Monday 31 August 2020

Is Saudi Arabia Winning the 5G Race?

Opensignal has analysed the real-world 5G experience of their users across mobile operators in a number of countries globally. In an article they have compared 5G users’ overall experience across 12 of the world’s leading 5G markets. Surprisingly there is no Japan or China in the list but you still have other big players.

The article states:

Globally, our 5G users in Saudi Arabia see the fastest overall average download speed with a Download Speed Experience of 144.5 Mbps ahead of Canada’s 5G users in second place with 90.4 Mbps. Strikingly, 5G Users in the country with the highest adoption of 5G to date, South Korea, rank just third. Our 5G users in the U.K. have the slowest overall Download Speed Experience with a score of 32.6 Mbps because the 4G experience greatly brings down the overall score. Download Speed Experience – 5G Users takes into account the average 3G and 4G Download Speed that 5G users see, as well as their average 5G Download Speed and time connected to each type of network to reveal the overall download speed experience.

When we consider the average download speed using 5G technology we see a very different story. While Saudi Arabia remains in first place, South Korea jumps to second place with average 5G Download speeds of a staggering 312.7 Mbps — over five times faster than South Korea’s already fast 4G speeds. The U.K. moves up the rankings with the U.S., Netherlands and Germany now dropping into the last three positions.

The modest 5G Download Speeds in the U.S. are due to a combination of the limited amount of new mid-band 5G spectrum that is available and the popularity of low-band spectrum – T-Mobile’s 600MHz and AT&T’s 850MHz – which offer excellent availability and reach but lower average speeds than the 3.5GHz mid-band spectrum used as the main 5G band in every country outside of the U.S. However, Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service offers very considerably faster average 5G Download Speeds of 494.7 Mbps in our recent U.S. report, which is faster than the average 5G download speeds Opensignal has seen on any operator, or in any country to date including Saudi Arabia. 

The amount of time users spend connected to 5G – 5G Availability – is an important factor in the overall experience 5G users enjoy. We are still in the early stages of a 5G era that will last for at least a decade because the first 5G services launched only in 2019, and in a number of countries we continue to see 5G services aimed at smartphone users launching for the first time.

STC, Saudi Arabia was one of the first operators to roll out 5G. Another OpenSignal report back in April about the Video experience in Saudi was a bit critical of the experience there. It said:

Our first look at our new Games Experience metric at the operator level in Saudi Arabia, reveals that all three operators have much work still to do before they can provide their mobile gamers with an experience free of connectivity issues. Both STC and Zain fall into Very Poor for this measure of the mobile experience, while the winner, Mobily, is just ahead with a score of 42.5, which places it in the Poor category.

While that report focused heavily on 4G, things may yet change with 5G.

The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has launched a public consultation setting out its five-year outlook on radio spectrum for commercial and innovative use. The consultation invites views on a range of measures, with the aim of enabling the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a leading digital society in alignment with the goals of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and CITC's recently approved National Spectrum Strategy.

In this consultation, CITC is proposing to release more than 10 GHz of additional radio spectrum by 2024 across a wide range of frequency bands to cater to the needs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accelerate innovation and create a thriving environment for emerging radio technologies. Through this consultation, CITC is inviting all interested parties, both locally and internationally, to provide their views and input on the future of this unprecedented spectrum release. Views are welcome from local and international telecom and technology providers, industrial stakeholders, public entities and members of the public as well as consumers of telecom and digital services.

The PDF is available here and this picture below from that summarises the details of current IMT spectrum assignments in Saudi Arabia.

As you can see, the 3 main operators have a good chunk of spectrum below 1 GHz as well as in the 3.6 GHz band. This definitely gives them an edge in 5G as compared to others.

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