5G speeds continue to slow, and there are signs that some customers are noticing.
According to Telecoms.com, Ookla data released on Wednesday showed that median 5G download speeds in several early adopter markets are down – in some cases significantly – over the last year.
Norway experienced the greatest drop, with speeds slowing by 88.1 Mbps, followed by Sweden, which experienced a drop of 84.4 Mbps. However, with relatively high median speeds of 200.4 Mbps and 263.9 Mbps, the drop should not cause too many problems for end users.
However, it may cause issues for operators who already had a lower median speed. While the UK saw a smaller decline of 38.3 Mbps, it still leaves the median 5G speed at only 129.1 Mbps. In Spain, the median speed fell by 31.7 Mbps to 94.1 Mbps.
The United States defied the trend, increasing 5G speeds by 36.4 Mbps to a median of 138.9 Mbps.
The figures continue a trend that Ookla demonstrated in late 2021, when it reported that the global median 5G download speed had fallen to 166.1 Mbps in the third quarter, a 13% year-on-year decrease.
Ookla identified a few factors driving this trend.
“As 5G scales in many of these early launch markets, the profile of 5G users is changing from predominantly urban-based users to a mix of urban, suburban, and rural users, bringing additional coverage and performance challenges for network operators,” wrote Mark Giles, lead industry analyst at Ookla, in a blog post.
In other words, when there are fewer customers to serve, it is more difficult for operators to justify the expense of 5G network densification.
Another factor at work here is the varying performance characteristics of the various 5G spectrum bands. An inner-city resident is now much more likely to live within range of a base station transmitting 5G over mmWave frequencies, which can support the fastest connection speeds.
People living in more sparsely populated areas are less likely to experience this. They will typically connect to mid-to-low-band spectrum, resulting in slower 5G speeds.
“Because 5G operates across a wider range of spectrum bands than previous generations, including high frequency spectrum with relatively poorer propagation,” Giles said.
Try explaining that to a customer when, as Giles points out, 5G marketing leads them to “expect a big bang change in performance.”
As a result, there are indications that customers are less impressed with 5G than they once were. According to Ookla, net promoter scores (NPS) for 5G are higher across the board when compared to 4G.
“However, consumer sentiment for 5G network users is beginning to shift, with NPS scores falling and lower median 5G performance in many of the markets we studied,” Giles said.
South Korea has the most problems, with a 5G NPS of -32.1, only 2.8 points higher than its 4G NPS. Similarly, Spain’s 5G NPS is -15, but it is still a 19.2 point improvement over 4G.
These trends of ongoing performance degradation and increasing customer dissatisfaction are likely to continue until 5G network densification and standalone deployments pick up, giving the impression that 5G is failing to live up to the hype.