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5G beats Public Wifi for gaming as well as speed

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For a long time, users have assumed that Wifi always offers a superior experience to cellular connectivity, when using the Internet on mobile devices, either at home or in public places. Improvements to mobile technology with the evolution to 5G mean that this is no longer the case. In particular, the roll out of mid-band 5G spectrum, such as the C-band, is helping to boost the overall U.S. 5G experience and is making cellular much more competitive with Wifi. 

Opensignal’s latest analysis demonstrates that smartphone users now have superior average download speeds using 5G than on Wifi connections in the U.S. Plus, Games Experience is also superior using 5G than with the Public Wifi commonly available in stores, hotels or cafes.

With a score of 74.5 on a 100-point scale, smartphone users connecting with 5G had a better Games Experience than the score of 72 of those using Public Wifi. However, those using mmWave 5G had a higher score of 81.8 that exceeded even the score of 76.3 seen by those users connecting via Wifi at non-public locations such as the home or office — both of these scores rate as Good (75-85).

Opensignal’s Games Experience quantifies the real-time multiplayer gaming experience of popular genres of smartphone games such as battle royale (examples include PUBG or Fortnite), massive online battle arena titles like Arena of Valor, or sports titles. The approach is built on several years of research quantifying the relationship between technical network parameters such as latency, jitter and packet loss and the perceived experience of real mobile users. 

There is a transformation in how 5G and Wifi speeds compare from the situation when we last looked at how U.S. Wifi and cellular speeds match up a year ago. Then as now, mmWave 5G was way faster than Wifi. Now for the first time, our users enjoy average download speeds with 5G that are indisputably faster than all types of Wifi network — Public Wifi or Other Wifi. To put it another way, the overall 5G experience has improved faster than the Wifi experience, and now average 5G download speeds of 112.9 Mbps are faster than both Public Wifi (23.3 Mbps) and Other Wifi locations (89.6 Mbps).

When we analyze average download speeds we see an even more impressive jump in experience with 5G compared with the boost for Games Experience. Smartphone users connecting with 5G saw 4.8 times faster download speeds with 5G (112.9 Mbps) than with Public Wifi (23.3 Mbps). In addition, those average 5G speeds of 112.9 Mbps were also faster than the 89.6 Mbps seen by users connecting using other Wifi networks such as at home or in the office.

Public Wifi tends to be slower than home or office Wifi because:

  • Greater congestion and interference problems in public locations. The unlicensed spectrum that makes Public Wifi so easy to deploy, also means that there can be competing Wifi networks that add interference and so lower speeds. Also, the number of users is unpredictable which can lead to congestion. Users may also connect at greater distances from the Wifi access point which risks degrading the experience.

  • Variable quality fixed broadband foundations. Public Wifi is front for fixed, or wired, broadband connections. Many of these are old or slow. Where site owners offer Public Wifi for free, they have less monetary incentive to upgrade the underlying broadband to the latest technology.

  • Older Wifi access points. While Wifi standards are improving with both Wifi 6 and 6e — which enables the use of new 6GHz bands — most public locations continue to offer older technologies.

However, Wifi has other benefits that mean it will co-exist and complement 5G long term, including cost, flexibility due to its unlicensed spectrum focus, and higher capacity to support large data volumes.

Although our users saw a more modest difference with average upload speeds, there are still clear benefits from connecting with 5G. The upload speed of 15.6 Mbps seen by our smartphone users with 5G was almost twice as fast as the 7.9 Mbps using 4G. With mmWave 5G, the average upload speed of 30.5 Mbps is significantly faster than the approximately 19 Mbps seen when users connected with Wifi. 

As deployments of 5G mid-band spectrum continue from all three carriers, the overall 5G experience will likely continue to improve. Already, users see a better multiplayer mobile gaming experience and faster average download speeds with 5G than with Public Wifi. The main limitation for 5G now is the reach of 5G services but this is changing. As a result, users must no longer assume cellular is worse than Wifi, and should try 5G if their Wifi connectivity is poor.

With the improvement in 5G over the last year, U.S. carriers now have a renewed 5G opportunity. But they must communicate carefully to overcome any cynicism that may have set in as a result of early 5G services that had very limited reach, or that relied upon re-use of existing 4G spectrum. With 5G now able to benefit from new 5G spectrum capacity — mid-bands and C-band — users’ 5G experience is being boosted dramatically and is overtaking Wifi on experience, if not in price.