South Korea and Japan take the lead in 5G speed

It’s been more than a year since the first commercial 5G network was introduced, and while there are now a number of countries globally that have rolled out some version of a high-speed 5G network, it appears that Asia Pacific (APAC) countries are leading the way in terms of 5G speeds and network experience.

In its latest study The State of Mobile Network Experience in 2020: One year into the 5G Era, consumer mobile industry observer Opensignal collected data from over 43 million devices to analyze the mobile experience of consumers in a new era of connectivity that 5G is supposed to enable.

Using data from the first few months of the year, South Korea and occupy the first two spots with average downlink speeds of 59 megabits per second (Mbps) and 49.3 Mbps, respectively. South Korea was also the first country to roll out commercial 5G, and as of last month, the country has over seven million subscribers using a 5G handset across its three major carriers, marking an extremely productive adoption of the new wireless standard with a 9.7% 5G penetration rate in the country.

Japan only started rolling out 5G infrastructure earlier this year, but it does have the highest 4G availability. Japanese residents are predominantly connected to 4G networks (98.5%), and their superior network speeds highlight an important distinction that those outside the telecommunications sector might be unaware of: 4G and 5G standards are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as progressive network upgrades occur as telcos adopt 5G technology, much of the underlying infrastructure is most likely down to 4G capacities that have been established and are capable of handling large data loads.

Other nations that now have 5G and have an average downlink throughput of above 40 Mbps are Norway, Australia, and Switzerland. Interestingly, despite only just introducing its 5G network, Canada is already seeing download speeds on par with South Korea, both coming in at a benchmark-setting 59 Mbps – 50% faster than their fellow G7 nations France, Germany, Italy, UK, and the US.

In terms of top mobile network experience in APAC cities, Hong Kong came out ahead of South Korea’s Seoul and Singapore, which is not introducing 5G standalone networks this year. Hong Kong and Seoul are already running non-standalone 5G access, along with Taiwan’s Taipei and Japan’s Tokyo that came in fourth and fifth, respectively, in terms of network experience.

The study also analyzed connectivity’s impact on video experience, using a point scale between zero and 100 to measure video experience quality – a score of 75 and above qualified as “excellent video experience” while a score between 65 and 74 equaled “very good video experience”. Here, four countries (the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria, and Norway) all tied for first place, while Japan, Singapore, and Australia were the only APAC nations (as well the only non-European countries) to be rated as having “excellent video experience”.

The report’s findings highlight that 5G-ready countries experienced better download speeds by 24.9% than their counterparts that haven’t introduced the standard, but they make up a minuscule proportion of users. In comparison, more countries have more matured 4G penetration, with nearly 30 nations scoring 4G availability ratings above 90% and serving a combined population of over 680 million people – indicating the most connected phase in human history.

While 5G network introductions are expected to slow for the rest of 2020 as regional economies recover from the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, rollouts should resume in earnest in 2021. 5G will be a crucial enabler of other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and the potential to interconnect a far greater number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, opening a vast new landscape of connection and communication possibilities.

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