5G in 2020
Bowling Green, Ky (August 19, 2020) - 5G advertisements have become universal, as the major carriers in the U.S. now have considerable deployments throughout the country. The past two years have brought a wave of changes in the 5G market, including recent acquisitions and expansion. Some of the providers talk about nationwide coverage, while others have focused on many urban markets and high speed.
In 2018, the major U.S. carriers had deployed to a few pilot markets, and there were four major carriers. However, since then, T-Mobile has completed its acquisition of Sprint, and the major carriers have deployed to over 6000 markets(Ookla). T-Mobile has made the most significant number of deployments with over 5,600, while AT&T and Verizon have deployed to 355 and 35 markets, respectively (Ookla). Both T-Mobile and AT&T advertise nationwide coverage while Verizon remains focused on ultra-high-speed service in its high-density markets.
Both Ookla and Open Signal rankings put Verizon’s speed at the top. It isn’t easy to compare the results from the two sites, as Ookla creates a composite score (Speed Score)that’s weighted, and Open Signal reports the download speed. OpenSignal indicates a 5G speed of 494.7 Mbps for Verizon. AT&T and T-Mobile follow at of 60.8 and 49.2 Mbps
OpenSignal notes that for the three carriers, 5G customers can connect to a 5G signal 22.5 percent of the time for T-Mobile customers. In contrast, AT&T customers and Verizon customers can connect to 5G 10.3 percent and .4 percent of the time. OpenSignal notes that this is reflective of the coverage of the networks, and they expect considerable growth in this metric throughout 2020.
FCC Chairman Pai has been very interested in seeing 5G grow and has been active in trying to help break down barriers that would slow the ability of America’s carriers to build out. The FCC launched the 5G Fast Plan and website, https://www.fcc.gov/5G, that provides a plethora of information related to the efforts of the Commission. The three areas of focus are creating more access to spectrum, updating infrastructure policy, and modernizing outdated regulations. Making more spectrum available at varying frequencies will allow 5G technology to be deployed in different ways, some with really high throughput, others allowing greater transmission distances at lower speeds.
In early August of 2020, the White Houseannounced action to free up spectrum. This spectrum has primarily been used by the Department of Defense and certainly will be scrutinized as to the impact it could have on various legacy systems. This, however, is a step by the current administration to help bring more spectrum to the table that could enhance these networks.
It should be clear by now that 5G and fiber are not competing technologies, but complementary. Nearly every deployment strategy for 5G seeks to get the data from the wireless 5G network onto a wired network, most commonly a fiber network. In the past two years, fiber backhaul deployment has been very busy all around the country as fiber network providers look to expand their services to meet the needs of carriers, as well as last-mile consumer networks.
The full impact of what 5G will bring to rural communities is still unclear. It’s unlikely that the experience of these networks in the rural U.S. will be the same as it is in urban communities. However, this is relative. In rural communities, 50 Mbps is rare; if these deployments bring 50 Mbps or greater connectivity in rural areas, the impact could be significant. The expansion of 5G across the U.S. will bring new opportunities for mobile technologies that depend on the network qualities that 5G seeks to provide, and we should remain optimistic about the impact that it can have to bring faster, more reliable connections to the country.
About the Author: Wes Kerr is Connected Nation's Director of Community Solutions. He helps ensure the implementation of Technology Action Plans developed for communities through Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) and works closely with clients and stakeholders to provide solutions that will help them meet their technology goals.