Trying to work out where 5G service actually exists is a tricky proposition right now, and malvertising efforts like ATT’s fake 5G “E” service aren’t helping. Ookla, the developers of the popular Speedtest application and website, have rolled out a new 5G coverage map service worldwide to illustrate where service is (and isn’t). Currently, the site tracks 303 5G deployments from 20 separate operators.
Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by j2 Global, the parent company of ExtremeTech’s publisher, Ziff Davis.
Ookla’s new map will let you click on specific areas to learn more about the 5G service available in that state or country, once you’ve scrolled down the page manually (more on that in a moment) and zoomed in to a specific country. Right now, pretty much everything in the US is “Limited Availability” because 5G service hasn’t rolled out to any degree across anywhere. According to Ookla:
Currently, the majority of identified deployments are based on corporate press releases and other publicly available communications. As deployments continue to become commercially available and tests taken with Speedtest use a 5G connection, identified deployments will also be based on Ookla data.
The zoom function continues to work as you go deeper if there’s content for it to work with. In Switzerland, where 5G deployments are extensive, you can continue to zoom into tighter and tighter focus on the map, with the number of 5G deployments in each zone expanding automatically as you enter it. Operator information is also included.
While this information is useful and should become more so as 5G rollouts improve, the site could use some improvements as well. Here’s the default view when you arrive:
The 5G map site is about 1,200 pixels tall in a 2560×1440 base browser window — except ~540 pixels of it are taken up by a giant banner across the top of the page, which accounts for 44.5 percent of the total space. The Twitter feed pop-in from the right eats additional space, and while it can be shrunk to a title box, it can’t be moved off the map grid altogether. The “Global 5G Statistics” box can’t be moved. When you click on one location, the box that opens obscures a large section of detail on the rest of the map, and while the map adjusts its own position to “center” the location you clicked on, it assumes you’ve scrolled down far enough to center the map manually on your screen when it does. If you haven’t, you get this:
There are supposed to be four items listed on the map, but you can actually only see three. Scrolling, by default, will zoom the map in and out, which means you may not even notice that you can scroll the page down independently of the map by using the slider at the far right. There badly needs to be a way to dismiss the cluttery bits of the UI without requiring users to manually scroll to remove some of these elements. Still, 5G service is early. It makes sense that the mapping would be early, too. And at least with 5G map coverage, we aren’t being charged a premium to access a service whose performance depends on which side of a glass door you happen to be standing on.
Despite the best efforts of carriers to market 5G, actual deployments in 2019 are expected to be few and far between. Adoption and availability are not expected to really start ramping until 2020, and it may be 2021 to 2023 before the benefits of 5G truly emerge. At present, it looks as though the gigabit performance and other selling points of the service will only be available in the densest urban environments. The degree of improvement suburban and rural users can expect to see relative to LTE, if any, is unknown.
I say “if any,” because there are rural areas in the US where no discernible progress in cell phone speeds is possible. When I visited my parents in rural Indiana recently, my cell phone service speeds on Speedtest topped out at 2Mbps. My own local performance off ATT in a rural area is ~6-10Mbps. Technically, both were LTE connections, but according to Ookla’s own data from last summer, the average US LTE download speed is 27.33Mbps. Non-urban areas already fall well behind urban ones in cellular connection speed, and 5G’s weakest area is range — precisely what you need to provide fast connections in rural areas.
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