5G has promised us speeds that would allow us to stream a 4K resolution video while on the move. We were promised that it would provide super fast downloads, and many of the biggest telecoms networks have made some variation on the claim of having the fastest, best, or most expansive 5G network available. Yet, in the USA, most 5G users have been underwhelmed, writes AJ Dellinger in Forbes.
Speedcheck research sheds light on how regulatory decisions, geo-political tensions, and suboptimal network configurations have resulted in 5G download speeds that were only 2.7 times faster than 4G speeds. This is rather less than the 100x faster as promised. Worse still, Speedcheck states “in 1 out of 8 US cities where 5G was available last year, 4G-connected users could browse the Internet faster than 5G-connected ones, leaving many 5G-phone owners puzzled.” It adds, “A more in-depth analysis of the same data reveals that 5G users experienced substantially faster connections in only 69% of the cities where the new technology was deployed in 2020, and in the other 31% of cities, “the new cellular technology was either slower or only moderately faster than 4G.” These results certainly don’t encourage anyone to buy a 5G- enabled phone just yet.
Why is 5G not delivering on its promises?
In the USA regulatory decisions about 5G came late to launching the necessary C-band frequencies (that is airwaves between 3.4GHz and 4.2GHz) which are key to the technology. So the US networks had to rely on lower frequencies, which work over long distances but deliver slow speeds.
Then there was the issue with Chinese-owned Huawei, which America deemed a national security risk. This meant the deployment of 5G was put on hold in many places, as networks had to find other suppliers, which delayed the commercial launch of 5G.
Lastly, there were sub-optimal network configurations. The majority of the initial 5G deployments in the US were Non-Stand-Alone (NSA), meaning that the new networks were aided by existing 4G infrastructures and this resulted in a 4G-like experience for consumers.
However, the US may experience a turning point in 2021 as the US Federal Commission Communications (FCC) completed a spectrum auction that will provide an injection of highly desired C-band spectrum (that is a mid-frequency) for 5G deployment in the country. These new frequencies should finally bring the dramatic shift in 5G performance – fingers crossed, phones at the ready!