When it came time for our own testing, we acclimated Ookla’s Speedtest app to aggregate our 5G download acceleration results. Washington Post photo by Chris Velazco.
Gobs of agleam new phones. Massive ad campaigns. A high-profile merger. All of these factors apparently propelled the cellular account accepted as 5G assimilate your alarm this year.
With the barrage of Apple’s newest smartphones – the iPhone 13 alternation – the big catechism is back. Is it account affairs a new buzz aloof to get 5G?
Wireless carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all accept aerial hopes for 5G: They affirmation it will acquiesce added adaptable accessories to affix than anytime before, at faster speeds than what’s accessible over 4G networks now.
But aback we activated those 5G networks in 2020, those faster abstracts speeds were adamantine to appear by. To see how far things accept appear in a year, my aide Geoffrey A. Fowler and I set out on a network-testing spree, active hundreds of acceleration tests from our neighborhoods in San Francisco and New York. Over the aftermost few weeks, we’ve begin that these networks accept become about faster than the 4G account you’re acclimated to, but not consistently by actual much.
Don’t aloof booty our chat for it: abstracts from the arrangement assay abutting Opensignal suggests that people’s average download speeds on 5G phones — which by attributes sometimes run on 4G depending on advantage — haven’t afflicted abundant either. (That is, unless those phones run on T-Mobile service.)
And alike admitting you ability accept heard a lot of allocution about 5G this year, we’ve additionally abstruse that 2022 will apparently be aback best bodies actually alpha to feel a 5G acceleration boost.
There’s a actual acceptable adventitious your abutting smartphone will abutment 5G, and you won’t accept to absorb bags of money on it either – wireless carriers accept started affairs these phones for beneath $500. But afore you accomplish your final accommodation about affairs one, let’s ameliorate what’s activity on with these networks.
For all the advertising we saw, 2020 was a capricious year for 5G. T-Mobile had aloof accomplished affairs Sprint and hadn’t yet actually accumulated both networks into one. Verizon hadn’t launched its slower, added broadly accessible 5G arrangement yet. What it did accept was a accelerated acidity of 5G alleged millimeter beachcomber – alleged for the aerial frequencies it uses – in a scattering of cities. It’s fast abundant to download accomplished movies in seconds, but its ambit doesn’t extend for added than a block or two. Meanwhile, AT&T had both of those flavors of 5G up and active but fabricated things ambagious by announcement a “5Ge” logo on some of its non-5G phones. In case you were wondering, it is actually not 5G; it’s authentic business boner for its 4G LTE service.
Zoom says you alone charge a 1.5 Mbps abstracts affiliation for calls, but realistically you’ll appetite at atomic a 10 Mbps affiliation for bigger quality.
Netflix recommends a 5 Mbps abstracts affiliation for watching HD content, or 25 Mbps for 4K video. Hulu says 16 Mbps bottomward is acceptable abundant for their 4K movies and TV shows.
Streaming amateur to your buzz on casework like Google Stadia or Microsoft Game Pass? Both companies acclaim accepting at atomic a 10 Mbps connection, but bigger speeds beggarly bigger cartoon and playability.
Now, in 2021, all three carriers accept civic 5G coverage, additional pockets of acutely fast millimeter beachcomber 5G, so they’re about as according now as they’ve anytime been. To get a feel for what a year’s account of arrangement changes actually means, we batten to the bodies who adviser them beyond the absolute country.
For the aboriginal six months of this year, arrangement assay abutting RootMetrics had teams of bodies bisect the country and accomplish about 3 actor 5G acceleration tests beyond anniversary of the country’s three above cellphone providers.
After all the cardinal crunching was finished, RootMetrics told us that, nationwide, anniversary wireless carrier’s boilerplate 5G download speeds were college than their 4G speeds. (Median download acceleration is the one that’s accurately in the boilerplate of the abounding set of results, and it’s accessible for weeding out big variances.) Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile were aloof a little college than aftermost year’s 5G results. It’s an improvement, sure, but not the big footfall advanced best bodies were apparently acquisitive for.
But this big, civic appearance is aloof one way to attending at 5G. The boundaries of these networks about-face frequently, and we capital to see what 5G can actually action in altered places.
Coverage maps from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all say we alive in neighborhoods with the aforementioned kinds of 5G service, but does that beggarly we can apprehend agnate 5G speeds? As it turns out, actually not.
Geoff and I both loaded up three iPhone 11s with 4G account from Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, and active up for 5G account from the aforementioned carriers for a leash of iPhone 12s. Then, we started active dozens of tests application the Ookla Speedtest app.
First up: AT&T. In San Francisco, Geoff’s boilerplate 5G download acceleration was about 34 megabits per additional (Mbps), or about a third as fast as the boilerplate U.S. home Internet connection, according to HighSpeedInternet.com. That’s still 41% faster than his boilerplate 4G download speed, but additionally absolutely as fast as what he saw from AT&T’s 4G arrangement in the Bay Area aftermost year. In Brooklyn, though, my boilerplate 5G acceleration was abutting to alert as fast as Geoff’s, and about 20 Mbps faster than my 4G result.
What about Verizon? My boilerplate 5G download acceleration landed at 56 Mbps, which was abundant faster than 4G. But over in California, poor Geoff couldn’t get his iPhone 12 alive on Verizon’s 5G at all, admitting what Verizon’s advantage map said.
As it angry out, Geoff had his best luck with T-Mobile. The 5G speeds Geoff saw were abutting to 10 times faster than aftermost year. And second? Alike on 4G, his buzz was affective abstracts faster than abounding home Internet connections. My acquaintance wasn’t about as acceptable as his; in fact, my boilerplate T-Mobile 4G acceleration was faster than 5G.
So, area does this leave us?
Well, admitting what advantage maps say, 5G account doesn’t feel according everywhere – alike aback you’re application the exact aforementioned buzz and carrier. And aloof like RootMetrics, we begin 5G to be faster than 4G added generally than not, admitting the download speeds we saw aloof weren’t all that absorbing compared with the boilerplate home Internet connection.
According to the experts who congenital the app we acclimated for our testing, that’s at atomic partially because of the way best 5G networks are actuality built.
“If we attending at 5G in the U.S., it’s absolutely LTE with some 5G added,” said Doug Suttles, CEO of Ookla.
When I ran tests backward at night, aback bodies were beneath acceptable to be out, my T-Mobile iPhone 12 pulled bottomward the best speeds of any carrier I tried. To accept why, we charge to allocution a little bit about how 5G works.
Here’s what you should know: Anniversary of the three above U.S. carriers bear 5G account through chunks of radio spectrum, which the Federal Communications Commission sells admission to. And anniversary of those altered chunks abatement into a scattering of altered categories, alleged “bands.”
Now that Verizon has lit up its civic 5G network, all three above U.S. carriers use alleged low-band frequencies to ability a majority of their customers. On the whole, low-band isn’t abundant faster than 4G LTE, but a distinct belfry can absolute afar with 5G, and those signals are actual acceptable at biting walls and buildings.
On the added end of the spectrum are high-band frequencies that carriers use to bear speeds that would put your home Internet to shame. Millimeter wave, Verizon Ultra Wideband, AT&T 5G – that’s all aerial band. It’s fantastic, but acceptable luck award it.
Meanwhile, the being in the boilerplate – calmly alleged mid-band – seems to be the candied atom aback it comes to bigger speeds and ambit covered. And appropriate now, acknowledgment to the way it gobbled up Sprint aftermost year, T-Mobile has a lot of mid-band spectrum.
“That’s helped T-Mobile with the acceleration increases we’ve seen,” said Ian Fogg, carnality admiral of assay at Opensignal.
So, does that beggarly AT&T and Verizon barter are aloof out of luck? In a word: no. Earlier this year, both of those carriers spent billions on new spectrum for 5G, and they’re accepted to put them to acceptable use by the end of this year.
“There will be chunks of new accommodation advancing available,” Fogg said. “That should beggarly that we’ll see all-overs in the 5G acquaintance on all the U.S. carriers from December onwards.”
Is it assuredly time to upgrade?
Here’s our advice: Booty a footfall aback and anticipate about what you absolutely charge from your phone. If you’re blessed with the way it works appropriate now, you still don’t charge to blitz things.
“If your account appropriate now seems aloof fine, if LTE is alive for you and it gets the job done, you’re apparently not activity to account that greatly,” Suttles from Ookla said of switching to a 5G phone.
But that doesn’t beggarly you shouldn’t accede advance your buzz at all. Maybe your phone’s array activity isn’t what it acclimated to be. Maybe you’ve alone it too abounding times and its awning is adamantine to see through all those cracks. Ultimately, you’re the best adjudicator of aback you charge a new one.
Unless you absorb all your time online on your phone, 5G shouldn’t be a huge affair aback attractive for your abutting smartphone. Whether you buy one in the abutting anniversary or the abutting month, it’ll about absolutely abutment 5G – food of 4G-only phones are starting to shrink, at atomic in carrier stores. And the amount of 5G phones has alone appealing badly over the aftermost year; what acclimated to be a affection begin alone in high-end phones can now be had for about $500.
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