Opensignal analyzed user experience across three 5G measures
In order to assess the current state of 5G services in the U.S., Opensignal presented its first-ever 5G awards after analyzing users’ experiences across three 5G measures: the average speed of the 5G connection when users have an active 5G link, or 5G download speed; the time users spend connected to 5G represented by 5G availability; and the overall speed our 5G users experience across different generations of mobile technology.
Because there’s a limited amount of mid-band wireless spectrum available in the U.S., American operators have approached 5G somewhat differently than other countries. AT&T and Verizon both went to market with millimeter wave-based 5G. Sprint launched 5G using its 2.5 GHz holdings and T-Mobile offers nationwide 5G using its 600 MHz spectrum. AT&T is also using its 850 MHz spectrum for 5G. Now that Sprint has become part of T-Mobile, the new combined carrier has an advantageous spectrum position.
However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to auction mid-band spectrum (CBRS and C-band) later this year, the U.S.’s dearth of mid-band spectrum, sometimes called the goldilocks of spectrum, will come to an end.
While AT&T and T-Mobile, as just mentioned, launched mmWave 5G services, Opensignal reported that most of the time, instead of connecting to the carriers’ mmWave-based 5G services, subscribers are actually connecting to low-band 850 MHz or 600 MHz spectrum, which is also used for 4G service and offers good reach but more modest speeds. Opensignal said this indicates that the 5G experience in the U.S. is “very different to other countries and also differs greatly between U.S. carriers.”
When it comes to the first award category, 5G download speed, Opensignal reported that users experienced average 5G Download Speed ranging from 494.7 Mbps on Verizon to 49.2 Mbps on T-Mobile, while AT&T’s users experienced slight faster 5G speeds than T-Mobile at 60.8 Mbps. The results were gathered from a variety of indoor and outdoor locations frequented by users, including at work, home or in public spaces like shops, parks and in transit locations.
While most carriers’ 5G services delivered only moderately faster speeds than their 4G services, users on Verizon saw 5G speeds many times faster than users’ 4G speeds. In fact, Verizon users’ average 5G download speeds were 17.7 times faster than Verizon users’ average 4G speeds, compared with 1.8 times faster for AT&T and Sprint, and 1.7 times faster for T-Mobile.
According to Opensignal, Verizon’s drastic speed increase is due to the fact that the carrier Verizon is exclusively using very high capacity mmWave for its current 5G service which enables very high average speeds but smaller reach. On the other hand, the majority of AT&T and T-Mobile users’ 5G time is spent connected to 5G on lower spectrum bands where the reach is better, but the speeds are not considerably faster.
The second 5G network characteristic that Opensignal explored was 5G availability, astutely pointing out that “having very fast average 5G download speeds is only useful when users have a 5G connection.”
T-Mobile emerged as the clear winner in this category, with its users connecting on average to a 5G service for 22.5% of time. The other carriers, evident in the chart below, didn’t even put up a fight. Sprint users only connected to 5G services 14.1% of the time, while AT&T users connecting 10.3% of the tie and Verizon users connecting to 5G only 0.4% of time.
Again, Verizon’s use of mmWave is the reason behind these numbers, with Opensignal commenting that once Verizon starts to offer 5G on mid-band or other lower frequency spectrum, 5G availability on the carrier’s network will improve.
The final category under consideration, Download Speed Experience – 5G Users, combines the average speeds that 5G users experience on 3G or 4G when they are not connected to 5G, with their average 5G speeds, based on the amount of time they spend connected to each generation of mobile network technology.
AT&T and Verizon will share first place on this one, as they are statistically tied allowing for confidence intervals of 42.6 Mbps and 41.0 Mbps, respectively. While AT&T’s 5G users enjoy only the second fastest 5G connection speed, the combination of their fast 4G experience, as well as the 10.3% of time they spent connected to 5G on average, and a second placed 5G Download Speed, has generated an overall score that is the same as Verizon 5G users.