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As 5G Launches, UK’s Is the Slowest


Early adopters of the UK’s nascent 5G networks are facing slower speeds than other pioneers around the world—if you can call the speeds delivered by 5G slow.

Fifth generation mobile networks in Britain are delivering maximum speeds of 569 Mbps, downright pedestrian compared to the maximum speeds of 1815 Mbps offered by American 5G networks.

That means the maximum download speeds of the UK’s 5G networks were just 1.3 times those experienced by 4G customers.

That’s according to the first real-world speed tests of 5G-based mobile broadband networks taken by crowd-sourced mobile analytics firm OpenSignal. Britain’s networks performed the worst of those analysed in eight countries, eclipsed by 5G in the United States, Switzerland, South Korea Australia, UAE, Italy, and Spain.

So is 5G a lot of hot air, especially on our shores? Not so quick, experts caution. The networks and infrastructure are still being developed and fifth generation mobile technology hasn’t reached its full potential, here or anywhere else.

First, during the window these tests were taken, from 1 April to 30 June 2019, the UK had just one live 5G network, EE’s.

Since then Vodafone has launched 5G services in seven cities, and Three is scheduled to unveil its network in London in August. O2’s will follow by the end of the year.

Additionally, EE only can only access 40Mhz slice of the 5G-suited 3.4GHz spectrum band, until Ofcom auctions off more bands in 2020.

In contrast operators in other countries already have access to multiple bands, which they can harness simultaneously, through a process called Carrier Aggregation, which can increase speeds.

Some of the operators in those countries have access to bands large than 100Mhz, as only Three’s 5G network will have in Britain until the auction in 2020.

Much of the hardware for 5G hasn’t been rolled out and the networks are trafficked by just the keenest triers, who have already snatched up 5G-capable handsets. That all means that these embryonic 5G networks aren’t operating under real world conditions yet.

As you may recall, 4G networks were barely faster than 3G when they launched in 2012, but eventually went on to deliver average download speeds three to five times faster.

Although Britain’s 5G is currently the slowest in the world, we can be hearted by how the technology is performing in early rollout around the world.

Data from other countries, where 5G is more advanced and spectrums bands wider, such as the United States and Switzerland, suggest that the networks can deliver maximum download speeds three times faster than those offered by 4G.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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