US 5G performance surges as carriers deploy mid-band spectrum

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The US is experiencing a significant boost in 5G performance as major carriers deploy newly acquired mid-band spectrum. Recent data from Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence reveals substantial improvements in download speeds and network quality across the country.

T-Mobile has maintained its leadership position, leveraging additional 2.5 GHz spectrum acquired in Auction 108. The carrier’s median 5G download speed increased by an impressive 29.64 Mbps in just one month, reaching 287.14 Mbps in March 2024. This performance boost is particularly noticeable in rural areas, helping to bridge the urban-rural digital divide.

Verizon and AT&T have also made significant strides, benefiting from early access to C-band spectrum. Verizon’s median 5G download speed jumped from 133.56 Mbps in June 2023 to 224.67 Mbps by March 2024. AT&T, while trailing its competitors, has seen steady improvements, reaching 145.36 Mbps.

The impact of these upgrades extends beyond raw speed metrics. Consumer sentiment, measured by Net Promoter Score (NPS), has shown marked improvement for all three carriers. This positive trend correlates directly with the deployment of new spectrum and subsequent performance enhancements.

Internationally, the US has climbed from 20th to 11th place in Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index over the past year. The country also ranks highly in 5G availability, with 76.7% of known operator locations offering 5G service as of Q1 2024.

However, challenges remain. While download speeds have surged, upload speeds and latency have seen minimal improvements. T-Mobile is the only carrier to consistently reduce latency, dropping from 55 ms in Q1 2022 to 46 ms in Q1 2024.

Regional disparities persist, with Midwestern states generally outperforming those with higher rural populations. However, recent spectrum deployments are beginning to narrow this gap. T-Mobile’s latest 2.5 GHz rollout has resulted in significant speed increases across 35 states, with notable improvements in traditionally underserved areas like West Virginia, Wyoming, and New Hampshire.

The competitive landscape is set to evolve further in 2024. T-Mobile’s planned acquisition of US Cellular’s wireless operations will reinforce its spectrum position. Meanwhile, the potential entry of DISH Network as a fourth national carrier adds an element of uncertainty to the market.

As 5G networks mature, industry experts anticipate a shift in focus. While download speeds will remain important, carriers are expected to place greater emphasis on upload performance and latency reduction to support emerging applications like augmented reality, mobile gaming, and video calling.

The recent performance gains underscore the critical importance of mid-band spectrum for 5G deployment. Industry bodies such as CTIA continue to advocate for additional spectrum allocation, arguing that it could generate up to $200 billion in economic growth over the next decade.

As the 5G race intensifies, US consumers stand to benefit from faster speeds, improved coverage, and enhanced service quality. The coming year promises to be a pivotal period for the industry as carriers seek to capitalise on their spectrum investments and secure a competitive edge.

(Photo by Ryan Baker)

See also: GSMA Open Gateway: Unlocking mobile networks’ potential with APIs

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