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Is 5G Connectivity Getting Worse?

We are more than a few years into the advent of 5G technology—and the promise of unprecedented connectivity speed and capacity continues to capture the imagination of consumers and industries alike. But when you investigate the practical deployment of 5G networks, you unearth a noticeable decline in connectivity, particularly within the confines of large buildings. 

Drawing on insights from recent industry analysis, it's clear that while 5G networks are advancing, they are not immune to the complexities of network congestion and the limitations imposed by current technological and regulatory frameworks. Strong indoor connectivity—as it turns out—is not merely a matter of more infrastructure, but instead requires us to overcome inherent technological hurdles. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the realities of diminishing 5G connectivity, highlighting the factors that complicate the implementation of this tech and the potential pathways to solving the problem. 

An Expert’s Overview of the 5G Performance Decline

There’s little doubt that 5G is outpacing its predecessor, 4G, but recent data demonstrates that in overall service quality, there’s a global slowdown in upload and download speeds. According to industry analysts Ookla, a notable shift has occurred over the past year with many of the strongest 5G networks struggling to achieve speeds exceeding 1 gigabit per second—far below the 20 Gb/s ideal posited by the International Telecommunication Union.

“As 5G adoption scales, it places more strain on the new networks,” said Mark Giles, the Lead Industry Analyst at Ookla, in the company’s analytical article from February 2023. “The challenge for many of these markets is that network performance is likely to degrade further unless network densification picks up.” 

Network densification? What’s that? Basically, it means adding more cell sites and antennas to an area to boost a network's capacity and reach. In crowded places with high demand for wireless services, operators can handle more users and more data by setting up additional cell sites or upgrading existing ones with extra antennas or smaller cells. This helps the network transmit data faster and reduces traffic jams. 

It's particularly vital for 5G networks that use high-frequency bands like millimeter-wave. These frequencies can deliver quick data speeds, but don't travel far and can be blocked easily, so having a dense network is key for strong coverage and connection.

While densification improves network capacity and coverage, the choice of frequency bands plays a vital role in how effectively these enhancements translate into real-world performance. Among these, millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies are particularly noteworthy. Known for their high speed capabilities, mmWave bands kickstart significantly faster data transmission than lower frequency bands. 

While the high-speed capabilities of mmWave and other frequency bands are intriguing, it’s important for building owners to consider more immediate actions they can take to maintain strong 5G connectivity. 

Proactive Steps for Building Owners to Enhance 5G Connectivity

As the rollout for 5G continues—and the future of 6G awaits over the horizon—building owners must consider two distinct paths. Wait for telecom carriers to improve infrastructure or strike out on their own and upgrade facilities to secure reliable connectivity. As always, this often depends on setting and need.

In urban settings, the density of high-rise buildings and the concentration of users often result in significant signal reduction and network congestion. To combat this, building owners can adopt technologies such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cells. These systems amplify the available signal within the building and alleviate the load on the external network by localizing data traffic. When you invest in such infrastructure in settings where every square inch is shared by numerous wireless devices, it makes a consistently strong network possible.

Conversely, in rural areas, and particularly in critical facilities like hospitals, the lack of network densification by carriers can lead to gaps in essential service coverage. Here, the implementation of on-site network enhancements, such as private LTE networks or dedicated mmWave nodes, can be a game-changer. These solutions provide reliable and controlled connectivity, vital for medical facilities where constant communication can be life-saving.

The Future of 5G Connectivity

It's evident that while the technology holds remarkable promise, realizing its full potential within the constraints of indoor environments remains a source of interference. Constant 5G connectivity, particularly inside buildings, requires a multifaceted approach that balances the rapid speeds of mmWave technology with strategic network densification. 

Looking forward, the continuous advancements in 5G technology and infrastructure promise to address these issues more effectively. Innovations in antenna technology, smarter network management software, and more robust regulatory frameworks are on the horizon, poised to boost an array of 5G technologies in various environments.

Stay tuned as we continue to explore and report on the evolution of 5G technology. Your insights and experiences with 5G are invaluable—join the conversation on social media to help foster a deeper understanding of what truly effective 5G connectivity entails.

Connect with Airtower to learn more about our game plan for deploying 5G infrastructure in diverse settings.