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Finally, Data: US 5G slower than Canada's 4G. Believe it

Opensignal US 5G 230Canadian average speeds 2019 open signal 230The average speed of over 10,000 Open Signal tests of U.S. 5G was under 60 Mbps.* The average speed of 4G at Bell Canada last fall was 70 Mbps. At Canadian #2 Telus, it was 75 Mbps. The methodology was essentially the same. The results are consistent with testimony by T-Mobile's CTO Neville Ray; Verizon's Glenn Wellbrock; and just about every engineer building networks. (A CTO has just turned on 5G at a major carrier and tells me off the record their 4G is currently better.)

Ray testified to the FCC that in theory 5G could be 20% faster in low-band and 50% faster in mid-band. For now, 4G is far ahead until 5G adds LAA and other tools already working in 4G. Wellbrock pointed out that in these frequencies, neither 5G NR nor any other software can add much to capacity. 4G is close to the Shannon Limit already. Higher performance without more spectrum or antennas would break the laws of physics. 

Next time a pundit or politician talks of the very high speeds of 5G, ask them what is the actual speed of the 5G being deployed? Be ready with those numbers. 

Open Signal "found no significant improvement in 5G latency over 4G." It will be years before 5G low latency is widely deployed - and 4G will be almost as low by then.

Mid-band spectrum, 2.5-4.2 GHz, is delivering 100-400 Mbps in other countries, in 4G or 5G. That's because carriers often have 100-200 MHz of mid-band spectrum, not because of 5G. That band was originally set for 4G TD-LTE, which comes close to 5G NR speeds in the same spectrum. Massive MIMO has been deploying in thousands of 4G systems since 2016, often getting 3X the performance from 64 relatively small antennas.

Antennas need to be bigger in lower frequencies and are impractical for the low-band frequencies AT&T and soon Verizon will be using for 5G. Tom Marzetta, who invented Massive MIMO, suggested it might be practical in low frequencies if you placed antennas all around a large grain elevator. I think he was joking.

*Except for the 0.4% of the U.S. reached by Verizon millimeter wave. Up in the mmWave bands, Verizon can use 400 MHz of spectrum rather than the 20 MHz in most low bands. Open Signals's mmWave average was 500 Mbps. That's the real 5G improvement, but almost no one anywhere is building much mmWave for the next few years.

dave ask

@analysisbranch for latest updates


Welcome  Asia is installing hundreds of thousands of 5G radios and adding 5G subs by the tens of millions. The west is far behind. 200,000,000 in 2020

The demand is there, and most of the technology works. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

I'm Dave Burstein, Editor. I've been reporting telecom since 1999. I love to hear from readers and say thank you when you find an error.

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