from the you-promised-us-a-miracle dept
Despite the relentless hype leading up to the deployment of 5G, and all the lopsided favors regulators gave wireless carriers on behalf of 5G, and all the lobbying and DC rhetoric about how the U.S. was engaged in a “race with China” over 5G — U.S. 5G continues to be… largely mediocre.
A number of recent studies have already shown that U.S. wireless isn’t just the most expensive in the developed world, U.S. 5G is significantly slower than most overseas deployments. That’s thanks in large part to our failure to make so-called middle band spectrum available for public use, resulting in a heavy smattering of lower band spectrum (good signal reach but slow speeds) or high-band and millimeter wave spectrum (great speeds, but poor reach and poor reception indoors). The end result is a far cry from what carriers had spent the last three years promising.
Now another Ookla report has emerged showing that while U.S. 5G availability is going well, the actual speeds users are getting rank among the worst in the developed world:
“Ookla placed median 5G download speeds at 93.73 Mbps in the US, far lower than the UKâ€™s 184.2 Mbps median and far lower still than South Korea, which led the pack at 492.48 Mbps. The U.S. placed around the same relative position for upload speeds as well.”
To be clear 93 Mbps being delivered to your pocket is certainly nothing to laugh at. 5G delivers some very real latency and speed improvements for wireless networks. But these improvements were always more evolutionary than revolutionary, and even at their maximum potential were never going to live up to much of the ridiculous hype we’ve seen over the last few years (carriers have already started hyping 6G before 5G has finished disappointing us). But the U.S. isn’t even matching the maximum performance seen in most nations around the world.
Ookla’s coverage claims should also be taken with a grain of salt. Other reports on 5G show that even when 5G is purportedly “available,” users have a hard time accessing it. This OpenSignal report, for example, found that Verizon’s ultra-fast 5G variant was only actually available to consumers with 5G-capable phones around 0.8% of the time. A different OpenSignal report also found that availability wasn’t all that great, and that U.S. wireless carriers routinely overstate coverage with their marketing maps.
Granted U.S. 4G networks were middle of the pack as well. And this is all before you get to the fact that U.S. wireless prices are some of the highest in the developed world. You’ll routinely see most of these organizations never mention price, for fear of upsetting wireless carriers they generally have tight data-sharing business relationships with. They’ll also never actually go beyond the purely technical to explain why the U.S. is consistently so mediocre (regulatory capture, increasingly consolidated carriers, feckless and underfunded consumer protection regulators).
Again, U.S. 5G speeds should slowly improve as the country pushes more middle-band spectrum to market. But even then, you can probably expect the United States to ultimately sit somewhere in the middle of the pack, a place it generally rests in most meaningful fixed-line broadband comparisons as well for reasons we’ve well explored.