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Part 1: 5G for the consumers – Do we need it, yet?

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The forthcoming 5G mobile networks are one of the hottest topics in the whole ICT sector. A wide range of use cases and hopes have been presented – some more realistic than others. The same kind of hype has happened with every new mobile technology, 20 years ago when 3G was becoming a reality and 10 years ago with 4G.

Most of the recent use cases for 5G have been towards new industry applications, like self-driving cars, network slicing for specific company services, massive IoT or various VR concepts. But what about the mobile consumers? How should we, as consumers, understand the benefits of 5G in our daily lives? Are there any for us? Is VR the only one? To answer this relevant concern, let’s look into the
Netradar database and use it as our oracle.

Netradar collects data on consumers’ mobile and WIFI experience and people’s data connectivity through the day. The data can be divided into performance metrics and context information, and we can build a very thorough understanding of peoples’ daily mobile life.

Let’s start with the real bit rate needed by consumers in Finland and the United Kingdom, two European mobile markets, but also very different.

The average download bit rate needed by consumers over cellular networks

This graph shows that consumers in these two countries actually would be happy with quite moderate bit rates. Finns have mostly unlimited data plans, so these citizens use the cellular network much more heavily than British consumers, who need to watch out for their data usage. But even Finns need on average less than 10 Mbit/s, that is quite far from the advertised 1 Gbit/s offered by 5G.

As these bit rates are rather low, how often do people then get them? Well, in Finland less often than in the UK, as shown here.

The Service Level Score (SLS) for cellular networks

Netradar has introduced a new metric to better understand the quality of mobile connectivity, both cellular and WIFI. We can simply see how often people get all the bit rate to their apps that they really need and how often people experience network congestion and bad service quality. As Finns use the cellular networks heavily, they also create a shortage in supply, leading to network congestion more often than in the UK.

You might wonder now, is this only about having 4G, if that is available, all is good?

How often consumers get 4G instead of the older 3G or even 2G?

Well, yes and no. Finns seem to have access to 4G more often than the British consumers. Yet, the service level is significantly lower. So having 4G is not the direct remedy to poor service quality.

We can also look at 4G separately from all cellular usage. So here is the service level for the 4G networks in Finland and the United Kingdom.

The Service Level Score for 4G/LTE cellular networks

We can see the same phenomenon; British consumers get considerably more often the bit rate they need from the 4G network than Finns.

So, we have seen so far that

1. Consumers’ real needs for download bit rates are rather moderate, typically less than 10 Mbit/s over cellular networks.

2. Even these are not fully served, in the range 20-30% nationwide people experience network slow down to their Internet use over mobile.

3. Availability of 4G is in the range of 72-87%

4. Even over 4G, people are not served much better, some 2% better on average only.

So, from this analysis, we can pin point a clear need to extend the 4G coverage and get people better on the current top cellular technology. If 5G will be used to bring high-speed connectivity instead of 4G to new areas, then that is great. Yet, if some area has not been deemed important enough to have 4G, why would 5G change the situation? Areas that do have 4G coverage might still give a bad service due to congestion, i.e., too many users. Adding new frequency ranges to complement existing cells would be the immediate solution. Once that is done, these areas would be the prime location for adding capacity through new 5G radios running on new bands with extended bandwidth.

5G for the consumers, do we need it yet? part 2

Part 2 of our story will take you to the next phase, how can we identify the areas in current cellular networks that would be the prime locations for 5G? And how many areas are there really where 5G is the only solution? Stay tuned!
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