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Operators swap speed for coverage to get more online, claims new report

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LTE speeds are starting to decline in developed markets as operators switch focus to ubiquitous coverage, a new study of the 4G market has found.

Network performance company OpenSignal's latest The State of LTE report found that while 50 out of the 77 countries studied had LTE coverage of more than 70 percent, up from 33 countries six months ago, speeds were not showing corresponding growth.

The report found no new country was offering 40MBps LTE and the amount of countries averaging speeds of more than 20MBps had fallen.

OpenSignal said the slowing speeds were not necessarily bad news for the industry. It said: "We seem to have hit a plateau in LTE technological evolution. 4G's first movers in the developed world have built out their LTE-Advanced infrastructure and are now focused on bringing all of their customers to these new high-powered networks.

"Meanwhile, in the developing world operators have largely completed their initial LTE rollouts and are turning their 3G customers into 4G customers.

"Consequently we're seeing much more of a focus on availability than speed. The more people that can tap into the LTE signal, the more potential LTE or LTE-Advanced users operators can sign up."

Despite the decline or plateauing speeds at the top end of the market, the average LTE connection nudged up from offering 16.2MBps six months ago to 16.6MBps today.

South Korea continued to be the trendsetter for 4G, covering 96.69 percent of the population with average speeds of 45.85MBps.

However, Hungary and Norway also had strong performances. The former was found to have population coverage of 86.44 percent with average speeds of 42MBps and the latter 88.66 percent and 42.03MBps.

[Read more: Magyar Telekom debuts 5G New Radio in Hungary]

The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark were also in the top 10 performers for population coverage and speed.

In collating the report, OpenSignal tracked more than 50 billion measurements from more than 3.8 million smartphone and connected device users.