New research into T-Mobile's standalone 5G network shows improvements to the company's network latency by 23.8% in urban areas and 21.6% in rural areas.
The new findings, from network-monitoring company OpenSignal, highlight some of the benefits that operators might derive as they shift their operations from non-standalone 5G (NSA) to standalone 5G (SA).
"Improved latency – or network responsiveness – is one of the great goals of the designers of 5G. But these latency enhancements rely on using a 5G core network which isn't part of initial 5G deployments that use NSA," wrote OpenSignal's Francesco Rizzato. Cisco and Nokia supply T-Mobile's 5G core network.
"Latency is extremely important for multiplayer mobile gaming which carriers are using to market 5G services," Rizzato added. "Improved latencies also help real-time communications and they're even important for web browsing where small latency delays requesting a file can add up due to the numerous files that together comprise a web page."
OpenSignal's findings – based on T-Mobile customer recordings taken in the month prior to its August 2020 launch of 5G SA and in the first and fifth months after – are roughly half of what T-Mobile found in initial tests. The company said it recorded 40% improvements to latency in testing prior to the company's commercial launch of 5G SA.
As OpenSignal noted, standalone 5G eliminates the requirement for providers to operate a 4G network for functions like authentication. Untethered from its 4G anchor, T-Mobile's 5G SA network is more broadly available than its NSA 5G network, but slightly slower overall because users were typically connected to the operator's 600MHz lowband spectrum holdings rather than its midband 2.5GHz spectrum holdings. 5G in lowband spectrum is typically slower than 5G in midband spectrum.
OpenSignal also found that T-Mobile users spent most of their time connected to NSA 5G rather than SA 5G, reflecting T-Mobile's desire to keep NSA as its default connection because most of its 5G phones can't connect to both 600MHz and 2.5GHz at the same time. That dovetails with findings from Signals Research Group last year.
"Smartphones arriving from January 2021 fix this limitation and this will make it easier for T-Mobile to offer its SA service more widely," OpenSignal reported.
T-Mobile used OpenSignal's latest report to again boast of its early moves into standalone 5G.
"Standalone 5G brings immediate benefits to customers by increasing coverage and improving network response times. And it lays the foundation for 5G's true potential in the future, making groundbreaking applications like self-driving vehicles, supercharged IoT, real-time translation and more possible. Only T-Mobile 5G is truly ready to bring massive innovation and transformative experiences to businesses and consumers across the country," said Neville Ray, T-Mobile's networking chief, in a statement.
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