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June 30, 2020
Verizon's network provides the fastest average 5G download speeds of any operator around the globe, according to network-monitoring company Opensignal.
"Verizon wins the 5G Download Speed award with 494.7 Mbps real-world average speed," Ian Fogg, Opensignal's VP of analysis, wrote Tuesday in the company's latest 5G report on the US market.
The reason Verizon sits at the top of the heap in terms of speed is relatively simple: The operator's 5G network runs exclusively in millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum. When assembled in sizable chunks of spectrum (Verizon owns roughly 800MHz of mmWave spectrum in most major US cities), transmissions in mmWave networks can support the transfer of enormous amounts of data at blazing-fast speeds.
But there is a drawback. Signals in mmWave spectrum can only travel a few thousand feet. That's why Verizon only covers a handful of downtown areas in a few dozen US cities with 5G. Indeed, Opensignal reported that Verizon's 5G signal is only accessed 0.4% of the time by its customers.
Fogg told Light Reading that, based on Opensignal's data, the US is so far the only country where operators have commercially launched 5G in mmWave spectrum. He said that's likely to change in the coming months and years, but that the situation positions Verizon to take the "5G Download Speed award" solely due to its decision to run a 5G network in highband, mmWave spectrum rather than in the lowband or midband spectrum used by operators in other countries.
Differing spectrum strategies
Opensignal's 5G findings for T-Mobile and AT&T highlight the differences in their 5G strategies when compared with Verizon.
Both T-Mobile and AT&T operate highband, mmWave networks in parts of a handful of US cities – just like Verizon does – but they also offer 5G signals in their lowband spectrum holdings. Signals in lowband spectrum, like T-Mobile's 600MHz, can travel for miles, but they can't handle as much data as mmWave spectrum. Further, lowband spectrum is typically allocated in 10MHz or 20MHz chunks – far less than the 100MHz chunks generally available in mmWave spectrum.
As a result, T-Mobile's 5G signal can be accessed roughly 22.5% of the time, according to Opensignal. But its average 5G download speed is just 49.2 Mbit/s. AT&T's figures are roughly similar – not surprising given that its 5G spectrum strategy is very similar to T-Mobile's strategy.
Finally, it's worth noting that Verizon plans to launch 5G onto its own lowband spectrum later this year via a technology called dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), a move that will undoubtedly bring its Opensignal performance numbers in line with those of its competitors. Already Verizon's CEO has been working to downplay expectations for Verizon's lowband 5G launch.
A global viewpoint
The findings from Opensignal are noteworthy because the company's software tracks wireless network performance all over the world. The company collects its network-performance data via two of its own iOS and Android apps – its eponymous app and its Meteor app – as well as through software it runs inside of apps from other companies. (Opensignal pays developers to include its software in their apps.) Opensignal can remotely conduct network-performance tests across all the apps that run its software, and does so every few days. Fogg said that the company counts roughly 2.4 million phones in the US that run its software.
Thus, argues Fogg, OpenSignal's data provides a true, unbiased and real-time look at wireless network performance around the globe.
But that view does not yet officially stretch into China, which is already the world's biggest 5G market with more than 80 million 5G customers. Fogg explained that Opensignal does have insight into the Chinese market, but that the company doesn't have official operations in China and therefore has not ranked that country's 5G providers as it has in the US, South Korea and elsewhere.
That's partly why Opensignal has been reticent to publish definitive global performance rankings that would directly compare all of the world's 5G providers across all of Opensignal's measurement metrics, which include download speeds and availability rates as well as users' wireless gaming and video experiences.
All that said, Fogg explained that Chinese operators appear to have launched 5G solely in midband spectrum, and not in mmWave spectrum, which he said gives him the confidence to name Verizon as the world's fastest 5G provider simply due to its spectrum holdings and the physics governing radio transmissions.
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Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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