Mobile analytics company Opensignal recently released its October 2021 5G Experience Report, which awarded T-Mobile fastest 5G Download Speed for the fourth consecutive time. T-Mobile users’ average 5G download speeds broke through the 100 Mbps mark. The carrier led its competitors with 62.7 Mbps and a 5G download speed that’s more than twice as fast as AT&T and Verizon’s scores.
“Our T-Mobile users saw average 5G download speeds of 118.7 Mbps ahead of our users on Verizon and AT&T, which scored 56 Mbps and 51.5 Mbps, respectively,” Opensignal said in its report.
T-Mobile also increased its winning margin in 5G availability and reach and upload speed, while Verizon maintained its edge in 5G games experience. Keep reading for more of Opensignal’s 5G insights.
Who has the fastest 5G network?
T-Mobile’s 5G download and upload speeds ranked on the top of Opensignal’s report. The carrier’s 5G download speed increased 22.6% from the company’s July report. The 2.5 GHz spectrum it got after merging with Sprint has played a key role in T-Mobile’s rise in 5G download speed.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s 5G download speed increased just 3.7 Mbps since Opensignal’s last report, while AT&T saw a slight decrease bringing it to third place. Both carriers are hoping to deploy their own mid-band 5G after the first block of C-band spectrum is released in December, however.
The 5G upload speed competition was more competitive. T-Mobile held onto its lead in the category, but just slightly—its score was 16.1 Mbps in this latest report, while Verizon was marked at 14.4 Mbps. AT&T was a distant third, but its score increased from 8.8 Mbps to 9.7 Mbps since July.
Who has the best 5G coverage?
T-Mobile was also awarded first place for 5G availability in Opensignal’s latest report. Opensignal measures how long users are connected to a carrier’s 5G network—the higher the percentage, the better their 5G availability score. In this case, Opensignal’s T-Mobile users were connected to 5G a little more than 34% of the time. AT&T users were connected to 5G about half of that time (16.4%), while Verizon users were on 5G just 9.7% of the time. Each carrier’s 5G availability fell since July.
“Our users on all three U.S. carriers experienced declines to their 5G Availability compared to our previous report when T-Mobile’s 5G Availability reached 36.3%, AT&T scored 22.5% and Verizon 10.5%,” Opensignal said in its report. “Often, we see a seasonal effect on the mobile experience in the U.S. and other countries. A drop in 5G Availability was likely due to seasonality as mobile users spend more time outdoors in different, more rural, parts of the country during the warmer months.
“AT&T’s score decreased by a greater amount (6.1 percentage points) indicating that seasonality alone does not explain the change in AT&T’s score. It is possible that AT&T may have made some network configuration changes or had other problems with their 5G network that had an impact on its users’ 5G Availability.”
T-Mobile also won its third consecutive 5G Reach award; it scored a 7.2 out of 10 in that category. 5G Reach represents areas where 5G users have connected to a 5G network out of all of the places those users have visited. AT&T finished second in the reach category with 4.9 points, while Verizon scored just 3.4.
Which carrier has the best 5G for gaming? Video?
Verizon won Opensignal’s 5G Games Experience and Video Experience awards. Opensignal’s Games Experience measures how mobile device users experience multi-play mobile gaming on a carrier’s 5G network in real time. Games Experience analyzes how mobile network conditions impact the multi-play mobile gaming experience.
For gaming, Verizon scored 80.6 on a 100-point scale, which didn’t vary much from its average score on Opensignal’s July report. Verizon’s score put it in Opensignal’s “Good” Category (75-85) for games experience while AT&T (73) and T-Mobile (67.2) placed in the “Fair” category (65-75).
“Recently, Verizon and AT&T were both recognized among the top carriers globally showing the greatest uplift in Games Experience on 5G compared to 4G,” Opensignal said in its report. “However, U.S. carriers’ 5G Games Experience scores haven’t changed much since we started reporting on this metric in our April report. In fact, we expect that U.S. carriers will need to deploy 5G standalone access (SA) networks as well as adopt newer 5G standards before their users can fully reap the benefits of 5G and see their mobile gaming experience on 5G improve further.”
Which carrier has the best 5G for streaming video?
Verizon also outpaced T-Mobile and Verizon in Opensignal’s 5G Video Experience category. The carrier’s 61.3 score was statistically the same as it was in Opensignal’s July report. AT&T didn’t fare as well; its users’ 5G video experience fell from 61.3 points to 50.6 since July, putting it in the “Fair” category. This is a significant drop off given AT&T won this award alongside Verizon in July. Meanwhile T-Mobile’s 5G Video Experience score jumped just 0.6 points since July, its 55.3 total was enough to put the carrier in the “Good” category with Verizon.
Opensignal noted that all three carriers restrict their video streaming quality to standard definition resolution in their entry level unlimited 5G data plans. AT&T’s steep 5G Video Experience decline could be due to other factors, however. These factors include video traffic management setting changes, difficulties created by a lack of available new 5G spectrum or more AT&T 5G users opting to stream at lower resolutions.
How fast is 5G actually?
While the general consensus is that 5G will be faster than 4G LTE, the overall speed will depend on a number of factors. Location, the actual 5G network the user is connecting to, how many others are on the network and the 5G device in use will all play into a 5G network’s speed.
Theoretically, top 5G speeds could reach between 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps, while latency (the amount of time it takes to transmit data), could be as short as 1 millisecond, according to Digitaltrends. It could be some time before those types of speeds are achieved on an everyday basis, however.
Why? Well first off, 5G comprises several different frequency bands. Low-band spectrum can travel far and cut through obstacles, but download speeds are low. On the other hand, high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum offers fast download speeds, but the waves don’t go far and have trouble moving through objects. So as long as carriers are reliant on low-band or mmWave spectrum, their 5G networks will be able to travel far, but slowly or fast, but in small pockets around the U.S.
The conundrum is partly why Verizon and AT&T were so active in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) C-Band auction earlier this year. The carriers were interested with the mid-band spectrum that came with the licenses sold in the auction. T-Mobile was active in the auction as well but didn’t bid as much as its counterparts, likely because it gained a fair amount of mid-band spectrum after it merged with Sprint. Time will tell how much closer AT&T and Verizon will get to T-Mobile’s 118.7 Mbps 5G download speed after they gain C-band spectrum later this year and deploy their own mid-band 5G.
How does US 5G compare to China?
China and the United States remain atop the charts of countries’ 5G availability. The nations combine for more than 600 cities in which 5G is accessible, according to Statista. South Korea is the next closest when it comes to 5G deployment as 85 of its cities have active 5G connections.
Late last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that China was not just ahead of the U.S. when it came to 5G, but it was “running away with the game.” The sentiment came from the fact that China had more 5G subscribers than the United States, more 5G smartphones for sale (at lower prices) as well as more widespread 5G coverage and faster wireless connectivity. Meanwhile, applications that could truly benefit from a 5G network like self-driving vehicles, remote surgeries and automated factor floors are still years away from widespread use for both countries. China’s current lead in 5G deployments could set it up to outpace the U.S. in that regard, too.
As far as the 5G network itself and benefits customers are receiving, China doesn’t appear to be too far in front of the U.S., Jeffries investment bank telecom analyst Edison Lee told The Wall Street Journal. China gets the edge in network building progress, however. At the time, China also offered less expensive 5G-enbaled phones than the U.S. ($458 on average versus $1,079), according to market tracker Canalys. Additionally, 86 5G smartphones were available to Chinse users while U.S. shoppers only had 16 to choose from.
Centralized organization has also helped give China an edge over the U.S. in the 5G race, according to Wayne Lam, director of research at CCS Insight. Lam noted “there’s a lot more central planning” behind China’s 5G strategy, where the U.S. has more fragmented 5G coverage and uneven speeds. China meanwhile has laid out a 5G network that’s big, fast and consistent.
“From the metric of coverage and advancement, I would say China is kind of leading,” Lam told The Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. and China have headlined the 5G race, but one should not forget about South Korea. It deployed the first 5G network and is expected to remain in front in terms of technology penetration, Statista reports. Meanwhile, approximately 60% of mobile subscriptions in South Korea are expected to be for 5G networks. South Korea’s 5G network also covered 25% of its population compared to 8% of China’s population, according to Ryan Ding, head of the carrier businesses at 5G equipment maker Huawei.
Ding acknowledged that China built the world’s largest 5G network, but there was still room for improvement compared to South Korea, Switzerland and some other countries that were making significant strides with 5G.
Mid-band spectrum key to the U.S. 5G race
Given T-Mobile’s access to 2.5 GHz spectrum, it’s not terribly surprising the carrier won Opensignal’s 5G Upload and Download speed awards. As T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz spectrum layer expanded, so did its 5G numbers—download speed increased 35.6% from July and its mid-band service covered 40 million more people within that same timeframe. T-Mobile hopes to cover 200 million people by the end of the year.
AT&T and Verizon are moving closer however, thanks to the increased availability of C-band spectrum.
“T-Mobile’s progress in the deployment of mid-band 5G clearly displayed in our recent 5G reports and allowed T-Mobile to build an impressive lead in 5G Download Speed,” Opensignal wrote. “But AT&T and Verizon are about to receive the first tranche of C-band spectrum (3.7–3.98 GHz) — which will be released in December 2021 and have made plans already to deploy their own mid-band 5G and follow the path T-Mobile pioneered with the deployment of its 2.5 GHz spectrum.”
If successful, AT&T plans to cover 70 to 75 million people with its C-band spectrum by the end of 2022 and to 200 million by the end of 2023. Meanwhile, Verizon announced plans to begin implementing C-band spectrum during the first quarter of next year, with initial coverage of approximately 100 million people, increasing to 175 people by 2023.
“While AT&T and Verizon will receive 40 MHz and 60 MHz of C-band spectrum, respectively, in December 2021, they will access the larger share of C-band spectrum that was auctioned early this year by December 2023, when the second tranche of spectrum will be released. By comparison, T-Mobile announced that it is aiming to cover 300 million people with its 2.5 GHz spectrum by end-2023, and to double its spectrum position from 100 MHz of mid-band to 200 MHz.”
Opensignal also noted that carriers might not need to wait until the end of 2023 to get more mid-band spectrum, however. The current FCC Auction 110 will assign 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz range and all three of the major U.S. carriers qualified in the spectrum sale.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.