Despite being one of the first places to offer commercial 5G services, the U.S. trails behind the 11 other countries included in Opensignal’s latest analysis of global 5G download speeds. When 3G and 4G download experience are included, U.S. 5G users’ overall download experience only outpaces those in the U.K.
When only looking at a 5G connection in Opensignal’s latest benchmark analysis, U.S. users had the slowest average download speeds at 50.9 Mbps. The Netherlands ranked closest to the U.S. at 79.2 Mbps.
The four countries with the fastest average 5G downloads all came in above 200 Mbps, including: Saudi Arabia (414.2 Mbps); South Korea (312.7 Mbps); Australia (215.7 Mbps); and Taiwan (210.2 Mbps).
The remaining six all still clocked above 100 Mbps, including: Canada (178.1 Mbps); Kuwait (171.5 Mbps); Switzerland (150.7 Mbps); Hong Kong (142.8 Mbps); U.K. (133.5 Mbps); and Germany (102.0 Mbps).
Opensignal noted that 5G services in Canada, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are all new, having launched in 2020.
Still, users in the U.S. are seeing significantly slower 5G speeds on average than all of the other countries analyzed in the data collection period between May 16 and August 14, 2020.
That largely speaks to the spectrum U.S. operators are using compared to other global operators. Verizon’s deployed 5G using high-capacity millimeter wave 5G, but since signals don’t travel or penetrate well, meaning users at this point spend minimal time on a 5G signal. Opensignal’s Ian Fogg wrote that Verizon’s average 5G download speeds hit 494.7 Mbps in recent testing “which is faster than the average 5G download speeds Opensignal has seen on any operator, or in any country to date including Saudi Arabia.”
In contrast, countries outside of the U.S. have focused on mid-band 3.5 GHz frequencies for 5G.
The U.S. is working to get more mid-band for 5G. The FCC just concluded an auction for CBRS Priority Access Licenses (PALs), and the White House this month said it will make 100-megahertz between 3.45-3.55 GHz available for commercial use. An FCC auction for C-band spectrum is set for December.
T-Mobile is in the midst of merger integration with Sprint and stands out with its pool of newly acquired 2.5 GHz. The operator expects to turn on thousands of 2.5 GHz sites this year. So far, T-Mobile and AT&T have turned to low-band spectrum for nationwide 5G coverage, but with speed performance to levels similar to 4G LTE.
Opensignal also took a look at 5G users’ overall download speed experience, which incorporates 3G and 4G download speed along with 5G, and the time connected to each network.
Saudi Arabia still took top spot at 144.5 Mbps. Newcomers to 5G, Canada and Taiwan clocked the second and fourth fastest user speeds, respectively. While South Korea, also an early mover on 5G was third at 75.6 Mbps.
Notably, the U.S. still trailed at the bottom with average download speed experience for 5G users at 33.4 Mbps – only leading ahead of the U.K. (32.6 Mbps).
Fogg wrote that the U.K. ranked last in the overall scoring because the country’s 4G experience “greatly brings down the overall score.”
The Netherlands, which placed just ahead of the U.S. in 5G-only download speed, rose to fifth-fastest for overall average download experience for 5G users.
As for availability, 5G users in four countries were connected to 5G more than 20% of the time. Again, Saudi Arabia led the pack at 34.4%, followed by Kuwait, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
The U.S. did crack the top five for 5G availability at 19.3% - and although two of the national carriers are using wider-reaching low-band, Fogg noted the sheer geographic scale of the U.S. makes this a feat.
“Clearly, smaller geographies like Kuwait or Hong Kong have an advantage over large countries like Australia or the U.S. in offering users high levels of 5G Availability,” wrote Fogg. “Which makes the achievements of operators in both Australia and the U.S. — powering their 5G users’ experience ahead of the U.K, and Switzerland — all the more impressive.”
5G users in Australia spent 8.6% of the time connected to 5G, versus 7.5% for Switzerland, and 4.5% in the U.K.