Fastest 5G network in the U.S.? T-Mobile vs Verizon; Nokia’s fastest 5G claim

T-Mobile’s Salim Kouidri tweeted on Tuesday (see below) that their 5G network in New York City recently hit 1G bit/sec  download speeds, at least in one recent test.  Surprisingly, that 1 Gig connection didn’t even make use of T-Mobile’s low-band or millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holdings.

Salim Kouidri@salimkouidri

A big milestone was achieved today @TMobile NYC. The team recorded a 1 Gigabit/s speed test on our newly launched 2.5Ghz 5G network in Manhattan @NevilleRay @MikeSievert

View image on Twitter
Previously, T-Mobile had boasted speeds of around 600Mbit/s on its 5G network in Philadelphia, which uses the operator’s lowband 600MHz spectrum and the midband 2.5GHz spectrum T-Mobile acquired from Sprint.
T-Mobile’s 1Gig connection was obtained in a single test.  It is not necessarily a speed customers should routinely expect as it used combined transmissions across several different frequency bands:
  • N41 (the 2.5GHz spectrum T-Mobile acquired from Sprint)
  • B66 (the AWS spectrum T-Mobile is using to broadcast both 5G and 4G using EN-DC technology)
  • And Band 46 (the unlicensed 5GHz band that T-Mobile is using to deploy LAA technology)

Therefore, the operator’s 1Gbit/s 5G connection didn’t even make use of T-Mobile’s low-band or high-band, mmWave spectrum holdings. Moreover, T-Mobile officials have said the operator is initially deploying only 60MHz of the roughly 150MHz it now owns in the 2.5GHz band. The inclusion of transmissions in those additional bands would undoubtedly increase users’ download speeds.

RootMetrics reported on Tuesday that it clocked Verizon’s mmWave 5G network at a top speed of 1.1Gbit/s in Chicago last year. That’s not surprising given that Verizon holds roughly 800MHz of mmWave spectrum in most major markets, which allows it to transmit enormous amounts of data. Verizon delivered faster speeds in 40 out of 55 markets RootMetrics tested in the first half of 2020.
Verizon’s mmWave spectrum 5G delivered incredibly fast speeds during 5G testing across select cities in the second half of 2019, and the carrier continued that trend in early 2020, with remarkable 5G maximum download speeds in four of the cities where we recorded results on Verizon’s 5G. For instance, Verizon’s 5G maximum download speed of 676.4 Mbps in Los Angeles was one of the fastest 5G maximum download speeds we’ve recorded anywhere in the US to date. In fact, Verizon registered the single fastest 5G maximum download speed we’ve found in the US (to date) at 1.1 Gbps in Chicago during our First Look 5G testing in August of 2019.
Verizon today announced it tweaked its own 5G mmWave network to improve users’ upload speeds. As PCMag reported, Verizon previously used its LTE network to handle its 5G customers’ uploads, but is now using 100MHz of its mmWave spectrum to handle uploads. The operator said the action would improve its upload speeds by 30% – a key action as COVID-19 lockdown orders drive Americans toward upload-heavy services like videoconferencing.
Meanwhile, OpenSignal reported on Wednesday that average 5G speeds globally are well below the 1Gbit/s mark in places like South Korea, the U.S. and Australia.
The time that users spent connected to 5G — 5G Availability — also varied greatly between operators, reaching a high of 19.8% of the time on T-Mobile US, indicating that while T-Mobile 5G speeds may not be the fastest, their users will experience the higher 5G speeds considerably more often than the users of other 5G operators.
Of the ten operators we analyzed, Verizon is the only one to exclusively use mmWave spectrum and this is the main reason for the extremely high speeds our 5G users have observed on its network. Similarly, the two operators here whose users had the slowest 5G speeds both primarily relied upon low-band spectrum re-purposed from 4G services — 600Mhz for T-Mobile US and 850Mhz for AT&T — which offers extremely good coverage but less capacity and slower average speeds. All the other operators relied on mid-band spectrum for their 5G services.

Although Australia’s Telstra, all three of South Korea’s operators, Sprint in the U.S. and the U.K.’s EE and Vodafone have all deployed 5G on mid-band spectrum, users’ speeds differed greatly from well over 200 Mbps on all three Korean operators, to 114.2 Mbps on Sprint. In part, this speed difference is because of the amount of 5G spectrum available to deploy — wider channels are better, ideally 100Mhz in a single 5G band — but it’s also due to other differences in the networks such as the capacity of the onward connection from each cell site or the performance of each operator’s core network.

As the new T-Mobile combines the assets of Sprint, we expect to see the average 5G speed of new T-Mobile users rising as they benefit from the mid-band 5G spectrum which Sprint has deployed.

While the average 5G speed varies dramatically across these ten leading 5G operators, in every case the 5G Download Speed Experience is dramatically faster than 4G. The operator whose users experienced the fastest 4G download speed, SK telecom, still saw 5G speeds 3.5 times faster.
Finally, Nokia announced on Tuesday that it has achieved the world’s fastest 5G speeds in its Over-the-Air (OTA) network in Dallas, Texas. Utilizing 800 MHz of commercial millimeter wave 5G spectrum and Dual Connectivity (EN-DC) functionality, Nokia achieved 5G speeds of up to 4.7 Gbps in tests performed on base station equipment being deployed in major U.S. carriers’ commercial networks. This solution will not only provide subscribers with unrivalled mobile broadband speeds, but also enable carriers to sell various latency-sensitive enterprise services, such as network slicing for mission-critical applications.

The record speed was achieved by combining eight 100 MHz channels of millimeter wave spectrum on the 28 GHz and 39GHz bands, providing 800 MHz of bandwidth, and 40 MHz of LTE spectrum using the EN-DC functionality available on Nokia’s AirScale solution. EN-DC allows devices to connect simultaneously to 5G and LTE networks, transmitting and receiving data across both air-interface technologies. This means devices can achieve a higher throughput than when connecting to 5G or LTE alone. The speeds were achieved on both 5G cloud-based (vRAN) and classic baseband configurations.

Nokia’s AirScale Radio Access is an industry-leading, commercial end-to-end 5G solution enabling operators globally to capitalize on their 5G spectrum assets. It offers huge capacity scaling and market-leading latency and connectivity by enabling all air-interface technologies on the same radio access equipment.

Stéphane Téral, Chief Analyst at LightCounting Market Research, said: “This is a substantial achievement that reflects the careful workings of a brilliant and subtle team with the deepest appreciation for detail and circumstance. In other words, 8-component carrier aggregation in the millimeter wave domain shows the world that there is more than massive MIMO and open RAN to not only truly deliver the promise of commercial 5G, but also pave the way for future Terahertz system.”

Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia, commented: “This is an important and significant milestone in the development of 5G services in the U.S., particularly at a time when connectivity and capacity is so crucial. It demonstrates the confidence operators have in our global end-to-end portfolio and the progress we have made to deliver the best possible 5G experiences to customers. We already supply our mmWave radios to all of the major U.S. carriers and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them moving forward.”

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4 thoughts on “Fastest 5G network in the U.S.? T-Mobile vs Verizon; Nokia’s fastest 5G claim

  1. New findings from network performance tracker Opensignal reveals that Verizon had by far the fastest 5G speed, but it’s only available to 0.5% of users.

    Opensignal took a look at the 5G situation with operators in the US, UK, Australia and South Korea. It found that Verizon is knocking it out of the park, with average 5G download speed of over 500 Megabits per second. The next best was LG U+ in Korea, which only manage around half that rate. The rest of the US operators were miles behind, but all ten of the operators assessed were at least doubling their 4G data rate.

    “Speed is far from the only important measure of the 5G experience,” said Opensignal’s Ian Fogg, in his accompanying blog. “How much time users are able to enjoy that experience is equally important. There is little point in having the potential to enjoy 5G, if that 5G experience is not often available.” Well, quite.

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  2. PCMag’s Sascha Segan wrote that 5G in the US is a mixed bag. “AT&T 5G right now appears to be essentially worthless. T-Mobile 5G can be a big boost over 4G, but its speeds are only what we’d expect from a good 4G network – it isn’t a new experience. Verizon’s 5G is often mind-blowing, but very difficult to find,” he wrote.

    And how do US operators stack up against their international neighbors? Not well, Segan found. “It’s worth mentioning that neither AT&T’s nor T-Mobile’s 5G networks are faster than the Bell and Telus 4G networks in Canada. Bell and Telus were able to outpace our 5G technologies without a lick of 5G.”

    Indeed, in terms of how the US as a country stacks up in the global 5G race, OpenSignal reports that it’s either dead last or in the middle of the pack, depending on how you want to tabulate things.

  3. 11 Nov 2020 update from Light Reading:

    “We’re deploying 5G at a variety of spectrums – so many customers will have a faster experience on a 5G network while others may still see the best performance on our 4G LTE deployments,” explained Brian Caraway, general manager of C Spire’s wireless division, in a release.

    Those comments acknowledge a painful truth among network operators: Most initial 5G offerings in the US on lowband spectrum aren’t much faster than existing 4G networks. “5G is a new technology that will improve with time, but regardless of where you live, C Spire is dedicated to providing the best network experience for the most customers possible,” Caraway said.

    C Spire said its 5G efforts stem from $200 million spent on recent 4G and 5G network enhancements that include the deployment of new 2.5GHz spectrum as well as the addition of new technologies like carrier aggregation and 256 QAM.

    C Spire also plans to deploy 5G on its 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum holdings at some point in the future. This highband spectrum can support blazing-fast speeds, but suffers from relatively short transmission ranges.

    C Spire said its initial 5G rollout will start in select Mississippi markets this year and will expand to other, unspecified markets next year.

    “As a privately-held company, we do not publicly disclose more detailed information about our plans for providing 5G until the service is available to customers,” the company wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

    C Spire’s overall rollout plans largely dovetail with similar efforts by its larger rivals. For example, C Spire said it will likely use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology in the future “as needed.” Verizon recently switched DSS on nationwide, while AT&T has been testing it in some markets. T-Mobile, meantime, has said it will avoid DSS as it deploys 5G on its 600MHz and 2.5GHz holdings.

    Like AT&T and Verizon, C Spire said it is using the non-standalone (NSA) version of 5G for its initial launches and will be testing and potentially launching the standalone (SA) version of 5G next year. T-Mobile, for its part, switched on SA earlier this year.

    And like AT&T and Verizon, C Spire said it is “interested” in open RAN technology – which promises to separate 5G hardware and software, potentially lowering costs – “but it is not a technology we are currently deploying in our network.”

    As for offering fixed wireless Internet services over its new 5G network – as T-Mobile and others plan to do – C Spire said its initial 5G efforts are targeted at mobility services, but that “does not limit or prohibit our use of other 5G services like fixed wireless 5G.”

    Finally, it’s worth noting that C Spire now officially joins the ranks of 5G operators. The carrier claimed to be the first in the US with 5G in 2018, though it did so with fixed wireless equipment using proprietary technologies based on the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard.

    C Spire provides wireless service to roughly 1 million customers across Mississippi, Alabama and elsewhere. The operator sits behind U.S. Cellular – which counts around 5 million customers – as one of the nation’s biggest regional wireless network operators. U.S. Cellular launched its initial 5G services last year.

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