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Canada's 4G networks are well prepared for the 5G revolution

Canada may not be moving as quickly as its larger neighbor to the south in rolling out 5G, but given the power of its 4G networks, Canada isn't likely feeling the same pressure as the U.S. to move to the next generation of mobile broadband. To get an idea of Canada's current 4G capabilities, Opensignal looked at Canada's fastest 4G connections — which 5G connections would be expected to surpass — and found that under the most optimized conditions, Canadian 4G networks offered download speeds as high as 200 Mbps to our users. That's a high bar for any technology to attain in the real world, 5G or otherwise.

For this analysis, we delved into Opensignal's peak download speed metric, which is an average of the top 2% of users’ connection speeds, across Canada's three main operators, from February 1 to May 1, 2019. By focusing on the fastest speeds, we're able to gain insight into the true technical capabilities of a network when it’s unfettered by congestion, device limitations or interference. These are the speeds our users are likely to see when their operators' networks are performing at their best.

While Canada certainly isn't suffering from slow average speeds — in our recent Canada report, all three operators were able to provide our users 4G Download Speeds greater than 40 Mbps — by comparison the country's peak download speeds practically leapt off the charts. We measured peak download speeds for Bell and Telus users above 220 Mbps, and while Rogers was some ways behind those two, its peak speed score of 181.5 Mbps was still incredibly fast.

Typically we find the most powerful networks in a country's biggest cities, and Canada exemplifies that trend. We examined our peak 4G Download Speed in Montreal and Toronto, and found that the most-optimized urban connection speeds far exceeded national peak speed averages. In Montreal, our Telus users found peak 4G Download Speeds faster than 300 Mbps, and in Toronto, we recorded peak download speeds for both Bell and Telus users at 250 Mbps or greater.

So if the goal of 5G is to build extremely fast networks, then Canada is already well on its way even before the first 5G base station goes live. That doesn't mean Canada doesn't need 5G. The immediate benefits of 5G for Canadian consumers, however, might be much more subtle because 4G is already so fast in Canada. But longer term, as 5G technology matures, other benefits should be felt by Canadian users which will differentiate 5G from the current 4G experience, like lower latencies and greater reliability, as well as further increases in speed.

As we explained in our recent 5G Opportunity report, one of the biggest benefits of 5G will be the huge amount of capacity it will bring to mobile broadband networks. That added capacity will help mitigate the effects of congestion, which will help to close the now yawning gap we see today between average everyday speeds and peak speeds. 5G will also deliver hefty improvements in latency, which will make apps and services far more nimble and responsive. In short, Canada has plenty of reasons to move to 5G, though raw speed isn't necessarily the most important one.