Putting the evolution of 5G in perspective is critical. We’re early in the game for what is essentially laying the foundation for how we will use networks in the future. What we’re witnessing now is a significant enhancement of the mobile experience. But that’s only the beginning. What will follow is the true enablement of the IoT — billions of connections to the network impacting every facet of our daily lives. Transforming the healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, and transportation industries — virtually every aspect of how we live, work, and play.
The first stage of this evolution, enhancing the mobile experience, is already well underway, and the results are encouraging. If 4G brought the equivalent broadband experience of DSL or DOCSIS to the smartphone, 5G will bring a near-fiber experience. Gigabit speed throughput to the handset is in sight.
In fact, Verizon recently reported it achieved 4.2 Gbps throughput on its live 5G network, using the millimeter wave spectrum (1). Speeds like this are for demonstration purposes for now and won’t represent what the average 5G user will experience at scale, but they do highlight the increasing capabilities of 5G technology. Cisco predicts average 5G speeds will reach 575 Mbps by 2023, 13x more than the current average mobile connection (2).
Different operators have licensed various spectral wavelengths and it’s important to note the spectrum they operate on directly correlates to the signal reach. In recent tests performed by industry research firm OpenSignal, Verizon achieved average 5G speeds of 723 Mbps (3). Due to its exclusive use of a more robust millimeter wave spectrum, primarily in the 24 MHz and 28 MHz bands, they enjoy high speeds but require more small cells. In comparison, Sprint, using a 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, achieved an average 5G speed of 183 Mbps, with radio equipment spaced farther apart.
Regardless of initial spectrum choice, U.S. mobile operators are introducing a quite dramatic improvement in mobile network performance. This will enable a new and better experience for smartphones, putting just about any application, regardless of bandwidth requirements, in the palm of anyone’s hands. Augmented reality, where subscribers can use their 5G connections to enable unique applications like immersive experiences at live events, is one example of enhanced smartphone capabilities enabled by improved mobile network performance. Verizon and Snap recently partnered to create 5G-enabled experiences such as transporting fans backstage at a live concert or providing spectators unique in-stadium experiences from their seats during a live game (4).