5G and Beyond

Getting Real About Mobile 5G Speeds

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been seeing a steady trickle of new data and download expectations from T-Mobile and Sprint about their hopes for a combined 5G network in the US.

One thing that is now clear to me from this recent plethora of new information, however, is that users of actual mobile 5G services will not be experiencing gigabit -- or close to gigabit -- downloads via mobile 5G in the near future.

For starters, consider T-Mobile US Inc. . Initially, CTO Neville Ray was cautious, promising a tripling of LTE speeds on 5G back in February this year, putting early 5G in the 90Mbit/s to 100Mbit/s range on its 600MHz network. After the Sprint merger plans were revealed in April, they increased this to expectations of around 450Mbit/s averages on a 5G mobile network, because Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum was factored into the spectrum mix. (See T-Mobile to Roll Out 5G in 30 US Cities in 2018 and T-Mobile, Sprint Say 5G-Focused Merger Will Lead to 'Cord Cutting'.)

Recently, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, has been promising peak speeds of 4.1 Gbit/s on the blended spectrum network of the "new" T-Mobile by 2024! (See T-Mobile & Sprint Tell Senate US Will Win Global 5G Race.)

This appears to factor in high-band millimeter wave spectrum into the speed equation in the future, if the operators can acquire more under auctions, which are expected this year.

That's quite a range of speeds right? From 100 Mbit/s to 4.1 Gbit/s! What's going on here?

Firstly, the 4.1Gbit/s peak speeds should taken with a grain of salt. A "peak speed" is usually meaningless in a shared wireless network environment, it's the "test driver, empty track" headline speed you never actually get!

Much more interesting is the 444Mbit/s average speed promised on the blended mobile network. This will, of course, incorporate higher and lower speeds across the network to get to that average figure. Still, the average on the current 4G LTE T-Mobile network is around 32 Mbit/s. So this is an expected 10x increase -- on mobile -- over today's network.

Of course, behind the topline figures on 5G, a lot of radio network work and bolstering of backhaul capabilities will need to happen. But that's something we'll revisit soon enough.

Of course, it's important to note that no 5G network is ready now and won't be until at least the end of 2018. (See 5G in the USA: A Post-BCE Update.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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