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How does 5G fare in your city? Data shows we have a long way to go.
How’s the 5G where you live? Is it fast? Is it slow? Is it even available? For many consumers, 5G simply hasn’t lived up to the sky-high expectations set by technology purveyors the world over. We’ve been promised low latency and high speeds everywhere we go and that’s just not the reality of today’s 5G networks. Carriers are nonetheless toiling to cover the globe with 5G and have definitely made progress since earlier this year.
New data from Ookla shows that the speeds and availability of 5G networks are improved, though that same data demonstrates just how far we have to go. The company recently published its Global 5G Benchmark Report for the first half of 2021, which is a raw analysis of 5G network performance and availability in cities around the world. Ookla selected a representative sample of 30 major metropolitan areas and put three things to the test: network availability, download speed, and upload speed. These data points provide us with insight into the progress of 5G.
Ookla defines 5G availability as “the percent of users on 5G-capable devices that spend the majority of their time on 5G.” This is calculated as a percentage.
Of the 30 cities tested by Ookla, New York City handily won in terms of 5G availability at 73.5%. This means people with 5G phones spend about three-quarters of their time connected to the available 5G networks. Amsterdam came in second at 51.2%. New York and Amsterdam, however, were the only two cities to score higher than 50%. Seoul was third on the list in terms of 5G availability at 48%. Doha and Toronto round out the top five with 38.1% and 36.2%, respectively.
Check out: Here are all the US cities with 5G coverage
Fully half of the results were under the 25% mark. This means people in many cities spend most of their time on 3G or 4G networks, even if they have a 5G phone. For example, 5G availability measured 7.8% in Berlin, 7.2% in Paris, 6.9% in Rome, 6.8% in Singapore, and just 1.4% in Johannesburg. Clearly, 5G network availability has some improving to do.
Availability is one thing, but speed is another. The good news is that 29 of the 30 cities had median download speeds of over 100Mbps. Only Warsaw failed to reach that baseline, with average download speeds of just 80.18Mbps over 5G. Even better, 13 of the cities showed median 5G download speeds above 200Mbps.
Cities in Asia and the Middle East dominated the list when it came to speeds. Seoul tallied the highest rate, with an average download speed of 467.87Mbps over 5G. It was followed by Abu Dhabi with 421.26Mbps, Dubai with 417.07Mbps, Doha with 413.30Mbps, and Riyadh with 384.66Mbps.
Thirteen of the 30 rated cities showed median 5G download speeds above 200Mbps.
Upload speeds over 5G were, on average, about one-tenth of download speeds. For example, Seoul saw median upload speeds of 49.94Mbps, Beijing followed with upload speeds of 44.15Mbps, then Abu Dhabi with 38.75Mbps, Johannesburg with 38.04Mbps, and Dubai at 37.15Mbps.
None of these speeds come close to the 1Gbps that at least some network operators touted in the early days of 5G.
Europe loses, the Middle East wins
The status of 5G across Europe is simply not that good. Cities such as Berlin, Dublin, Munich, Paris, Prague, and Warsaw experienced both less 5G availability and the lowest speeds across Ookla’s testing. Prague, for example, rated just 13.2% for availability and 116.3Mbps for download speeds.
More reading: The best 5G phones you can buy right now
Figures from the Middle East, by way of comparison, show that 5G is not only more available there, but it is also faster as well. Abu Dhabi, Dammam, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait City, and Riyadh all showed above-average speed and availability for the next-generation network.
Ookla ranked Seoul the overall “winner” in this 5G benchmark. It had the third-highest rate of 5G availability at 48% and the fastest median download speeds at 467.87Mbps.
Analyzing New York
Let’s take a look at the state of 5G in New York City for a second. New York showed the highest availability of 5G worldwide, which is great, but its median download speed ranked close to the bottom at 119.86Mbps. So where does that leave the Big Apple?
All three national network operators offer 5G service in New York City, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Each is relying on a different spectrum to deliver that 5G service. The majority of the available 5G service is in the sub-6GHz category, which provides more coverage but slower overall speeds. Yes, mmWave is available, too, but it’s on such a limited scale that it’s hard to take it seriously. Ookla didn’t provide a breakdown of the performance of the three carriers in New York City.
Surprisingly, however, my experience with 5G in New York City mirrors the results generated by Ookla. I generally find that 5G is often available no matter which carrier it is, and speeds often average around 100Mbps for downloads. So, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are delivering on part of the 5G promise in that, hey, there’s actually 5G in New York City. Now it needs to get much faster.
Ookla gets the overall analysis just right. “5G is one of the fastest, most robust technologies the world has ever seen,” it said in the report. “With the power to support millions of devices at ultrafast speeds, 5G has the potential to change lives. 5G will be extraordinary — for every industry, every business, and every user’s connected experience. But not all countries are benefitting equally.” This is especially true across Europe.
Given the wide ranges between 5G network availability and speeds worldwide, it’s clear that network operators have their work cut out for them if they’re to deliver on the promises they’ve made. They’ll get there. Eventually.