Costa Rica mobile carriers improve coverage, but not internet speed

August 24, 2016
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Costa Rica’s mobile carriers perform well with their 2G and 3G networks, but they need improvements in coverage and quality of their 4G networks. These are some of the main findings of the latest quality evaluation conducted by the Telecommunications Superintendency (SUTEL).

During six months last year, the agency evaluated the performance of mobile and mobile Internet services of state-owned ICE-kölbi, Spanish carrier Telefónica, which operates here under its Movistar brand, and Claro, owned by Mexico’s América Móvil.

The evaluation included on-the-ground measurements of mobile coverage, network capacity to complete calls without interruptions, voice quality and transfer speeds of Internet data.

Call quality

The three carriers scored high with values ranging between 89 and 99 percent in coverage and voice quality over their 2G and 3G networks. Values, however, varied depending on each network’s national coverage.

Benchmarks for the 3G network, the most widely-used here, placed ICE-kölbi first with a national coverage of 93 percent. Claro was second with 81 percent and Movistar followed with 79 percent.

ICE also topped the evaluation for the 4G network with a national coverage of 89 percent. Claro and Movistar obtained 71 and 46 percent, respectively.

SUTEL’s report also states that the carriers scored high in their networks’ capacity to allow customers to complete phone calls without interruptions.

Claro got the top spot with only 5 percent of dropped calls. Only 10 percent of Movistar customers experienced interruptions during their conversations while 14 percent of ICE-Kölbi’s customers were unable to complete their calls.

Low speed benchmarks

The main differences among the carriers in SUTEL’s study are in the average speeds of their mobile Internet networks.

The study found that, on average, Claro offers the best data download speed on 3G networks, with 3,629kilobytes per second (kbps). Movistar is second with 2,620 kbps while ICE-Kölbi offers 1,244 kbps.

Overall, downloading data on mobile phones is slow in Costa Rica compared to many other countries.

London-based tech consultant OpenSignal recently released the results of its Global State of Mobile Networks, an evaluation of mobile data performance in 95 countries.

South Korea tops the list with an average speed of over 41,000 kbps while Costa Rica’s average of 2,550 kbps placed it only above Afghanistan.

Uruguay, at 10,200 kbps, ranks first in Latin America. OpenSignal’s study, however, only included 15 countries in the region.

Service compliance

SUTEL’s study found that all three carriers failed to comply with download speeds promised by their plans, reaching on average 72 percent of the promised download velocity.

Claro customers who signed a 5 Megabytes per second (Mbps) plan received, on average, actual speed of 3.6 Mbps.

Movistar customers got 2.6 Mbps on their 4 Mbps plans.

ICE-Kölbi customers who signed a 3 Mbps plan received 1.2 Mbps on average, making it the least compliant.

Claro offers the best mobile internet speed in 4G networks, with an average of 13.4 Mbps. ICE-Kölbi is second with 5.9 Mbps and Movistar is third at 5.7 Mbps.

SUTEL’s Fallas hopes the research can help consumers make a more informed decision when signing a mobile phone plan.

The agency conducted its research between June and December 2015 through on-the-ground tests along 31,393 kilometers across the country.

According to SUTEL, there were 7.5 million mobile phone lines in Costa Rica at the end of 2015, of which 5.4 million (72 percent) included mobile internet plans.

Internet data traffic in Costa Rica in the last two years has shown noticeable growth. Mobile internet users transferred 24.2 Terabytes of data in 2013. They transferred triple that amount last year.

Full results of SUTEL’s mobile service quality evaluation are available on the agency’s website.

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