The 5G experience is changing rapidly in the U.S. as wireless carriers build out their 5G networks and expand the use of new 5G spectrum bands. In this insight we quantify how the 5G experience has changed across the U.S. in the six months since our previous analysis.
This benchmark will act as a reference point to evaluate the future impact of AT&T and Verizon’s C-band deployments on the national 5G mobile experience as it records the state of the 5G experience on the eve of the arrival of C-band.
In this updated insight, we have looked at the 5G mobile experience during the 90-day period starting on November 1, 2021 and ending on January 29, 2022, across all 50 U.S. states and 300 cities.
Illinois joins New York at the top for 5G Download Speed
In 23 U.S. states our 5G users experienced average 5G download speeds above 100 Mbps, with a further 13 states scoring between 80 and 100 Mbps. That’s a significant improvement compared to six-months ago, when only the state of New York exceeded the 100 Mbps threshold. Now the states of Illinois and New York top the list for 5G Download Speed with their respective scores of 141.4 and 138.6 Mbps, followed by Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey, Kansas and Missouri with scores above 120 Mbps.
However, we still see a number of U.S. states with relatively lower 5G Download Speeds, such as Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Maine, Alaska and Vermont which all scored below 60 Mbps.
Average 5G download speeds in U.S. states have soared by up to 54.2 Mbps
Opensignal data shows that average 5G download speeds in the U.S. have been getting faster and faster, driven by operators that are able to use new mid-band spectrum for 5G, for example T-Mobile’s push with its 2.5 GHz band deployments. These results help to explain why the C-band spectrum is important for boosting 5G mobile experience in the US. In fact, in our latest U.S. 5G Experience report we observed how T-Mobile had seen its 5G Download Speed increase further compared to previous reports, while Verizon and AT&T’s scores had remained virtually unchanged. As AT&T and Verizon are now in the process of deploying their C-band spectrum, we expect to see further improvements in our users’ average 5G download speeds across the U.S.
Looking now at how 5G download speeds have changed across the 50 U.S. states in the past six months, our 5G users in 44 states on average observed an improvement of 27 Mbps (36.6%) to their average 5G Download Speed, ranging from 6.1 Mbps (13.2%) in Maine to 54.2 Mbps (62.2%) in Illinois. In six states we saw no statistical change in the 5G Download Speed: Alaska, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont, all of which featured in the lower third of the table for 5G Download Speed, with the fastest score seen in South Dakota, clocking in at 69.7 Mbps.
5G reaches more U.S. locations than ever before
Out of all the 5G metrics, it was in 5G Reach that we counted the greatest number of states improving their scores compared to the previous report. 5G Reach quantifies the proportion of locations where 5G users saw 5G services. In fact, our 5G users saw 5G Reach scores increase in all U.S. states, except for Hawaii, North Dakota and Vermont. This shows that U.S. carriers are making strides with 5G deployments, serving more and more locations with 5G.
In five states — New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas and California — we observed 5G Reach scores above six points (on a 10-point scale), with California at the top of the list with a score of 6.6 points. While the vast majority of states featured a score between 4 and 6 points, our 5G users in 10 states had a 5G Reach of 3.5 points or below. These included lesser populated states like Vermont (1.8 points), Wyoming (2.1 points), North Dakota (2.6 points) and West Virginia (3.4 points).
Compared with six months previously, our 5G users observed an increase to their average 5G Reach score ranging from 0.2 points (4.2%) in Washington to 1.3 points (33.4%) in Alaska. The average improvement across the 47 U.S. states that saw their 5G Reach score increase was 17.1% (0.6 points).
Less than half of U.S. states saw an increase in 5G Availability compared to six months ago
While our 5G users were able to connect to 5G in more locations than ever before, that didn’t necessarily mean they also spent more time connected to 5G. Our data shows that 5G Availability improved in 21 states, while appearing statistically unchanged in 26 states, and even slightly decreased in the three remaining states of South Dakota, Missouri and Ohio. 5G Availability represents the proportion of time that 5G users saw an active 5G connection on their smartphone.
Our 5G users in Illinois and Texas still experienced the joint highest 5G Availability, this time with 28.1% and 27.6%, respectively. New Jersey, Nevada and California also passed the 25% mark — or one quarter of time — while our 5G users in an additional 27 U.S. states spent more than 20% of their time with an active 5G connection.
However, as we move towards the bottom of the table, we see 5G Availability decrease sharply. While last time we observed 10 states scoring below 15% in 5G Availability, this time it’s just seven states. North Dakota, Wyoming, Maine and Montana’s scores were statistically unchanged compared to the previous report, ranging between 10.4% and 13.1%; New Hampshire this time scored 11.7% up from 10% last time; South Dakota was one of the three states where our 5G users saw their 5G Availability decrease, now scoring 10.3% (down from 12.4%). We still observed the lowest score in Vermont, where our 5G users spent just 5.8% of their time with an active 5G connection, which was statistically unchanged compared to six months before.
Of the three U.S. national carriers, only T-Mobile has launched standalone 5G which no longer relies on 4G technology, and we found it having a positive impact on 5G Availability. But even T-Mobile users mostly used non-standalone 5G when they connected to 5G. NSA 5G still relies on the availability of a 4G anchor band, which often uses spectrum in the mid-band frequency range. This makes it harder for 5G users to connect to NSA 5G indoors — where users actually spend most of their time — as higher spectrum bands struggle to propagate inside buildings. 5G users will likely have to wait further before seeing their 5G Availability increase significantly across the board, until either carriers have additional low-band spectrum to use for 4G and 5G (and 3G shutdowns could play a part in this), or they fully embrace SA 5G.
Smartphone users have a diminished 5G experience in sparsely populated U.S. states
Six months ago, in the previous report, we found that our users on average spent a higher proportion of time with an active 5G connection in states having a higher percentage of their population in urban areas. This time, we have compared demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau with two other measures of 5G mobile experience — 5G Reach and 5G Download Speed — and once again found that our 5G users in sparsely populated U.S. states had a comparatively reduced 5G experience compared to our 5G users in more populated states.
5G users in less populated states not only enjoyed slower 5G download speeds, but also had a harder time finding a 5G signal in the locations they visited when in states like Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota that have less than one million inhabitants, and a large part of them living in rural areas.
Looking at how the 5G mobile experience changed over a six-month period from our previous report, we see some promising signs showing that U.S. carriers are planning to address the challenges of providing a good 5G experience in small rural states. For example, our 5G users in West Virginia and New Hampshire saw improvements across all three metrics analyzed — 5G Download Speed, 5G Availability and 5G Reach — meaning that they could access 5G networks in more locations, spend more time with an active 5G connection and also enjoy faster 5G download speeds than before. However, our 5G users in Vermont and North Dakota were the only ones out of the 50 states whose 5G mobile experience hasn’t changed statistically across any of the three measures analyzed, suggesting that 5G improvements are happening at a staggered pace across different locations.
5G mobile experience varies greatly across 300 U.S. cities
As we analyzed the 5G mobile experience across 300 U.S. cities we observed that the amount of time our users spent with an active 5G connection — 5G Availability — ranged from 10.4% in Jackson, Michigan, to 37.2% in McAllen, Texas. Once again, six of the top 10 cities for 5G Availability hailed from Texas: four of them, McAllen, Brownsville, San Antonio and Waco also appeared in the previous top 10, while El Paso and Austin made it into the cut this time, replacing Houston and Corpus Christi. The remaining four cities in the top 10 were Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles — all of which were also shortlisted last time — as well as Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey.
Our 5G users connected to 5G for at least 30% of the time in 17 cities, including the top 10 listed above, up from 11 cities last time. A total of 76 cities featured 5G Availability between 25% and 30%, with an additional 108 cities passing the 20% mark. At the bottom of the list we found 28 cities scoring below 15% in 5G Availability, including Fargo and Billings — the most populous cities in North Dakota and Montana, respectively.
Looking now at the average 5G download speeds that our 5G users experienced across 300 U.S. cities, we observed a mostly changed set of cities at the top of the list, with only three of the cities in the top 10, having also featured among the fastest cities last time — Philadelphia, Laredo and New York. The new set of fastest cities includes Pueblo (Colorado) — which tops the list for 5G Download Speed with 180.6 Mbps — Kansas City, Chicago, Crestview (Florida), Houston, St. Joseph (Missouri) and Minneapolis.
The average 5G download speed passed the 100 Mbps mark in 105 cities, up from 12 last time. Among these cities we found Washington (140.8 Mbps), San Antonio (136.2 Mbps), Los Angeles (134.4 Mbps), Seattle (131.6 Mbps), Phoenix (121.2 Mbps), Dallas (118.9 Mbps), San Diego (118.3 Mbps) and Indianapolis (113.8 Mbps).
In an additional 62 cities our users on average experienced more than 80 Mbps in download speed when connected to 5G networks including San Francisco (89.6 Mbps). However, four out of nine cities — 133 of the 300 cities analyzed — featured a 5G Download Speed of 80 Mbps or below, with 12 of these having a 5G Download Speed slower than 50 Mbps. Once again, we observed the slowest 5G Download Speed in Hagerstown, Maryland, scoring 32.7 Mbps — statistically unchanged compared to last time.
As the U.S. carriers continue to expand and improve their 5G services, the 5G experience will continue to evolve and improve. Opensignal’s ongoing analysis will continue to benchmark the real-world experience to see what it means for 5G users across the whole of the U.S.
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