5G has been an exciting (if sometimes controversial) topic of conversation in optical network circles for many years. We’ve attended events dedicated to it, we’ve introduced solutions to facilitate its deployment, and now it’s finally coming to life. In this article, we’ll look at some of the recent findings and developments surrounding network operators’ first forays into the network of tomorrow.
As Fast As Advertised?
Much of the hype around 5G has centered around its exponential speed increase over 4G. These speeds, coupled with ultra-low latency, are what will enable 5G to deliver on many of its early promises, including support for IoT proliferation, factory automation, augmented reality, and much more.
Early returns are promising, if not quite everything we had collectively hoped for. According to speed tests performed by Tom’s Guide on all four major US wireless networks, the median 5G download speed was about 667 Mbps, roughly 18x its 4G counterpart! However, the individual networks varied widely in their 5G capabilities, ranging from 5x to 24x faster than 4G.
While these gains are genuinely impressive, they have largely fallen short of expectations. Sustained gigabit download speed is considered a critical benchmark in 5G evolution. As of now, only Verizon has met this mark, with AT&T close behind.
What About 4G?
As industry experts have predicted for years, it does seem that 4G and 5G will coexist on major wireless networks for years to come. This is primarily possible because 4G and 5G utilize different bands of the wireless spectrum, with little (if any) interference. Furthermore, universal 5G rollout throughout the US in not immediately feasible, from either a cost or logistical perspective. Therefore, it seems that 5G investment will continue to be focused on high-density urban areas, which not only face the most bandwidth congestion but also lend themselves to the ubiquitous antenna installation that 5G will require.
In the meantime, 4G will prevail as the nationwide network, serving rural areas in particular. In fact, for all the attention paid to 5G developments, 4G itself has never been faster and more efficient. Based on speed test data from Ookla, the average 4G speed hovers around 34Mbps, which is more than double the average from 2014. At the same time, average latency has been nearly halved, from 73ms down to 47ms.
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