U.S. mobile users with 5G-equipped devices enjoy the fastest 5G speeds in the world but are spending the least amount of time actually connected to 5G, according to Opensignal, an independent global standard for measuring real-world mobile network experience, which presented its latest analysis on the global 5G experience at Mobile World Congress Los Angeles.
The analysis compares early 5G network adoption from first-mover nations like South Korea, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Australia and the U.K. with the United States. Whether this is a symptom of the 5G rollout being in its early stages or due to unique 5G spectrum challenges in the U.S. remains a key question.
Opensignal analyzed the maximum speeds that U.S. 5G smartphone users experienced over a six-month period. Results show 5G speeds are evolving quickly. The U.S. tops the chart with maximum 5G download speeds of 1.8 Gbps, delivering on the promise of mmWave technology. However, Australia, Switzerland and South Korea all logged download speeds over 1 Gigabit per second, showing that mid-band 5G technologies can deliver as well.
But 5G Users Spend Vast Majority of Time on 4G
While U.S. 5G mobile users have speed, they lack network reach. Opensignal found users with 5G smartphones in the U.S. only achieved 5G connection on 1% of attempts. By contrast, in South Korea, which has 3 million 5G users already signed up, 20% of attempts were on 5G.
The United States has a relatively higher reliance on mmWave spectrum (which offers more limited coverage and reach) than the rest of the world who tended to utilize mid-band spectrum for early 5G rollouts. These new findings highlight some of the spectrum challenges faced in the U.S. where 5G mid-band spectrum has been relatively harder to come by compared with other countries.
“Our latest Opensignal analysis helps spotlight some key questions the industry is facing when it comes to 5G – namely, how do you market a service like 5G that is only available a fraction of the time, at least initially. And as 5G comes in different ‘flavors’ depending on the spectrum used, each with its own set of benefits and challenges, how do you tackle the unique set of hurdles that mmWave will need to overcome,” said Brendan Gill, CEO of Opensignal. “The early focus has clearly been on speed, especially in the USA, but the conversation needs to evolve quickly to focus on making sure 5G is really here, not just barely here.”