5G Performance Improves in the U.S., Other Markets See Declines

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Despite the massive amounts of money invested in deploying 5G networks and all the hype surrounding 5G's potential impact on the media landscape, a new report on the actual performance of 5G networks around the world finds that 5G deployments still haven’t lived up to the hype and that median 5G performance is declining in many early launch 5G markets. 

In the report, Ookla found that the U.S. is one of the few countries where media 5G download speeds are improving. But median speeds in the U.S. remain sluggish, at 138.86 Mbps, which ranks the U.S. among the five slowest countries Ookla studied. 

The state of 5G deployments described by Ookla is important for media companies who have hoped to use 5G networks to offer consumers new ways to access their content and for cable operators who face increased competition in the broadband sector from 5G wireless companies. 

The Ookla report found that despite impressive headline speeds, 5G performance varies a lot around the world and that consumers are less impressed with real world 5G offerings than they used to be compared to 4G LTE. 

Using a large sample of speed tests, Ookla found that in-market 5G performance varies widely. 

"Reviewing the top 10% and worst 10% of Ookla Speedtest Intelligence samples reveals significant variance in the consumer experience on today’s 5G networks, with 5G speeds peaking at over 1 Gbps for the top 10% of users in the U.A.E on average, but falling to below 20 Mbps for the lower 10% in Norway, the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Spain," Mark Giles, lead analyst at Ookla, wrote in a blog post (opens in new tab)

The Ookla analysis also found that median 5G performance is declining in many early launch 5G markets. "While understandable as 5G adoption grows and users in more remote locations access 5G, declining median download speeds also point to investment and deployment challenges in some markets," Giles wrote. 

Ookla found that the U.A.E. was the fastest 5G market, based on median download performance of 545.53 Mbps in December 2022, followed by South Korea and Qatar. 

As in previous reports U.S. remained far down the list, with 138.86 Mbps average download speed. 

However those speeds varied widely within each market. Giles noted that the top 10% of users in the U.A.E. recorded speeds of at least 1,266.49 Mbps on average, while the lowest 10% of users experienced speeds of 127.52 Mbps or slower on average. At the other end of the scale, Spain recorded a median 5G speed of 94.14 Mbps, but also demonstrated wide variance between the top 10% of samples at 537.95 Mbps or faster and the lowest 10% with 10.67 Mbps or less, Giles wrote.

The research also found that while 5G speeds have remained stable globally, media 5G download speeds have fallen over the past year in many markets. 

"The U.S. was the main outlier, recording the strongest uplift in 5G performance as T-Mobile continued to drive home its performance advantage in the market, while Verizon’s performance improved early in 2022 through its deployment of 5G in C-band spectrum," Giles wrote. "This trend is likely to continue in 2023 in the U.S., as more C-band spectrum is made available. However, the picture remains concerning for a number of other 5G markets, particularly those where median 5G speeds are at the lower end of the spectrum."

More of the analysis and the impact it could have on consumer sentiment regarding 5G offerings is available here (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Ookla)
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(Image credit: Ookla)
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George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.