Mobile networks: A territorial divide still relevant in 2020

While the quality of service of fixed networks in rural areas is currently the subject of debate, it also continues to be closely monitored with regard to mobile networks. The specialist firm Qosi has just published its annual report on the quality of experience of the services offered by mobile operators in mainland France. A document intended to report on the experience of users on the 2G, 3G and 4G networks marketed by operators over the past year.

As the inhabitants of these rural areas and their representatives might fear, this study, based on feedback from 42,000 contributors spread over 20,000 municipalities in France, shows an increasingly wide disparity in the situations, which one is in the country or in the city. “The experience of mobile data users is not the same depending on where they live. The largest agglomerations have descending flows up to nearly 3 times higher than the average flow in rural areas ”, we agree in fact to say on the side of Qosi.

And to note that in 2020, 23% of metropolitan municipalities have low-quality 4G networks, with a large majority of speeds below 10 Mb / s. Worse, 3% of the municipalities surveyed by the Qosi study do not do not have any usable data network … so many municipalities which are 95% in rural areas.

A territorial divide still present

If there is a delay, note all the same that the quality of service of mobile networks is constantly improving, whether in town or in the countryside. First with regard to downlink speeds, an area in which Orange has taken a step ahead of its competitors in 2020, by presenting the best average downstream speed at national level, with an average figure of 53.9 Mb / The operator is followed by SFR with 34.8 Mb / s, then Bouygues, stable, at 33.2 Mb / s, and finally Free, at 27.5 Mb / s which continues as in 2019 to tighten the gap on the leading trio.


Despite this general improvement in the quality of service observed on downlink speeds offered by mobile operators, it is still not enough to widen the yawning gap that now separates rural and urban connections. Take the case of Orange. While the incumbent operator sees its downstream speeds improve by 10 Mb / s in all geographic areas, this is not enough to reduce the gap between the quality of service observed in rural and urban areas, which leads to the operator to present the greatest disparity in flow rates between the different strata of the population.

Conversely, Free is progressing uniformly throughout the territory and presents itself as the operator offering the most homogeneous quality of service, whatever its geographical position in the metropolitan territory. An evolution which does not however owe so much to strategic choices as to a rather consequent delay in ignition which leads the operator of Xavier Niel to be well below its competitors in the large agglomerations, with flow rates twice weaker than its challengers.

Progress that is not enough

Same story with regard to the uplinks offered by the operators. As in previous years, Orange has the best average upward speed at the national level, with an average figure of 13.4 Mb / s. The difference in treatment that users will experience will remain strong depending on whether they are in an urban environment or rural. And yet, the incumbent operator stands out as the one with the best speeds for all population strata, with geographic averages in 2020 at 8.6 Mb / s in rural areas, 13.8 Mb / s on average agglomeration and 17.3 Mb / s in large urban areas.


Bouygues Telecom for its part posted average downlink speeds of 11.6 Mb / s in 2020, closely followed by SFR and its 10.8 Mb / s. Following Free, which remains far from its competitors but shows the best progress, with an average uplink speed quantified in 2020 at 9 Mb / s. Here again, the results delivered by Qosi show a very variable quality of service depending on whether you are in the city or in the countryside.

Note that this territorial divide is logically found in the results delivered by the institute about the quality of service offered by operators on web browsing. At the national level, the proportion of pages displayed in less than 10 seconds is 92% for Orange, 89% for Bouygues Telecom and SFR and 86% for Free, which still brings up the rear despite a very substantial improvement in its scores in 2020 Here again, the rural zone lags by 5 to 10 points compared to the two urban zones which, for their part, have equivalent results. What push operators to redouble their efforts to finally hope to bridge the digital divide in 2021.

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