OpenSignal has opened up about the readiness of 5G in the US for 2019 and 2020 in the lead-up to shopping holidays in a bid to ensure consumers are prepared with the requisite information this shopping season. The company's analysis centers on the obvious benefits to the technology even in its current state. It also highlights that next-generation networks are still clearly for the next generation.
Now, the biggest benefit of 5G based on multiple widespread reports and specifically on an OpenSignal analysis of consumer experiences is its speed and versatility. To begin with, tests in the US, Australia, Switzerland, and South Korea consistently experience speeds of over 1Gbps. The highest speeds in the US have been tested at 1.8Gbps for downloads. But that's just a beginning.
Lower latency and wider bandwidth are also an important part of what 5G will deliver.
OpenSignal expects speeds will increase over its rollout and life cycle. That won't just serve mobile devices either. The networking technology bolsters mobile network capabilities to handle everything from enterprise to VR, AR, video streaming, and gaming.
Collectively referred to as the IoT, the use cases extend so far as to cover everything from smart cars to smart city technology. That is, in part, thanks to the fact that there are three main types of 5G being rolled out in the US. Each of those is separable by the frequencies they use. US carriers are utilizing low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum.
Drawbacks to 5G in 2019 – 2020
The biggest caveat to the advent of 5G and to buying a 5G phone now is that 5G simply isn't available widely yet. Less than 1-percent of speed tests mentioned above, OpenSignal says, was tested using an active 5G connection. That's because the technology is still in its earliest stages. OpenSignal points to the fact that most 5G networks that are becoming available are built on top of current 4G LTE networks. They're "non-standalone" networks.
Networks that do rely on standalone 5G technology are incoming. But even representatives from carriers such as Verizon don't plan for widespread 5G smartphone usage until 2024. That is, according to Verizon, the timeframe for when half of the US population will own a 5G-enabled smartphone.
So there's a good chance that Verizon is planning its network to be widespread around that same period. That's despite that Verizon plans to have a "functioning" wireless network present in the country in 2020.
That also aligns with OpenSignal's assessment. The company's analysis indicates that, although users might actually own and have a 5G smartphone, they won't necessarily have a connection to those networks. It also hints at one of the biggest reasons for that. Namely, next-gen networks are new and rolling out on a city-by-city and state-by-state basis.
Shopping for the holidays should probably be limited on the 5G front
The discrepancies between the different bands used for 5G, as highlighted above, serve to make the same point about the timeline for buying into 5G devices. The bands used by carriers can drastically change how quickly and how well the new mobile and IoT networks work.
From a carrier perspective, using low-band networks allows a wider coverage area. But the speed of those connections is much lower. In high-density areas, using a high-band spectrum enables the high-speed connections mentioned above. Those connections are generally most useful in areas as small as a city block. The mid-band spectrum falls between those two sets of advantages and disadvantages.
Not every user is going to be benefitted to a wide extent by picking up a 5G phone now because not every carrier network is being built out in the same way.
Some users won't benefit from the availability of 5G networks throughout 2020. OpenSignal's report provides further evidence of that, pointing out that the trend will probably continue well into subsequent years. Citing analyst firm IDC, the company doesn't expect shipments of 5G smartphones by OEMs to account for more than 8.9-percent 2020's device shipments. IDC tallies that figure out of a total of 123.5 million expected smartphone shipments in 2020.
That all means that users are going to have quite a lot of information to consider before going out shopping for 5G devices over the next couple of holidays. At least, that's true with regard to deciding whether or not to buy a 5G phone over the next year.