Opensignal recently posted a report about the current status of 5G within the United States, with download speeds and availability to smartphones across all 50 U.S. states. In the newest flagship phones, 5G capability is now considered a necessity with Android phones from Samsung and other top manufacturers leading the push, and Apple joining late in 2020 with its first 5G device, the iPhone 12. With 5G technology firmly within grasp for consumers, it’s interesting to review how good performance is across the country.
5G stands for fifth-generation and is a significant advance over 4G, which had a variant known as LTE (long-term evolution). The latest cellular network standard has the potential for download speeds in the gigabit range although that has rarely been achieved. The biggest problem has been the availability of compatible cell sites. To help speed the transition, frequency bands below 6 gigahertz that are known as sub-6, have been rolled out more quickly since those signals carry further and bring the new standard to more people. mmWave is the fastest type of 5G but it comes with a trade-off since the much higher frequency signals of 24 to 100 gigahertz are impeded by walls and windows, limiting the best speeds to a very short range.
Opensignal’‘s latest 5G experience report shares download speeds and availability for each of the 50 states across the nation, a useful bit of information for anyone considering a move or simply wondering why their 5G speeds might not be as fast as expected. The very fastest state, on average, is New York which enjoys 114 megabits per second with 5G. In general, the coastal states have the best download rates, depending on availability. The fastest 5G networks are being built in areas with the greatest population density so this is to be expected. The leaders are New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia, all of which exceed 90 megabits per second. California and Texas are so large that their average scores were in the mid-range, reaching just over 70 megabits on average. Meanwhile, the top score, by city, went to Laredo, TX with an average download speed of 131 megabits per second, followed closely by Salt Lake City, New York, and Newark. Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago topped 80 megabits. Even with these high averages, they are only scratching the surface of the potential of the 5G standard and the issue most likely has to do with the availability of the mmWave bands.
At present, the availability of 5G is probably the biggest reason for average download speeds, falling well below the gigabit potential. Opensignal‘s report shows that the reach of 5G networks is quite limited with less than a third of its users in any one state marking 5G as being available. Illinois topped the list connecting to 5G nearly 28-percent of the time. Only seven states had access to 5G for a quarter of their time, with Texas, Nevada, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California following Illinois. Over half reached a 5G network one in five times, while almost all managed to get a signal 10-percent of the time. Vermont had the lowest availability falling just under 6-percent.
The report didn’t break out the speed and availability by 5G band but it is clear that sub-6 is the most pervasive, due to its longer range. Since sub-6 will be available most often and its top speed is about 40-percent of what is possible with mmWave, that is dragging the averages down. The global pandemic has played a role in the slow rollout and it seems like it will still be quite some time before the full potential of 5G becomes available to most users. The good news is that 5G phones can still access the 4G LTE network and 5G has increased speeds and expanded the availability of mobile internet when taken as a whole. Opensignal‘s report gives a realistic view of what to expect and could be helpful for anyone traveling or planning a move.