U.S. ranks first in global 5G speeds, but mid-band 5G rivaling mmWave - Opensignal

Notably, operators in countries other than the U.S. with maximum 5G speeds above 1 Gbps are using mid-band spectrum rather than mmWave for 5G. (Getty Images)

The United States still has the fastest maximum 5G download speeds globally, but other countries have gained ground in the last two months, according to the latest analysis by Opensignal.

Maximum 5G download speeds in the U.S. clocked in at 1.81 Gbps during the April-to-September collection period. While still the fastest in the world, the U.S. was the only country that didn’t see a bump in maximum 5G download speeds in the two months since Opensignal’s July report. As Opensignal’s VP of Analysis Ian Fogg pointed out in a Friday blog, that’s likely because U.S. speeds were already so fast. He noted increases in maximum speed in the U.K., Switzerland and South Korea were under 10%.

Globally, the U.S. came in ahead of second-place Australia (1.29 Gbps), third-place Switzerland (1.24 Gbps), and fourth-place South Korea (1.13 Gbps), which have now all surpassed the one gigabit-per-second threshold. 

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Australia in particular saw impressive gains since July, with maximum 5G speeds soaring 500 Mbps up from 792 Mbps in the last analysis. The results pushed the country ahead two spots from fourth in the global rankings. Speeds in Switzerland, meanwhile, improved by 95 Mbps, while South Korea’s increased by 67 Mbps. 

RELATED: iPhones lag in download speeds compared to other U.S. smartphones

Interestingly, operators in those three countries, all delivering speeds over 1 Gbps, are using mid-band spectrum for 5G between 3.4-3.8 GHz. That’s unlike most of the major U.S. operators who are using high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum for initial deployments, Fogg noted. High-capacity mmWave spectrum has been touted for super-fast download capabilities, but deployments in the U.S. have remained limited to dense urban areas as signals don’t reach as far and can be easily blocked.  

“Mid-band 5G is not just the most popular type of spectrum for early 5G launches, it is now rivaling mmWave for maximum speed, as well as offering wider geographic reach,” wrote Fogg.

Much of the world is using mid-band spectrum for initial 5G deployments, but availability remains scarce in the U.S. The government has been looking for opportunities to open up more spectrum, and the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote at its September meeting to auction 70 MHz of licensed spectrum in the shared CBRS 3.5 GHz band next summer. The agency has also signaled it may take action this fall on controversial proceedings to free up C-band spectrum, though it’s unclear exactly when those mid-band airwaves will be available for 5G use.  

RELATED: FCC moves toward June 2020 auction of CBRS spectrum

In Opensignal’s analysis of 12 countries, the U.K. was the slowest, with maximum 5G download speeds of 599 Mbps. That marks an improvement of 30 Mbps since July. Four countries newly added to Opensignal’s rankings all came in ahead of Spain and the U.K. for 5G speeds, including Finland (933 Mbps), Kuwait (890 Mbps), Germany (740 Mbps), and Romania (712 Mbps).

UAE rounded out the top five countries for download speeds, improving 296 Mbps to peak 5G speeds of 961 Mbps.

“As we expected, the 5G experience is evolving quickly. We already see increases in maximum speeds after just two months,” wrote Fogg. “While in most countries there are still small numbers of 5G smartphones, in South Korea there are already over 2 million 5G users.”

Opensignal 5G speed chart
(Opensignal)
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