Mobile app latency in Europe: French operators lead; Italian & Spanish lag

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Our latest analysis shows staggering differences in 'app-lag' (the time it takes for an app to get a response over the Internet) across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, and twenty mobile operators. This has significant consequences for customer data experiences, and potentially operator market performance too. Operators in France, particularly Bouygues and Free, are delivering a superior customer app experience while 3 in Italy and Movistar in Spain are European laggards. (October 2015, Foundation 2.0, Executive Briefing Service.)

Executive Summary

  • Because mobile applications and web pages are made of lots of small ‘microservices’ that collectively deliver the overall solution, latency – the time taken for an HTTP request to be sent and a response received from the server – often has a bigger impact on user digital experience than broadband speed.   As a result of this, STL Partners is exploring latency as a proxy for customer ‘app experience’ over mobile networks.
  • STL Partners uses ‘Total roundtrip latency’ as a measure of customer app experience because this measures the time taken from the moment the user takes an action, such as pressing a button on a mobile device, to receiving a response – in effect, a packet arriving back and being processed by the application at the device.  Total roundtrip latency measures the full customer ‘wait time’.
  • Two core latency performance indicators are examined in this report:
    • Average total roundtrip latency.
    • Percentage of requests with total roundtrip latency above 500ms. 500ms is used as this is estimated to be the latency above which user experience materially suffers. This is a critically important indicator since it is possible for an operator to have a low average latency performance but still have a high percentage of requests with a poor customer experience. In other words, the ‘long-tail’ of poor performance adversely affects the customer even if lots of HTTP requests are dealt with very quickly. For example, in the chart below we show the distribution of latencies for two operators. Operator A has lots of very fast requests and a long tail of requests with high latencies. Operator B has much fewer fast requests but a much shorter tail of poor-performing latencies. The chart clearly shows that operator B has a much higher percentage of requests with a satisfactory latency even though its average latency performance is lower than operator A (318ms vs 314ms). Essentially operator A is let down by its slowest requests – those that prevent an application from completing a task for a customer.
Figure 1 – Using latency as a measure of performance for customers

Figure 2 – Percentage of app requests with total roundtrip latency above 500ms – markets

  • In five core European markets (UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain), there are very wide differences between operators and countries in total roundtrip latency performance.
  • Overall, France is the best-performing country. France also has the two best-performing operators in Europe: Free and Bouygues Telecom.
  • At the other end of the scale, Italy and Spain are the worst-performing countries, and contain four out of five of the worst performing operators in 3 Italy, Vodafone Italy, Telecom Italia, and Telefonica subsidiary Movistar in Spain.
  • Telefonica has the dubious honour of having a second subsidiary in the bottom five performers – the recently acquired E-Plus in Germany, which is currently being integrated with the better-performing O2 network.
  • Overall, the report covers the performance of 20 leading operators across the 5 countries and quantifies the performance of the leaders, laggards and those in the middle of the pack.


  • Latency as a proxy for customer app experience
  • ‘Total roundtrip latency’ is the best measure for customer ‘app experience’
  • Latency is becoming increasingly important
  • STL Partners’ approach
  • Europe: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • UK: EE, O2, Vodafone, 3
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Germany: T-Mobile, Vodafone, e-Plus, O2
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • France: Orange, SFR, Bouygues Télécom, Free
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Italy: TIM, Vodafone, Wind, 3
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • Spain: Movistar, Vodafone, Orange, Yoigo
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Key findings
  • About STL Partners and Telco 2.0
  • About Crittercism
  • Appendix 1: Defining latency
  • Appendix 2: Why latency is important


  • Figure 1: Total roundtrip latency – reflecting a user’s ‘wait time’
  • Figure 2: Why a worse average latency can result in higher customer satisfaction
  • Figure 3: Major European markets – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 4: Major European markets – percentage of requests above 500ms
  • Figure 5: The location of Google and Amazon’s European data centres favours operators in France, UK and Germany
  • Figure 6: European operators – average total roundtrip latency (ms)
  • Figure 7: European operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 8: Customer app experience is likely to be particularly poor at 3 Italy, Movistar (Spain) and Telecom Italia
  • Figure 9: UK Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 10: UK operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 11: German Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 12: German operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 13: French Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 14: French operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 15: Italian Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 16: Italian operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 17: Spanish Operators – average latency (ms)
  • Figure 18: Spanish operators – percentage of requests with latency over 500ms
  • Figure 19: Breakdown of HTTP requests in, by type and size