Race to 5G September 2020: The Fastest Mobile Network Is …

Our annual Fastest Mobile Networks report came out this month, and it had some shocking results for the race to 5G. We discovered that AT&T’s 5G network is actually slower than its 4G network in almost all of the 26 cities we tested, and that T-Mobile’s low-band 5G network, while faster than 4G, isn’t very fast at all. Verizon’s network, meanwhile, is compellingly fast but its 5G was only available in a single-digit percentage of our test locations.

So how can AT&T be leading the “race to 5G” when Verizon won our Fastest Mobile Network award—and when we just showed that AT&T’s 5G network is slower than its 4G network? The answer lies in our criteria.

For our Race to 5G, we give far more points to pure 5G coverage than we do in Fastest Mobile Networks, where we’re just looking at the network experience at any given location, whatever G it may be. Because AT&T has blanketed the nation with slow, relatively bogus 5G, it gets a lot of points on this tracker, but didn’t win Fastest Mobile Networks.

AT&T 4G vs 5Gfor a range of reasons but those reasons may clear up soon, and the fixes won’t require you to buy a new phone. T-Mobile recently expanded 2.5GHz to dozens of cities, and promises to hit even more by the end of the year.

FMN citiesNew 5G Phones Hit Shelves

This month is also seeing a huge crop of new 5G devices. All of the carriers now have at least 11 5G phones for sale, with the arrival both of new high-end devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and lower-cost models like the LG Velvet and Samsung Galaxy A51 5G.

Galaxy Z Fold 2new 5G hotspot from Inseego, which we’re raring to test, but AT&T and T-Mobile have no 5G hotspots, and Verizon still lacks its promised new home 5G equipment. 5G for home internet access is moving very slowly. There are also too few phones that support high-band 5G on AT&T or T-Mobile (although all high-end Samsung 5G phones except the Z Flip 2 now do).

The biggest gap, many people will say, is that we’re waiting for 5G iPhones. There’s an Apple event coming up on Tuesday, but it’s just going to be iPads and watches; the current smart money is on the first 5G iPhones appearing in October. Crystal balls are cloudy on how many of the new iPhone models will support high-band 5G, though. It could be one, it could be four.

Upcoming 5G phones could also get caught in a future-proofing trap. Our test results show that low-band 5G isn’t much. The government just completed a mid-band auction that delivered up to 40MHz of new, 5G-capable mid-band spectrum in band 48 (also called CBRS) to the wireless carriers. But the big price—280MHz of valuable mid-band called the C-Band—is coming in December. The C-Band will change the 5G experience in a big way in 2021, but current phones may not be able to access it. The situation is far too unclear.

We’ll keep tracking the state of 5G on this Race to 5G page.

Further Reading

September 13, 2020
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