Industry Insights

5G User Experience Takes Step Forward

2020-08-31  |  6 min read 

It's still early days in the 5G deployment phase, and 5G download speeds and availability in most of the world are still nowhere near where they will be. But even at this early stage, 5G is already offering considerable advantages versus 4G. And in many of the world's most developed regions, measurable progress is being made.

OpenSignal, a wireless technology market and technology research firm, last week published an analysis of the 5G user experience in 12 markets, including the U.S., South Korea, and Australia. The study found that the average 5G download speed is between 1.4X and 14.3X faster than 4G. It also found that the time that 5G users are connected to a 5G network more than 20% of the time in four markets — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

5G users in the U.S., meanwhile, are connected to a 5G network just under 20% of the time, according to the study. But the study also found that U.S. 5G users experience a somewhat modest average download speed of about 33.4 Mbps ­­­— well below the 144.5 Mbps average download speeds enjoyed by users in Saudi Arabia. OpenSignal attributes the modest 5G download speeds in the U.S. to a combination of a limited amount of new mid-band 5G spectrum that is available and the popularity of low-band spectrum available from U.S. operators.

Source: OpenSignal 

For some perspective on the OpenSignal study, we checked in with Roger Nichols, 5G/6G Program Manager at Keysight. According to Nichols, the modest download speed in the U.S. have more to do with limited deployment at this stage than anything else.

"The big players are really just getting started," Nichols said. "T-Mobile has the coverage with their 600MHz spectrum —some of which they used for greenfield 5G deployment. They also boast coverage in all 50 states."

The frequency ranges allocated to 5G are grouped into Frequency Range 1 (below 6 GHz) and Frequency Range 2 (the millimeter-wave bands between 24.25 GHz and 52.6 GHz. Nichols noted that the other major players in the U.S. are using existing LTE bands — and hence won't have the ability to focus these bands on 5G — or the mmWave bands.

OpenSignal's report singles out Verizon for its mmWave-based 5G service for average 5G download speeds of 494.7 Mbps — faster than the research firm has observed in with any other operator or in any region, including Saudi Arabia.

Nichols said the speed advantage offered by Verizon's mmWave-based service is no surprise. "I am pretty sure that none of the other regions or operators in the study have deployed mmWave yet," Nichols said.

Source: OpenSignal 

Because the U.S. was first to deploy mmWave systems in late 2018, the U.S. is likely to have the highest peak data rates, Nichols noted. But since the mmWave deployment is limited, the U.S. is likely to have the poorest consistency of the regions in the study, he added.

On the percentage of time that 5G users are connected to a 5G network, Nichols said most of the regions near the top of the list have dominant use models because their populations are concentrated in a few cities that "that already have good underlying infrastructure and plenty of local government support for rapid deployment."   

South Korea, which OpenSignal placed near the top of its lists for both 5G average download speed and availability, was the first country to commercialize 5G on a broad scale in production networks in March of 2019, Nichols noted. With a population of about 52 million and an extremely demanding customer base, most South Korean 5G deployments use greenfield spectrum and started at about 3.5 GHz to ensure that their performance would be better than that of LTE.

"They don't have peak data rates as high as Saudi Arabia and Canada because they have had to focus on ensuring broader coverage of the population," Nichols said.

South Korea has the highest adoption rate of 5G to date because of aggressive plans by South Korean operators and government support, Nichols added.  

"South Korea got a head start by going commercial well before the rest of the players," Nichols said. "Larger penetration will almost definitely mean lower data rates, simply due to capacity demand," he added.

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