Verizon has fastest 5G downloads, T-Mobile best 5G coverage in OpenSignal awards – CNET

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The latest OpenSignal report gives a look at the current state of US 5G. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Which US carriers are doing best with their early 5G performance? A new report from wireless tracking firm OpenSignal gives a good look at where things currently stand as all three major wireless providers begin to ramp up their new networks. 

In its latest awards, released Tuesday, OpenSignal crowned Verizon's millimeter-wave 5G network the fastest download speeds while giving T-Mobile the top prize for having the best coverage and availability. Neither result is surprising: Verizon's higher-frequency technology is known for its significantly better speed but limited coverage, in 35 cities; T-Mobile's low-band 5G is available to over 200 million people across the US. 

When it comes to "download speed experience," which factors in 5G as well as 4G and the time people are connected to both networks, AT&T had a "statistical tie" with Verizon for the top spot. 

According to the report, which used OpenSignal's database of over 2.4 million active devices, Verizon's average download speed was 494.7 megabits per second, significantly faster than the low-band 5G from AT&T and T-Mobile, which came in at 60.8Mbps and 49.2Mbps, respectively. Sprint, which is now part of T-Mobile, had an average download speed of 49.5Mbps. 

On availability, T-Mobile users were connected to its 5G network 22.5% of the time, over twice the percentage of AT&T (10.3%) and nearly double Sprint (14.1%). Verizon, whose millimeter-wave network doesn't currently extend beyond certain blocks in 35 cities, had users connected to its 5G network just 0.4% of the time, according to OpenSignal. 

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It's still early days for 5G, with these numbers likely to change dramatically over the coming months as carriers continue to improve their networks. 

AT&T is expected to have a nationwide 5G network this summer, taking advantage of a new technology known as Dynamic Spectrum Sharing to share its 4G airwaves with 5G and improve performance. Verizon has announced plans to expand its millimeter-wave 5G network to 60 cities in 2020, and has similar plans to use DSS to launch a nationwide 5G network on its lower-band spectrum this year. 

T-Mobile, fresh off its recently completed Sprint merger, is continuing to deploy Sprint's midband 2.5GHz spectrum having most recently put the airwaves to use in Philadelphia and New York.

Midband spectrum is seen as a key ingredient for a strong 5G network as it provides faster speeds than low-band while offering much better coverage than millimeter-wave. 

An upcoming spectrum auction by the Federal Communications Commission is expected to make 3.5GHz midband spectrum available to cell phone providers in the US for the first time. In tests overseas, where 3.5GHz is more commonly being used for 5G, OpenSignal found download speeds averaged between 120-240Mbps, at least double the average performance of US low-band 5G networks.  

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