Friday, 26 February 2021 14:19

The future of 5G is 'standalone 5G', OpenSignal analyses T-Mobile's deployment in the US


Opensignal regularly analyses mobile networks around the world, having recently looked at the 5G experience worldwide as of Jan 2021, with its latest report looking at T-Mobile's standalone 5G network, one of the world's only standalone access 5G deployments to date.

As Opensignal's Francesco Rizzato notes, there are many different kinds of 5G service are now available. As you're probably aware, most carriers have launched an early version of 5G technology that continues to rely on the availability of 4G service and access to the legacy 4G core network.

This is called non-standalone access (NSA). But, says Opensignal, "for most of the planned benefits of 5G — beyond speed alone — carriers need to offer standalone access (SA) where a smartphone connects exclusively to 5G signals and uses a modern 5G core network."

Opensignal says that "Standalone 5G is the future of the 5G experience", and thus, "it’s important to understand whether the real-world experience matches vendor claims."

However, there are very few commercially available 5G SA networks globally, so T-Mobile in the US is a great case study as it is "one of the first live 5G SA deployments," and in Opensignal’s data, it is by far the largest.

In Opensignal's latest U.S. 5G country report, it found that T-Mobile’s mobile experience — including 5G Availability and 5G Download Speed — "improved significantly compared to six months before."

So, the organisation analysed its users’ experience on T-Mobile’s 5G network before and after T-Mobile launched its nationwide standalone access (SA) 5G network on August 4, 2020, to investigate how SA technology can make a difference.

In Opensignal’s analysis of this early T-Mobile SA 5G mobile experience, they found that:

  • 5G Availability: Our users’ time connected to 5G significantly increased after the SA 5G network launched, and there was a larger jump in rural areas compared with urban.
  • 5G Latency: The responsiveness of the 5G experience improved with SA over NSA 5G as latencies fell.
  • 5G Download Speed: However, our users did not experience faster speeds on SA 5G, because of the way T-Mobile has focused its use of SA on extending 5G Availability using its 600 MHz band. This is likely to change in 2021, as newer smartphones arrive that are able to connect simultaneously to both T-Mobile’s 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz 5G bands.

On August 4, 2020, T-Mobile announced the commercial launch of its nationwide standalone 5G network, claiming that the switch increased its 5G coverage by 30%, reaching 250 million people across the country.

The operator argued that the SA network allowed it to “unleash its entire 600 MHz footprint for 5G”, while its NSA service depended on the use of higher frequency mid-band 4G/LTE which limited the reach of the 5G service. This is because lower frequencies tend to propagate further than higher frequencies; with NSA a smartphone must always connect to a 4G signal — as well as a 5G connection — and 600 MHz is the lowest frequency band T-Mobile is able to deploy.

To evaluate the impact of such an important network change, Opensignal analysed its T-mobile users’ average 5G Availability — which represents the proportion of time Opensignal users with a 5G device and subscription have a 5G connection — across four points in time.

To read the rest of this report, click here - access is free of charge with more details and charts!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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