economically leading countries as U.S. carriers struggle with the combination of enormous mobile video consumption and insufficient new spectrum.”

That crowdsourced study, based on 94,086,045,513 measurements from 37,671,772 devices running Opensignal’s software between Aug. 1 and Oct. 30, found that even as entertainment and advertising are making a massive move to mobile, small screen video quality lags in America.

The authors blamed that on a spectrum crunch in the U.S. meeting escalating demand for mobile video—a squeeze carriers have attempted to manage their way out of by capping the resolution of mobile video.

Other countries ranked far higher. Canada, for example, saw its video-experience score rise from 61.2 to 69.8. Carriers there do not cap streaming video resolution, a comparison by the wireless-plan-comparison site WhistleOut notes.

Fogg said in an email forwarded by an Opensignal publicist that “capping the picture quality is only one of a number of approaches, and it’s not the most common one we see.”

He also commended recent moves by the Federal Communications Commission to auction off more mid-band spectrum but warned that they won’t fix the problem quickly. “It will take time, likely many months, for the auction to happen and carriers to be able to use the spectrum to help serve consumers,” he said.

The report also casts doubt on 5G’s ability to fix mobile video, owing to the same lack of mid-band spectrum. One outside analyst agreed that U.S. customers will continue to see resolution restraints, at least on cheaper 5G plans.

“One reason is that they understand that video dominates traffic,” analyst Jeff Moore of Wave7 Research wrote in an email. “The other reason is that HD is one of many ‘crowbars’ – along with hotspot, music and video services, and international usage – that carriers have to persuade customers to adopt higher tiers of unlimited.”

Meanwhile, new streaming launches such as the booming Disney+ will only make the demand problem worse in the U.S. “Americans will see more video streaming services launch with attractive content to watch on smartphones and other devices,” Fogg said. “Mobile data consumption will continue to increase as a result.”