How 5G speeds compare across the globe—and why they differ

A mix of factors influences how well your 5G phone can take advantage of 5G networks, with South Korea, Sweden, UAE, Norway, and Qatar topping the 5G performance rankings.

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5G cellular networks are one of the most-hyped broadband technologies in the last decade. They’re designed to make cellular networks more efficient and reallocate more of the spectrum to data than to voice capabilities, increasing throughput. And 5G add-ons like mmWave promise superfast performance when you are very close to a cellular tower.

But do they really make a difference on user devices that businesses use both for their own staff’s work purposes and for the services they sell to consumers? The answer, a new report from telecom consultancy Opensignal, says yes.

Its analysis of data speeds on various phones shows that an average download speed boost of 150% to 300% on a 5G phone versus a 4G phone from the same hardware maker and on the same 5G network. For upload speeds, the difference was smaller, at no more than 200%—and with no upload speed boost from 5G in the UK.

Why 5G speeds differ

There are four main factors, Opensignal says, that affect actual 5G performance users get on their 5G-capable smartphones:

The underlying 5G technology: Some carrier implementations are faster than others when all else is equal, such as due to the 5G frequency chosen.

The density of the 5G network: The more 5G towers in use, the less switching phones—and the networks themselves—need to do between 4G and 5G as users’ locations change or local radios get saturated. And that means faster sustained throughput.

The percentage of 5G-capable phones in use: The more 5G phones on a cellular network segment, the more throughput is possible, because 4G users aren’t crowding out the 5G users with 4G’s less-efficient bandwidth usage (not to mention the even less-efficient 3G users). 

The mix of the 5G-capable phones in use: Pricey phones use more sophisticated chips and radios, designed to optimize performance under various conditions. Cheaper phones use more basic, less capable hardware. Newer phones usually have better components too, which is why 2021’s iPhone 13 has faster 5G download speeds than 2020’s iPhone 12, even though both are 5G phones. The proportion of 5G versus 4G phones in use and the higher proportion of newer 5G phones versus older 5G phones in use combine to determine the overall speeds on a network.

Which countries have the highest 5G speeds

So, where is your phone likely to get te fastest 5G speeds? South Korea, which has average download speeds of 438.0Mbps. Sweden comes in No. 2 at 338.4Mbps, followed by UAE at 319.4Mbps, Norway at 296.5Mbps, and Qatar at 194.5Mbps.

The US, the UK, Canada, and most of Europe—exceptions are Norway, Slovenia, Portugal, Finland, and Croatia—are not in the top 15 countries. That’s especially surprising for the US, which has decent 5G coverage extent, in the top 15 of countries for that.

opensignal 5g speeds by country Opensignal

5G performance by country, from 1 November 2021 through 29 January 2022.

opensignal 5g availability by country Opensignal

5G availability extent by country, from 1 November 2021 through 29 January 2022.

Which phone makers have the faster 5G phones

Overall, versus their 4G models, Apple’s iPhones had the best 5G performance for download speeds, while a mix of Android vendors typically came second: Oppo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus. Samsung was a higher performer only in its native South Korea (and still behind Apple), and Google’s 5G phones ranked near the bottom in most markets.

But for overall 5G download performance, with each phone maker’s total pool of devices compared against other phone markers’ total pools, no single brand performed consistently well across all markets surveyed —or consistently poorly. Those other factors—network deployment, percentage of 5G phones in use, and the mix of 5G phones in use—vary dramatically from country to country, and thus so did the top performing phone makers in each.

For example, of the six vendors tracked, Apple’s 5G devices together were No. 2 in Italy, No. 3 in Australia and South Korea, No. 5 in the UK and the US, and No. 6 in Germany. Its main rival, Samsung, was No. 1 in South Korea, No. 2 in the US, No. 4 in Australia, No. 5 in Germany, and No. 6 in Italy and the UK.

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