One reason the wireless industry may be so obsessed with deploying 5G now is that 4G LTE speeds aren't cutting it anymore. In fact, they are plateauing at around 45 Mbit/s on average, according to OpenSignal's latest global report analyzing 50 billion measurements on 4G performance in 88 countries.
OpenSignal reports that 4G LTE networks have greatly increased in their reach, but not necessarily their speeds. The company, which provides crowd-sourced wireless coverage maps, notes that they haven't seen any sizable increase in 4G speeds across the globe for the last several quarterly global reports. The exceptions were in some European countries, including the Netherlands and Spain, and in Canada, where Telus's LTE upgrades brought speeds past 30 Mbit/s. AT&T's and Verizon's unlimited data plan offers weighed down LTE speeds in OpenSignal's recent reports, but the company said they regained that lost momentum this quarter. Even so, 45 Mbit/s seems to be the plateau for most networks.
"The industry is still waiting on that spark that will push speeds beyond 50 Mbit/s on a national level," the report reads. Singapore leads the world in speed, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and South Korea, all of which average above 40 Mbit/s. The US ranks 62nd in LTE speeds, with an average speed of only 16.31 Mbit/s.
When it came to reach, consumers in five countries had access to an LTE connection more than 90% of the time, up from just two countries three months ago. Norway, Hong Kong and the US joined Japan and South Korea in breaking the 90% mark, which OpenSignal considers exceptional coverage.
OpenSignal's report is well timed with Mobile World Congress, where 5G hype was at an all-time high. 5G networks promise to bring speeds of 20 Gbit/s at peak and 10 Gbit/s on average. But, the company says, the world need not wait on 5G to get zippier connections. The report reads, "There are still plenty of enhancements left in the LTE standards that operators can tap into. We've already seen the earliest LTE adopters deploy so-called Gigabit LTE technologies and other upgrades designed to push the 4G envelope further."
OpenSignal concludes that what is needed now for LTE is diffusion -- operators are starting in major cities on high-end devices and once their merit is proved out, they'll extend them to smaller cities and towns. Competitors will follow suit, both at home and across borders, eventually raising the bar for all.
"All of this will serve to raise the average speeds in these early adopter countries beyond 50 Mbit/s -- and possibly much faster," OpenSignal says.
— Sarah Thomas, Contributing Editor, Telco Transformation