Opensignal, an independent mobile phone consumer experience analyst, recently conducted its June 2020 5G User Experience Report. The report revealed high marks for Verizon in terms of 5G download speed, but left major questions about the carrier’s 5G network availability. Meanwhile, T-Mobile fared much better in the availability category. The disparity raises an interesting question about 5G—how great is download speed if you can’t access the network in the first place?
Verizon is the clear leader in download speed on 5G
The Verizon users in Opensignal’s report saw 5G speeds that were 10 times faster than any other U.S. carrier (494.7 Mbps). Verizon’s average 5G speeds were the fastest Opensignal had seen to date from any wireless carrier around the world. AT&T finished a very distant second with 60.8 Mbps.
The overall download speed race was much more competitive, however. The prior test measured real-world 5G speeds where users had an active 5G connection—indoors, outdoors, work at home, shops or commuting between locations. The overall download speed also takes into account the average 4G download speeds 5G users see, along with their actual 5G download speed when they use the fifth generation connection. How much time the user is connected to each network is factored into the equation as well. AT&T and Verizon finished in a virtual tie in this category with 42.6 Mbps and 41.0 Mbps, respectively. Meanwhile, T-Mobile finished third with 33.7 Mbps and Sprint users experienced 28.2 Mbps.
Where does 5G stand now?
Wireless carriers continue to compete to be the first to deliver a nationwide 5G network in the United States, but when that happens remains to be seen. This Opensignal report does prove one thing however—we can’t always buy into carriers’ 5G marketing campaigns. Verizon for example, can claim to have the fastest 5G speeds, but how great is all of that speed if users can only access the network 0.4 percent of the time? Meanwhile, T-Mobile can proudly claim its 5G network is the most accessible, but what happens if its competitors figure out the accessibility part while maintaining their speeds, which are currently faster than T-Mobile? For now, it seems users should enjoy their 4G LTE coverage—it might be all we have for awhile.
“U.S. carriers are only in the early phase of the 5G era,” Opensignal said. “Each carrier will deploy 5G on more kinds of wireless spectrum which will improve 5G availability or increase the speeds that are possible. The new T-Mobile will continue to combine the network assets of old T-Mobile and Sprint. As carriers continue to roll out 5G during 2020, we will likely see significant changes to our 5G users’ experience.”
T-Mobile takes top marks in 5G availability
T-Mobile’s win in the 5G availability might be proof that slow and steady wins the race. The carrier didn’t place high in the download speed categories, but its 5G network is more available than its competitors’ networks by a wide margin. Opensignal’s 5G availability test compared how much time 5G users spent connected to their carrier’s 5G network. The higher the percentage, the more time the users on a network were connected to 5G. However, 5G availability is not a measure of coverage or the geographic extent of a network.
T-Mobile 5G users connected to a 5G 22.5 percent of the time, which was a bigger share of 5G than in in late 2019, according to Opensignal. Sprint (14.1 percent) and AT&T (10 percent) 5G users were connected for far less time than T-Mobile’s users. Meanwhile Verizon, which offers the fastest 5G services, fell short in the availability category—users could only connect to its 5G network 0.4 percent of the time. The lack of availability is in part because of the limited geographical reach of the carrier’s mmWave wireless technology it uses for 5G and the initial stage of its 5G deployment.
“Building the fastest 5G network is easy if you only cover less than 50 square miles,” T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray said in a statement. “Opensignal’s report shows that only T-Mobile is doing the hard work to deliver BOTH 5G coverage and speed. And we’re just getting started. With the addition of Sprint, the Un-carrier’s 5G is getting bigger, better and faster every day, moving quickly on our mission to build the world’s best 5G network, one unlike any other, to people all across the country!”