Test and Measurement: Breaking down early 5G strategies

Users Users “should not automatically expect speeds of several hundred Mbps on 5G,” Opensignal says

How do the initial 5G strategies of the Big Four carriers in the U.S. match up? Opensignal took a look and found that speeds are all over the map—but coverage often isn’t. Spectrum choices appear to the the primary defining factor in 5G at this point in its development.

While OpenSignal noted that it has previously found that even in LTE, the spectrum on which a given device is operating heavily influences the user experience, there are even larger discrepancies in achieved speeds (and coverage) in a 5G context, based on the spectrum each carrier is using (or which spectrum a device can access).

“There’s lots of confusion around 5G, in part because each U.S. carrier has taken a different initial approach to 5G. Some 5G services use brand new high frequency mmWave spectrum that’s never been used for cellular before, others are re-using mid-band spectrum, while some have launched in the low-band spectrum that’s normally best for wide coverage,” wrote Opensignal’s Francesco Rizzato and Ian Fogg in a blog post on the company’s data.

OpenSignal said that it manually tested 5G in a number of U.S. cities’ downtown areas in December and January as part of its research and development program, rather than its usual approach of large-scale crowd-sourced data from millions of devices. Among its findings:

-Finding a 5G signal “often proved challenging,” the two authors wrote. T-Mobile US’ low-band 600 MHz network provided the greatest amount of time connected to 5G: 53%, with Sprint slightly behind that at 47.4% time connected to its 2.5 GHz 5G network. Millimeter-waved-based 5G connectivity was far harder to come by: OpenSignal’s devices connected to T-Mo’s mmWave 5G network only about 10.6% of the time, and Verizon’s mmWave network only about 6% of the time. Meanwhile, AT&T’s 850-MHz-based 5G also only provided a connection around 10.6% of the time, even though it’s prime low-band spectrum. Opensignal theorized that the limited amount of time on AT&T’s network could be because the testing was conducted shortly after the mid-December official launch, so the carrier might simply not have had much of a footprint yet; or possibly because the network only pushes a user to 5G if it is an improvement over the carrier’s 4G network.

-Speeds were fastest on mmWave networks, even if coverage could be scarce. Verizon’s mmWave 5G clocked the highest average download speed, a blistering 722.9 Mbps. But there was a huge difference between mmWave speeds and low-band speeds. For instance, T-Mobile US’ mmWave 5G network had the second-fastest average download speed: 243.1 Mbps. But its 600 MHz-based 5G had the slowest average 5G download speeds of just 47.5 Mbps. AT&T’s low-band 5G wasn’t much faster, at 59.3 Mbps on average.

-Sprint’s midband spectrum holdings (soon to be part of New T-Mobile) helped distinguish the carrier’s performance. Opensignal said it connected to Sprint’s 5G network nearly half the time, and while it wasn’t as fast as mmWave-based 5G, 5G tests still achieved an average 183 Mbps download speed. Opensignal said that when taking into account both time connected to 5G and average download speeds, the company “saw the fastest average combined 4G/5G download speeds on Sprint’s 5G network.”

“U.S. carriers’ 5G services are held back by 5G spectrum availability,” Opensignal concluded. “Some services are ultra fast but they offer limited reach. While others are much slower due to limited spectrum but have much better reach. U.S. carriers need the release of large chunks of mid-band spectrum to offer the best of both worlds and for 5G in the U.S. to hit its potential.”

In other test news:

Anritsu and Samsung collaborated on 5G New Radio Standalone test cases that have now been approved by the Global Certification Forum (GCF) and the PCS Type Certification Review Board (PTCRB). The tests are covered in  3GPP TS38.521 (user equipment conformance and radio transmission and reception) and TS38.523 (UE conformance and Radio Resource Management), and have been verified using Samsung’s 5G NR Exynos modem on Anritsu’s ME7873NR RF Conformance Test System and ME7834NR Protocol Conformance Test Platform.

-Sensing tech and wireless connectivity licensor CEVA used Rohde & Schwarz’s R&S CMW500 wideband radio communication tester in its successful GCF protocol conformance testing of CEVA’s NB2 IP platform for narrowband IoT Release 14.

In related IoT testing news, R&S recently said that Gemalto (part of Thales) is using its test equipment as part of efforts aimed at “significantly” reducing expensive and time-consuming drive tests.”

“IoT protocol stack features have been specified by 3GPP, but IoT devices have to interact with different network configurations worldwide. This makes it important to ensure that these features are working well in all sorts of configurations, configured by different network operators,” Rohde & Schwarz said in a statement, adding that virtual drive testing for IoT during the development phase of Cat M1 and NB-IoT modules can enable problems to be identified and fixed at an earlier stage.

Also this week, Rohde & Schwarz introduced a new Bluetooth Low Energy test mode for Bluetooth LE 5.0 on its CMW platform, and said that it has already integrated tests for power control specified by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group for the new Bluetooth LTE 5.2.

The test company also launched a new power supply series with two- and four-channel models, and said that it has partnered with Decawave on 802.15-based Ultra Wideband (UWB) testing capabilities that have been added to the R&S CMP200 radio communication tester. The two companies jointly developed T&M features for production-line testing of UWB functions in both chipsets and complete devices, Rohde said, by leveraging UWB test strategy and methods from Decawave along with its DW3000 test device. Rohde & Schwarz said that the new capabilities mean that the CMP200 is “the only test platform on the market able to provide R&D and production RF tests for both 5G FR2 [millimeter wave]and UWB functions.”

-Network transport provider ECI unveiled a new network planning tool for packet and optical networks, the Muse Network Planner. The planner module, which is for ECI’s Muse network and service lifecyle automation suite, enables packet-optical optimization over network layers 0-3, ECI said, with advanced algorithms linking actual network data based on factors which the user can choose, such as latency, cost and Optical Signal to Noise Ratio (OSNR). It says that testing has show that the planner tool can reduce costs on the order of 30-50% over more manual processes, through automation and reducing the number of nodes. The planner also provides some simulation testing capabilities for exploring the robustness of the network design and how services would be impacted under scenarios of multiple failures, ECI added, which lets operators judge how well they could deliver on service-level agreements by applying dynamic restoration mechanisms.

Viavi Solutions this week launched a new 5G network testing platform, OneAdvisor, while network planning, assurance and analytics company Teoco released the latest version of its service assurance platform, Helix 11. Read the full story here.

 

 

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