In the previous post on 5G, we have seen that:
1. Consumers’ real needs for download bit rates are rather moderate
2. Even these are not fully served, in the range 20-30% nationwide (we compared Finland and the UK) people experience network slow down to their Internet use over mobile.
3. Availability of 4G is in the range of 72-87% in many developed countries
4. Even over pure 4G, people are not served much better, some 2% better on average only.
To understand the situation even better, we can divide any country into map tiles and perform analysis on a geographic coverage and capacity of cellular service. Here is a histogram of map tiles for Finland where we count the number of map tiles in cellular 4G having a certain Service Level Score (SLS), the probability of being fully served by the network.
Service Level Score (SLS) the metrics of Customer Happiness
The most typical case for the SLS is around 84%, so quite good. We could claim that areas having a SLS of 80% or higher is a good result and there is enough capacity in the 4G service to offer a good service to customers. However, anything on left side of the figure points to locations that have very poor capacity to serve customers. These are the locations that would be needing 5G the most – and there are plenty of those in Finland, around 53% of the area covered by 4G has lower than 80% SLS.
Here is the same analysis for the United Kingdom. The results are very similar. The SLS is a bit higher for the 4G mobile service than in Finland. Around 48% of the areas with 4G coverage has an SLS less than 80%.
The results may sound actually pretty good in that very often consumers in these two countries get all the bit rate they need. Yet, remember that we are talking about very moderate download speeds, around 8Mbps for Finnish consumers and 6 Mbps for the British. What would happen if people started to need more bit rates? Take for example all those emerging AR/VR concepts, how would the bit rate need look like then?
With the Netradar database and our algorithms, we can study the geographical coverage also from the perspective of unique cells serving an area and the population density.
In Finland, most geographical areas are served by two cells. In other words, we see two different cells offering data to consumers.
Yet, this data is about the whole country. As 5G is primarily a technology for cities and urban areas, we can isolate land areas in our analysis. According to Eurostat, an urban area has 300 inhabitants per km² or more. Thus, here is the same graph for urban areas. We can see that now the most typical case is two or three cells offering data to consumers. The shape of the distribution is also very different from the earlier one and you are, naturally, more often served by multiple cells in any given location within a city.
Still, at least in Finland, around 40% of urban areas have five cells or less offering data services. If any of these areas has bad service levels, there is room to add new 4G cells to enhance the capacity. Naturally there are many areas that already have ten or even more cells service customers, and adding new ones is difficult because of interference issues. We can also see areas that have twenty or even more cells serving consumers, typically a case of a mix of indoor and outdoor cells.
To finish our discussion, what can an operator do already today to enhance the 4G service? Out of all areas that have poor capacity, some can be resolved simply by adding cells and different frequencies. These will enhance the capacity and raise the SLS. Yet, there are bad areas that are already served by a number of cells running different frequencies, and these would need 5G. Yet, the number of such areas is not that many currently, so by enhancing your 4G service, the need for 5G, from the consumer’s point of view, isn’t quite there, yet. A lot could still be done with 4G technology. Moreover, WIFI offloading is more popular outside Finland. Finns have mostly unlimited data plans, so people very seldom bother looking for WIFI. Elsewhere WIFI offloading happens much more frequently and that further lowers the pressure towards 5G – at least with the current pricing plans that push people towards WIFI services.