In the early days of 5G U.S. carriers have opted for different deployment strategies using low-, mid-, or high-band spectrum for 5G, and RootMetrics testing across five cities show the approaches deliver varying 5G experiences.
RootMetrics said testing revealed “somewhat of a mixed bag,” as 5G using millimeter wave spectrum delivered super-fast speeds from Verizon but was challenging to find, while low-band 5G like T-Mobile is deploying was more readily available, but with performance more akin to 4G LTE.
Verizon’s 5G service, which uses 28 GHz millimeter wave spectrum, blazed past competitors in most cities, with a peak 5G download speed of 845.7 Mbps in Washington, D.C., and top median download speeds of 247 Mbps in Los Angeles. The catch here though is Verizon’s elusive 5G signal.
Availability was highest in Chicago, where the carrier launched 5G in April 2019 and peak speeds hit 780.1 Mbps – but at only 3.1%, availability paled in comparison to T-Mobile’s 5G presence in the city at 43.8%.
In terms of 5G availability, it only gets worse for Verizon in the other test cities, including Los Angeles, where RootMetrics reported a small sample size of only 7 or about 0.04%. That compares to T-Mobile’s availability in LA of 38.7%, where the operator delivered significantly slower median 5G download speeds of 21.5 Mbps.
RootMetrics said its sample size was too low to characterize median download speeds for Verizon in Washington, D.C., where it only had four measurements, and Dallas, where there was just a single 5G sample.
Still, while T-Mobile’s low-band 5G service using 600 MHz was easier to find across all five cities, results didn’t look that much different than its 4G LTE speeds. T-Mobile’s fastest 5G speed of 147.8 found in Chicago, was much slower than Verizon in the city, and slower than its own 4G LTE maximum of 235.5 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median 5G download speeds were similar to 4G speeds, with the fastest in Chicago at a mere 34 Mbps, and slower than Verizon’s 4G LTE across all five cities. However, availability was consistently over 35%, except in Dallas, and as high as 57.1% in Washington, D.C.
RootMetrics noted that since T-Mobile only launched 5G in December, its network is still in the early stages and the company anticipates speeds to get faster down the line.
The same is true for AT&T’s results, which were tested in December shortly after its low-band 5G launch using 850 MHz spectrum. Testing happened before AT&T expanded into 22 additional cities and opened up its millimeter wave 5G service to consumers for the first time earlier this month. In tests by PCMag this month, AT&T’s 5G+ service was delivering average download speeds of 540 Mbps and a peak of 1.2 Gbps in Manhattan.
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During RootMetrics testing, AT&T’s low-band 5G was found some of the time in Indianapolis (9.5%) and Los Angeles (6.7%), but like T-Mobile, median and maximum download speeds were still slower than 4G LTE. Notably, AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds were very fast – with peak 4G download speeds of 344.6 Mbps in LA, compared to 126.2 Mbps on 5G. It’s top 5G median download speed of 47.1 in Indianapolis was less impressive and still slower than LTE speeds of 64.5 Mbps in the city.
“Given AT&T’s spectrum resources and strong 4G LTE network, end users should still experience good performance and relatively fast speeds even when 5G isn’t available,” the RootMetrics report stated.
AT&T has been adding capacity to its network over the last 18 months and has nearly 160 MHz of sub-6 GHz spectrum it’s putting into service.
Sprint, the only carrier using mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G, performed strongly in terms of delivering improved speeds over its 4G LTE, along with more widespread availability. In Dallas, RootMetrics found a Sprint 5G signal 45.7% of the time with maximum 5G download speeds of 199.1 Mbps in that market.
Sprint’s fastest 5G speed across the cities of 249.9 Mbps was found in Chicago where it still trailed Verizon. However, Sprint’s median 5G download speeds over mid-band spectrum in Chicago (136.7 Mbps) beat out Verizon’s millimeter wave performance (106.7 Mbps) in the city.
Sprint’s mid-band 5G also outpaced T-Mobile’s slower median and peak 5G speeds in every city and performed better than AT&T’s low-band 5G in Los Angeles.
The RootMetrics results echo other testing, including recent findings from Opensignal that show T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G is easier to find, but like AT&T’s low-band 5G, is much slower compared to Verizon’s fast but elusive mmWave 5G service.
T-Mobile though is nearing the finish line to close its merger with Sprint. Today California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a settlement with T-Mobile, ending the legal fight against the carriers’ combination.
Once combined with Sprint, the New T-Mobile will have its hands on coveted mid-band spectrum resources, which are currently scarce for competitors like Verizon.
Verizon plans to participate in the C-band auction for mid-band spectrum, though that isn’t expected to begin until December.
The carrier has pointed to dynamic spectrum sharing technology as a way to utilize existing 4G spectrum for broader 5G coverage. While executives at T-Mobile reported issues and delays with DSS, Ericsson recently told FierceWireless that the technology was on schedule.