A 5G mobile signal may be hard to find in Australia and even harder to keep as you move around – but the experience is likely to be a blockbuster, according to new figures suggesting that Australia’s 5G services are almost twice as fast as the global average.
The recent analysis by Ookla, which manages the ubiquitous SpeedTest broadband benchmarking suite, found 5G tests in Australia were delivering average download speeds of 283.56Mbps during the first quarter of this year – well ahead of the global average of 142.05Mbps.
That put it well ahead of major economic rivals like the US and UK – which clocked around 80Mbps and 120Mbps, respectively – but behind China (around 305Mbps) and South Korea (around 420Mbps).
“Australia is primed to continue to be at the forefront of global 5G performance in the future,” Ookla notes, “with increases in 5G deployments and recent spectrum auctions in the works that will only expand access for Australian 5G consumers.”
Based on Ookla testing, Australia’s 5G users are almost evenly spread across Queensland, Victoria, SA, WA, and NSW; Melbourne had the fastest medial download speed (304.67Mbps) and Canberra (244.54Mbps) was slowest.
Yet there were other, less auspicious indicators that Australia may have peaked early: Australia’s peak download speeds actually declined marginally since the middle of last year, softening even as South Korea, China, New Zealand, and the US all continued to increase.
This likely reflects the lumpy dynamics of an Australian 5G market where spotty coverage meant that last year’s early network users had the services to themselves.
If average speeds continue to decline this year, it will be because growing subscriber numbers are finally testing networks’ ability to maintain high-speed services at scale.
Any day now
Without ubiquitous 5G, carriers have so far focused on wowing customers with the speed of heavily-engineered benchmarks: Optus, for one, recently heralded a multi-layered 5G mmWave service running at 10Gbps.
Telstra, for example, advertises average 5G home-broadband speeds of around 378Mbps download and 46Mbps – well ahead of the speeds attainable by most NBN broadband services but still, one reviewer warned, not a complete replacement for the nationwide network.
That’s because carriers have struggled to deliver more than patchy 5G coverage in the real world.
“Reaching 50 per cent is a massive milestone,” Telstra wrote in noting that it now has over 750,000 5G devices on its network, “especially as our customers have told us that strong coverage is their number one priority.”
The telco has continued pushing towards what Channa Seneviratne, technology development and solutions executive with Telstra, admits is an “aggressive target” of covering 75 per cent of the population by the end of next month – “but we’re sure we can hit it for our customers,” he said.
Reflecting the scale of the challenge, Optus, for its part, has around 1100 5G sites live and has just switched on its first 5G regional network – spending $1.2m in the past year to upgrade six of its 20 Bathurst, NSW area base stations to support 5G.
Furthermore, download speeds are only half the story: upload speeds across Australian networks were towards the bottom end of the pack, pipping only the US and UK with an average of around 20Mbps – half that of the UAE and China.
Coming 5G mmWave services – for which the Commonwealth government recently ran the first of two 5G spectrum auctions scheduled for a year it has once again declared to be the “Year of 5G” – could improve that situation once they begin rolling out in the 27 geographical markets where mmWave is soon to become available.
Benchmarks suggest that uploads over 5G mmWave services are substantially faster, averaging 33.3Mbps in one comparison that noted the services run three times faster than public Wi-Fi.
Yet for now, with more than 1m public WiFi hotspots on Telstra’s network alone, you are still more likely to come across one of those hotspots than to find someone actually using 5G.