5G performance can vary widely, largely because of the differences in the spectrum frequencies used for delivery. As a result, user expectations must be carefully managed – there’s a compromise between, on the one hand, extensive coverage, and on the other, fast performance. Continuous testing with real traffic and user profiles is key to setting and maintaining expectations as CSPs roll out 5G deployments.
5G continues to grow strongly, with the new technology showing rapid adoption in a number of markets. For example, in South Korea, penetration has recently reached 10% of all mobile subscribers, according to RCR Wireless – a level achieved in just over a year.
This bodes well for other countries and operators. However, research by RootMetrics as reported by Fierce Wireless, illustrates why it’s important to look beyond the numbers. According to the research, the 5G experience delivered to customers varies significantly between operators – even in the same country. That’s because 5G can be deployed using different spectrum frequencies. The choice of frequency provides different outcomes – and represents a compromise. Put simply, not all users will enjoy the same experience levels.
The fastest speeds will be achieved using mmWave spectrum. However, this has relatively low penetration – mmWave signals do not travel very far. As a result, while it can deliver the highest 5G performance, it is not yet widespread. In contrast, using lower frequencies results in more widespread coverage due to better propagation, but the speeds that can be achieved are lower. 5G coverage is thus a compromise between, on the one hand, effective and widespread deployment, and typically highly localised hotspots with the highest performance. This is hard to explain to customers, who may be attracted by operators that promote the highest theoretical performance.
Consequently, few users will actually obtain the performance the media and canny operator advertising may lead them to expect. They may have 5G coverage, but the best signals will be hard to find. The research exposes this compromise. One network cited has widespread coverage, but typical performance levels are comparable to LTE, while another can deliver the highest speeds, but only in certain (rare) locations.
Operators must continually make choices in how they use the spectrum licenses they have obtained – and, until mmWave access becomes widespread, 5G performance will rarely reach the expected levels. To achieve mmWave performance, the coverage density for 5G cells is enormous. This will take time. Until such coverage can be achieved, operators must be clear about what they are actually offering and really delivering.
Expectations need to be managed carefully. This means that operators must continuously evaluate and test against performance benchmarks, so that they can support the claims they make to their customers. To accomplish this, they need to be able to test 5G coverage from the perspective of the subscriber and with simulations that reflect what customers actually do. If 5G users, sold on the promise of a new, super-speed network, try to consume more video, then testing must reflect this. Operators must be able to ensure that what they offer is matched by what the network can really deliver.
In other words, it’s not enough to simply test 5G connectivity, you have to be able to test performance. How can you do this? Fortunately, there’s an easy answer. Evolver, a complete test and verification solution for 5G, provides a solution.
With Evolver, operators can first test and validate required connectivity and interfaces. But, they can also create scenarios with different user profiles and real traffic simulations, so that actual performance can be modelled and emulated. This enables each phase of rollout to be tested, even with updates delivered through agile DevOps programmes.
Evolver helps operators to manage this compromise, as well as user expectations. It allows you to validate performance across different scenarios, so you can determine the impact of different coverage plans – low and high frequencies. It can be uniquely tuned to your network, which means you can more accurately match the real user behaviour and demands – and shape your messages accordingly. Yes, 5G involves compromise, but Evolver ensures that you can manage user expectations and guarantees that customers get the performance and experience that operators are claiming.