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PUTTING 5G TO THE TEST: The highs and lows of our next generation mobile network

There’s a lot of hype around the next generation of mobile networks which are launching here in Australia and around the world.  Offering speeds far greater than we could imagine today and opening up a whole new world of opportunities for mobile applications.  But where is it at today?

If it was an Olympic Sport, Telstra would win the Gold, Silver and Bronze for “Hype” having pushed their 5G credentials now for longer than any 5G network existed and a year before we had any 5G mobile phones available.

Fast forward to today, and there are legitimate 5G mobile devices available.  Three mobile phones – the LG V50, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and the Oppo Reno 5G, along with the HTC 5G Hub which is aimed at the home user looking for super-fast broadband.

When the Samsung and Oppo mobile phones were launched they both were demonstrated at Telstra’s Sydney headquarters.  The Samsung showed speeds of 1,215Mbps, then just four days later the Oppo Reno 5G topped out at 1,942 Mbps.

Amazing numbers, but unless you work at Telstra in their corporate headquarters, all but useless.

Telstra’s 5G signal is available in just ten cities and towns across Australia and even then it’s in tiny patches.  So, curious to see what someone who buys a 5G phone today might experience, I set out to test Telstra’s 5G network in the real world.

Oppo’s performance in the Lab tests, and my own initial tests were so positive they offered to fly me to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to test all the 5G smartphones in the wild.

Using a bit of insider knowledge from Telstra, I was able to head to areas where 5G was certain to be. Hunting down the towers, I was able to perform tests in various areas in each city.

One important thing to know about 5G is that it performs best when you can see the tower.  The closer you are to the tower, the faster the speeds – it’s like your home WiFi in that way.

Oppo’s Reno 5G topped the charts in Brisbane at 681Mbps with the LG close behind at 667Mbps.  Samsung couldn’t crack the 600 mark at 593Mbps.

Our average speeds, from walking around known 5G areas and testing regularly showed speeds around 60% of those peaks.

By the time I arrived in Melbourne I could spot a 5G antenna on a mobile tower with ease.  They are dramatically smaller than the other antennae, but they sure pack a punch.

Standing on the street underneath a traditional tower like structure just a block away from the M.C.G and I saw my first 800+ Mbps speed test.  Oppo at 852, LG at 837 and Samsung at 652.

Averages were much higher too, Samsung at 512, LG and Oppo well into the 600’s

By now, Samsung’s performance with the Galaxy S10 5G was starting to intrigue me.  It didn’t take long to work out that under the hood, both the Oppo Reno 5G and LG V50 are using the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G Modem, while the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G uses an Exynos Modem 5100.

Having carried out well over 100 speed tests using way more than the average person’s mobile data allowance, it’s clear to me that the Qualcomm Modem offers a superior performance on outright speed.

In Sydney I was able to get extremely close to a 5G antenna on a city rooftop. Around 10 meters distance from the tower infrastructure I saw a really staggering result with both the Oppo and LG jumping over 1000Mbps, with the Oppo coming out on top at 1,033Mbps.

Averages were impressive, perhaps 70% of the peak speeds, though I noticed a lot of locations where “5G” was showing but speeds were less than impressive.

To put all these numbers in perspective, a 4G smartphone will struggle to go past 200Mbps, with around the 100 mark being the common sweet-spot. 

With all these tests under my belt, there’s a few critical observations I can make.

Firstly, Location, Location, Location – not just do you have 5G – but can you SEE 5G – if you’re within line-of-sight of a 5G tower – the speeds will show that.   Just a block away and you could see speeds halved.

Then there’s the handsets, While Samsung may be the biggest brand in the room – they aren’t able to match the Oppo and LG for outright speed – so if that’s your thing – enjoy.

Finally, you’ve got to hunt for it.  5G might appear on your phone as available – but you really need to be right near a tower to get the juice.

The results from these tests impressed me, but didn’t shock me.  And this is just the start.  Just like 4G the technology will be refined and we’ll see different (higher) speeds in the long run.

Of course there are very few customers using 5G smartphones yet, so the speeds I’m seeing are representative of a clean and clear network which leads many to say these are unrealistic tests.

The problem is I remember the same discussions about 4G speeds when we were blown away by 100Mbps speeds, which we’re doubling and then some today.

I can’t recommend 5G to the masses right now, because while it’s fast – I wonder when the last time you actually had a streaming or download issue on 4G?

The phones are excellent, and in reality, they are the real reason to give 5G a crack today.

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PUTTING 5G TO THE TEST: The highs and lows of our next generation mobile network
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