Moderate your 5G expectations to avoid being disappointed
At some point over the last couple of years, wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have claimed they have the fastest 5G network in the United States. It turns out they’re all correct—depending on who you ask. At the end of last month, Opensignal said T-Mobile had America’s 5G network. Meanwhile Ookla Speedtest claimed AT&T was the 5G king as RootMetrics awarded Verizon with fastest 5G honors. None of the carriers wasted much time announcing their victories on their companies’ press release web page.
The problem of course is each of these organizations uses their own formula to determine 5G speed. Without a uniform process, it’s very easy to see why three different entities would have a different winner.
“Because of the messy state of 5G in the US—and because of the different ways tests are run—it’s now impossible for any U.S. carrier to call itself the 5G leader,” Sasha Segan wrote in PCMag. “The quick takeaway is that 5G networks are changing so fast that the ratings organizations are getting tripped up in the time between when they run their tests and when they publish their reports. Differences about where they test, what devices they do it with can come into play.”
Wireless carriers claim to be the fastest, but is their 5G fast?
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile’s current battle for the nation’s 5G network might be a moot point, according to Ookla Speedtest and OpenSignal. While the firms can’t agree on who has the fastest 5G network in the U.S., they’re both in agreement that the U.S. is far behind the rest of the world in terms of network speed. Part of the reason for the poor showing around the world is the use of old 4G airwaves to generate 5G instead of opening up new mid-band channels, according to Segan. Relying on “old” parts has left 5G in the U.S. looking and feeling similar to 4G.
OpenSignal data had T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon’s 5G download speeds in the 47 to 58 Mbps range—a far cry from the 100 Mbps goal. Ookla meanwhile had the U.S. as a whole at 64.11 Mbps during the third quarter of 2020—almost 30 Mbps less than the next closest nation (Singapore 92.65).
Fortunately, the concept of fast 5G isn’t hopeless in the U.S.; there’s just some work that needs to be done. For example Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G is the fastest in the world. The carrier just needs to figure out how more people can access it. T-Mobile has a strong mid-band presence thanks to its acquisition of Sprint. Its “ultra capacity” 5G should help push the U.S. up the world rankings, according to Segan. Meanwhile C-band 5G, which was recently made available in an FCC auction, uses fresh airwaves that will improve Verizon’s, and potentially AT&T’s, performances.
“The difference between millimeter-wave speeds and low-band is so huge, the difference between mid-band and low-band is also significant,” Segan wrote. “That means you need to turn down the volume on these ‘nationwide’ awards and look clearly at which technologies are available near you.”
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.