T-Mobile US customers ‘get better 5G performance’ after netw

T-Mobile US customers ‘get better 5G performance’ after network switch

22 February 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Performance of T-Mobile US’s 5G network has improved significantly in both urban and rural areas, according to Opensignal research.

The company has found that 5G availability in urban areas increased from 26.9% to 30% in the month following a network switch, while 5G availability in rural areas grew by 3.6 percentage points and reached 28.1%.

According to Opensignal senior technical analyst, Francesco Rizzato, “T-Mobile’s standalone 5G network has significantly increased its average 5G availability across both urban and rural areas, but actually benefited rural areas the most, as that is where T-Mobile users were now spending the largest proportion of their time connected to 5G, thanks to SA [standalone].”

The network change that has boosted availability of 5G is the decision by T-Mobile US — which is owned by Deutsche Telekom — to move from a halfway house form of 5G, called non-standalone access (NSA), to standalone access (SA), where a smartphone connects exclusively to 5G signals and uses a modern 5G core network.

In the earlier, NSA, version of the network technology, phones need a combination of 4G and 5G at all times. T-Mobile US is one of the first operators to move to 5G SA.

“In our latest US 5G country report we found that T-Mobile’s mobile experience — including 5G availability and 5G download speed — improved significantly compared to six months before,” writes Rizzato in the Opensignal report.

He notes: “Our users did not experience faster speeds on SA 5G, because of the way T-Mobile has focused its use of SA on extending 5G availability using its 600MHz band. This is likely to change in 2021, as newer smartphones arrive that are able to connect simultaneously to both T-Mobile’s 600MHz and 2.5GHz 5G bands.”

However, there are some disadvantages in the switch to SA. “Mobile users experienced faster average 5G download speed on NSA compared to SA, reaching 64.4Mbps in urban areas and 53.4Mbps in rural areas,” says Rizzato.

“By contrast, the average 5G download speeds we observed for users connecting with SA across urban and rural areas were 28.6Mbps and 30Mbps, respectively.

“This difference in download speeds experienced on SA and NSA networks was likely due to the fact that the NSA connection used additional bandwidth from mid-band 4G/LTE, while the SA connection only used the 600MHz band.”

This is a temporary problem, he says, because of smartphone limitations during last year’s survey. “Smartphones arriving from January 2021 fix this limitation and this will make it easier for T-Mobile to offer its SA service more widely,” he says.

“As T-Mobile users adopt the latest smartphone models that support 5G carrier aggregation of its low-band and mid-band spectrum, we expect T-Mobile will expand the use of SA and its users’ average SA download speeds will likely rise as a result.”