In seven out of eight countries leading in 5G, the next-generation technology has outpaced Wi-Fi in average download speeds, with one exception: the U.S.
New analysis from Opensignal shows average 5G download speeds significantly surpassed Wi-Fi across the U.K., Spain, Australia, Kuwait, Switzerland, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
South Korea, an early leader in 5G with more than 5 million 5G users, had the fastest Wi-Fi speed at 74.5 Mbps, but that was dwarfed by its average 5G speeds of 224 Mbps. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, clocked the best 5G speeds at 291.2 Mbps, but had the slowest average Wi-Fi at 21.4 Mbps.
Wi-Fi is fast in the U.S., lagging only behind Switzerland and South Korea in that regard, but 5G speeds were the slowest out of the eight countries analyzed. Between January 22 and April 21 U.S. average 5G speeds were 52.3 Mbps versus 59.8 Mbps for Wi-Fi.
At first glance some may find the 5G results a bit surprising given the U.S. has put a strong emphasis on opening up access to large amounts of high-capacity millimeter wave spectrum that's capable of delivering super-fast speeds. The FCC already completed three mmWave spectrum auctions, including the latest, which offered licenses for a total of 3,400 MHz of high-band spectrum.
Separately, on the Wi-Fi front, the industry scored a major win this month when the FCC voted to make 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, despite pressure from parties that wanted portions of the band licensed, citing the current lack of mid-band spectrum.
To be sure, the Opensignal results don’t mean U.S. users haven’t seen some extremely fast 5G speeds. For example, in RootMetrics testing earlier this year, Verizon hit peak 5G download speeds of 845.7 Mbps in Washington, D.C., and median download speeds of 247 Mbps in Los Angeles on its network using 28 GHz spectrum. In February, testing by Opensignal recorded the fastest average 5G download speed of 722 Mbps on Verizon’s network.
It’s been well documented though that challenges of mmWave propagation have resulted in very limited availability, so 5G users aren’t tapping into mmWave service often due to elusive signals. Instead, they’re connecting to more widely available low-band 5G.
As noted in Opensignal’s analysis, unlike the U.S., most countries are offering initial 5G services over mid-band spectrum around 3.5 GHz. While the U.S. has led in mmWave, it’s been behind in terms of access to mid-band spectrum. Mid-band is not as fast as mmWave, but still delivers a significant increase over low-band 5G.
For early 5G rollouts, Sprint – which is now being merged into the new T-Mobile - was the only operator in the U.S. that deployed with mid-band, using its 2.5 GHz holdings. Earlier Opensignal analysis found Sprint’s fastest average 5G download speed was 183 Mbps.
After closing its merger deal on April 1, T-Mobile is now in the process of integrating the Sprint network. T-Mobile just turned on 2.5 GHz in Philadelphia and New York City. In parts of Philadelphia where it activated 2.5 GHz, T-Mobile reported peak speeds of 600 Mbps.
With the limited range of mmWave and lack of access to mid-band, U.S. operators AT&T and T-Mobile initially leaned on low-band spectrum for their nationwide 5G rollouts, using 850 MHz and 600 MHz, respectively.
As Opensignal pointed out, that low-band spectrum “has less capacity, but is better suited to offering wide coverage,” so most 5G users in the U.S are connecting over slower but farther-reaching signals. 5G availability in the U.S. is around 12.7%, according to Opensignal, placing it in the middle of the pack at fourth among the eight countries. Still, the analysis noted that's close behind 5G market adoption leader South Korea, which has 14.2% availability.
T-Mobile’s 5G service is available in more than 5,000 towns and cities, with plans to cover 200 million Americans this year. AT&T recently expanded low-band 5G to new markets and its now available in 190 cities, covering 120 million people.
“In the U.S. as elsewhere, carriers will increasingly offer 5G on higher mid-band frequency bands and as they do, average U.S. 5G speeds will rise significantly,” wrote Ian Fogg, VP of Analysis at Opensignal.
The U.S. teed up its first mid-band spectrum auction for this summer, offering licenses in the shared Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band. An auction for C-band spectrum is slated to start December 8.