The latest generation of mobile technology, 5G, doesn’t just enable much faster average speeds than 4G, it also adds a tremendous amount of new capacity. 5G allows operators to tap into new higher frequency bands above 3GHz that have never been previously used for mobile services.
Now, Opensignal has analyzed what this increase in capacity means for mobile users by looking at how much mobile data our 5G and 4G smartphone users consumed. In six leading 5G countries we found that 5G smartphone users on average consumed between 2.7 and 1.7 times more mobile data than 4G users. Usage was greatest in South Korea where our smartphone users reached 38.1 GB of mobile data used. In all six markets 5G users on average consumed more than 15 GB of mobile data.
In a recent analysis we also observed that our 5G users enjoyed download speeds several times faster on 5G networks compared to 4G. Therefore, our data suggests that, by enjoying on average a better mobile experience compared to 4G users, 5G users either consumed more content on their smartphones or enjoyed video and audio streams at a higher quality. For example, mobile video services are now likely sending high-resolution HD video where, on more congested 4G, they would only be able to stream lower quality video resolutions.
Our 5G users in the UK, Japan and Germany on average consumed 17.4 GB, 16.6 GB and 15.9 GB of mobile data in the month of September, which was between 2.5 times and 2.7 times the average mobile data consumed by our 4G users in the three countries. In all three countries operators have launched initial 5G services using new mid-band spectrum which offers a good balance of additional capacity, reach and speed and is completely additional to the existing 4G spectrum.
In the U.S. and Australia, we observed similar average mobile data usage of 16.5 GB and 16.3 GB, respectively for our 5G users. However, the U.S. and Australia were the only two countries where we observed a 5G to 4G users’ ratio below two — which means our 5G users in the U.S. and Australia consumed less than twice the amount of mobile data compared to our 4G users. U.S. carriers have had to work around limited spectrum availability. While all three have launched 5G using new mmWave spectrum, the widest 5G reach has been enabled by repurposing existing 4G spectrum to offer 5G services on low bands (e.g. 600MHz or 850MHz) or mid-band 2.5GHz 4G spectrum.
A surge in data consumption, as operators have swaths of new spectrum, might provide opportunities for savvy operators
Over the past ten years, mobile operators have been deploying increasingly large amounts of spectrum on their 4G networks to cope with the rising demand for mobile data coming from their users. In a recent study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mobile experience, we showed that sudden increases in mobile data consumption were linked to decreases in our users’ mobile experience, as most mobile operators had to cope with the largely higher demand for mobile data on their 4G networks but were not able to deploy measures to completely offset the impact — such as adding new wireless spectrum capacity in a very short period of time.
However, most operators have now been launching their 5G services using new — uncongested — spectrum, and as they move from 5G non-standalone access (NSA) to 5G standalone access (SA) — where the 5G network does not rely on a 4G anchor to establish the connection — their 5G users will be able to enjoy an even better mobile experience.
Opensignal data shows that 5G users on average consumed much higher amounts of mobile data compared to 4G users, suggesting that, by having a better experience, users consumed more content on their smartphones, or similar amounts of content at higher quality and resolution. In some cases, 5G users might even be prone to use their smartphones for tethering as they might find their 5G connection is now multiple times faster than their fixed home broadband solution. Such a surge in mobile data usage on new uncongested spectrum represents a new opportunity for savvy operators to monetise the billions of dollars being invested in 5G.
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