Thursday, 18 February 2021 23:35

Opensignal benchmarks the global 5G experience

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Opensignal bills itself as "the independent global standard for understanding the true state of the world’s mobile networks based on measurements of real user experience", and it has released its benchmark of 5G globally as it currently stands in early 2021.

5G is still near the beginning of its decade-long era. No mobile technology stands still, so OpenSignal says it "must continue to analyse the real-world experience and see how it changes and improves."

The company has analysed its global 5G data from real mobile users to identify the leading countries and quantify their 5G mobile experience.

In most countries, operators have, to date, launched just the very first version of the 5G standard using a single wireless 5G frequency band. But in others Opensignal has seen operators "start to move ahead by offering 5G on multiple spectrum bands, or use mmWave technologies to offer extremely fast speeds. While in other countries, most notably in the Americas and parts of South-East Asia, operators have initially been constrained by the limited availability of 5G-suitable spectrum."

Opensignal says it saw big improvements in 4G technology in its first decade, which all CommsWire readers would only know too well - indeed, I’ve personally found that there are times when 4G is as fast or faster than 5G downloads, and 4G upload speeds can also be a lot faster than 5G upload speeds, too.

In any case, to understand if similar jumps forward are happening with 5G, Opensignal says “we need to monitor how the real-world 5G experience is evolving.”

In 2021, more operators hope to launch 5G on additional frequency bands, more operators intend to add extremely fast mmWave-based 5G, and more operators seek to launch newer versions of the 5G standard and offer users a fully 5G experience by shifting from non-standalone access (NSA) to standalone (SA) 5G.

For 5G to be relevant to mainstream mobile users, the latest mobile technology must offer an excellent and superior mobile network experience. In this analysis, Opensignal quantifies “just how good the 5G experience can be. Yet, there are wide differences in the quality of the 5G experience globally. These global 5G country leaders indicate what’s already possible and how high to aim.”

So, how fast is 5G around the world?

We’re told that South Korean users lead the world in 5G Download Speed with a score of 354.4 Mbps. Opensignal’s users in six countries saw 5G Download Speed of over 200 Mbps — Australia, Kuwait, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the UAE — while in all ten countries our users observed average 5G download speeds of over 150 Mbps which represents much faster speeds than using 4G technology.

From personal experience, in the Canberra area of Woden, I can get 500Mbps on Vodafone’s flyspeck of 5G coverage, while Telstra’s 5G gives me around 100Mbps, so obviously it depends on where you are, but it’s also true that Telstra reports having over a million devices connected to its 5G network, which surely is a far larger number than what Vodafone would claim.

Anyway, Opensignal states that 5G Download Speed represents the average speed using an active 5G connection. At first glance, these speeds may not appear especially fast because it’s possible, occasionally, for 4G technology to deliver an individual speed test that is much faster. But it’s unheard of for the average experience of 4G users to be in the hundreds of megabits per second in any country globally.

When we look at the 5G Peak Download Speed — the average speed experienced by the top 2% of our users — Opensignal says it sees “an even faster experience.”

Peak speeds for the top ten 5G countries globally range from 862.6 Mbps to 575.4 Mbps. Saudi Arabia edges ahead of South Korea in 5G Peak Download Speed. Switzerland and Italy also move up the table.

Netherlands tops the 5G Upload Speed ranking with a speed of 32.5 Mbps. Again, South Korea is only just behind and Taiwan and Switzerland both rank highly. All of these countries benefit from both excellent 5G rollouts but also a strong network foundation with high quality backhaul from cell towers — which is shared across 4G and 5G technologies — and effective core networks.

Most current 5G deployments are using non-standalone access, where the overall 5G experience of users still in part relies on the capability of the 4G network because a 5G smartphone will connect to 4G spectrum at the same time as the smartphone has an active 5G connection.

For multiplayer mobile gaming, industry expectations have been extremely high as operators hope to persuade gamers to upgrade to 5G. For now, just five countries rate as Excellent in Opensignal’s measure of Games Experience over a 5G network with scores over 85.

But this will be an area to watch as more operators deploy 5G core networks and standalone 5G, where they aim to improve latency greatly. By contrast, in all top ten countries for 5G Video Experience our users enjoyed an “Excellent” experience on our one hundred point scale with scores over 80.

Offering high speeds is not sufficient for mobile users to enjoy a great experience. For example, sometimes operators will throttle certain types of mobile data traffic — often video streams — which can have the effect of enabling very fast speed test results but offering users a poor video experience. Opensignal says it tests “a range of mobile experiences including Video Experience, multiplayer mobile Games Experience and the experience of real-time Voice App Experience using popular communication apps.”

 

Emerging markets see some of the biggest jumps in mobile experience with 5G. In Thailand, our mobile users see 5G Download Speed 13.4 times faster than the 4G Download Speed — the greatest increase in the world — with Philippines second with 10.1 times and Saudi Arabia third. In the top three placed countries for 5G Download Speed — South Korea, UAE and Taiwan (see chart 1 above) — Opensignal also saw a big leap in 5G speeds with scores 5.6, 6.6 and 7.7 times faster respectively.

For Video Experience, the top two places are reversed. Philippines sees a 5G Video Experience that’s 40% higher than 4G Video Experience, with Thailand second on 29% better, and Hong Kong third with an improvement of 14%. In eight of the top ten countries for uplift in 5G Video Experience over 4G the increase for 5G over 4G was over 10%.

 

There is no single way to measure the extent of a network. Opensignal says it has “developed two measures for the extent of 5G which offer complementary perspectives.”

Both 5G Availability and 5G Reach measure the real experience of the network as seen by our users, wherever they go, wherever they spend their time, indoors or outdoors, at all hours of the day. Neither rely on external data sources that are updated infrequently like census data for where people live, nor do Opensignal’s measures use mathematical estimations of network propagation - Opensignal says it measures “the actual experience.”

5G Availability measures the proportion of time 5G users — those with both a 5G smartphone model and a 5G service plan — spend connected to an active 5G signal. When we look at the top ten countries globally, Opensignal finds in six countries its users spend over one-fifth of their time connected to 5G with Kuwait top ranked with a score of 29.8%.

Opensignal also looks at the locations where a 5G network is present. 5G Reach measures the user experience of the 5G rollout of an operator’s network. 5G Reach gives the average proportion of locations where 5G users have connected to a 5G network out of all the locations those users have visited measured on a scale of 0-10.

In three places — South Korea, Hong Kong and Kuwait — Opensignal sees a score of over five on our ten point scale, indicating a wide reach for 5G. Notably, the U.S. ranks highly on 5G Reach, in part because of the use of low frequency spectrum for 5G by all three U.S. operators. However, the U.S. is an outlier as most of the countries in the top ten for 5G Reach are smaller countries where it is easier for the operators to cover a wide part of the country with 5G service.

The Opensignal report can also be read here.

 


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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