Verizon’s 5G deployment has been a tale of two extremes: initially, the operator rolled out millimeter-wave 5G, which delivered record-breaking throughput speeds, but with an extremely limited coverage footprint and device compatibility. Since then, Verizon has deployed 5G on its low-band spectrum, using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to have 4G and 5G coexist on the same block of wireless spectrum.
Those two approaches could hardly be further apart: while millimeter-wave is extremely different to existing LTE deployments (both in deployment strategy and the experience for the end use), 4G and 5G deployed side-by-side using DSS are virtually indistinguishable. In order to see if the combination has made a noticeable difference to end-user experience, Tutela has measured the user experience of Verizon users with 5G-capable handsets in 10 urban areas with mature 5G deployments, and compared that experience to users with modern but 4G-only handsets in the same area. The results aim to answer the question of “If I upgrade to a 5G-capable device rather than a new 4G device, how different will my experience be?”
Looking at overall user experience, there’s nothing (currently) to separate 5G-capable handsets from 4G-capable devices. Excellent Consistent Quality is Tutela’s measure of how often a connection is able to support everyday use-cases, like 1080p video streaming, group HD video calls, or multiplayer online gaming. For both 5G and modern 4G-capable devices, Verizon users see over 85% of tests exceed the threshold, with no discernable difference between the two. Simply put, Verizon users upgrading from a modern 4G device to a 5G device aren’t going to see a difference for common use-cases, like group HD video calls or online multiplayer games.
Looking specifically at the connections where a device is connected to a 5G network compared to a 4G network, it’s clear that the overall user experience, as well as median download throughput, is extremely similar between the two technologies. Although there is a small improvement in Excellent Consistent Quality, a difference of just 2% is unlikely to be noticeable to a typical user. The median download throughput is also slightly slower when connected to 5G compared to 4G.
As with other operators, the greatest benefit from 5G is seen when looking at congestion and peak-hour performance. When connected to 5G, far fewer download tests fall below 1.5 Mbps — something that typically happens when a network is congested. This is particularly apparent when looking at the hour-of-day performance: for 4G, there is a 5x increase in sub-1.5 Mbps tests from 4AM to 4PM. Although there is an increase in sub-1.5 Mbps 5G tests, it’s not nearly of the same magnitude.
Compared to other US operators, Verizon is more limited in terms of spectrum per subscriber, which goes some way to explaining peak-hour performance of its 4G network. Although its nationwide DSS network doesn’t add any additional spectrum, the millimeter-wave network does add significant capacity in the places it is needed the most — busy urban areas. More importantly, Verizon’s recently-acquired C-Band spectrum will begin rolling out as soon as this year, at which point the 5G network will be adding crucial spectrum capacity to the network.
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