Speedtest finds global 5G speeds slowing in 2021

As 5G network tech spread and diversifies, many nations see the speeds of their early deployments starting to decline. Meanwhile, others get their first tastes of the technology.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

The latest report on global 5G performance from Ookla's Speedtest Intelligence brand shows that, while the protocol continues to proliferate to new areas of the globe, its worldwide average speed is actually slowing down. 

The Q3 2021 5G Median Performance Worldwide report found a global average 5G speed of 166.12Mbps, which is 13% lower than the 206.22Mbps recorded during the same tests in the year-ago quarter. Corresponding upload speeds, meanwhile, fell to 21.08Mbps, a 39% drop from the 29.52Mbps seen in Q3 2020. The reasons for these declines, according to Speedtest, include the introduction of countries with historically slower networks to the 5G calculations, as well as the impact of dynamic spectrum sharing on global speeds. 

In short, as 5G continues to reach into new areas, the overall consistency of its increased data rates is fluctuating more due to different network technologies and levels of network advancement across the globe. Speedtest notes that this type of slowdown is common "as adoption scales, particularly early in the tech cycle." 

Thankfully for 5G stakeholders, the measurement company predicts that speeds will rebound in 2022 thanks to the plethora of additional spectrum launches and the planned deployments of global 5G services

On a more immediate basis, South Korea took the top spot in the 5G speed race according to Ookla's testing, coming in at a median download speed of 492.48Mbps, a significant boost from its 411.31Mbps measurement one year ago. Its rise was helped by former first-place finisher Norway's fall. Norway dropped dramatically, year over year, to 426.75Mbps, after peaking at 549.02Mbps in Q3 2020. The United Arab Emirates took a similar tumble as well, with its year-over-year speeds going from 516.58Mbps to just 409.96Mbps. 

Following South Korea, Norway, and the UAE as this quarter's top finishers were Saudi Arabia (366.46Mbps), Qatar (359.64Mbps), Kuwait (340.62Mbps), Sweden (305.72Mbps), China (299.04Mbps), Taiwan (296.63Mbps), and New Zealand (296.15Mbps). 

While the US completely missed out on the top 10 in speed measurements with a paltry 93.73Mbps media download rate, it took the overall crown for 5G availability, with services now reaching 49.2% of its population. The Netherlands took second place here at 45.1%, followed by South Korea in third with 43.8%. 

As the US and others continue trying to blanket their respective populaces in 5G, 13 countries saw their first-ever launches during the quarter, bringing the global total of 5G enabled nations to 112. Although it may seem like these countries are lagging, Speedtest also noted that 70 countries still have more than 20% of their populations relying on decades-old 2G and 3G technologies, with eight nations still powering the majority of their wireless communications with what most might think of as outdated tech. 

Speedtests's latest results show how important it is to keep the global disparity in communications speeds and availability in mind as the planet continues barreling through its 5G growth phase and toward the first inklings of what 6G might have in store for us

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