Assessing 5G viability

As 5G coverage becomes more widespread and the reliability of 5G equipment improves by the day, is now the time for businesses to leverage the fifth generation mobile network?

We asked Cloudcell Technologies’ Managing Director Kevin Boyle and Technical Director Steve Bryant.

When the 5G infrastructure roll out began at the tail end of May 2019 it became clear that accessibility and performance were an issue. “At the initial launch, 5G attracted momentum and generated commercial interest, but it was largely only being offered in urban areas which excluded it as an option for many businesses,” stated Boyle. “A second issue was the quality of the supporting equipment. There were a number of 5G consumer routers available but through extensive testing we found they didn’t provide the level of functionality required to support a business grade service.”

At the time, 5G promised to deliver a peak download speed of 1Gbps. However, when conducting its tests in areas such as London, Southampton, Bristol and Bath, Cloudcell experienced inconsistent and unreliable performances ranging from 80-400Mbps. “We decided at the time that the equipment and coverage wasn’t reliable enough to start deploying to our customers,” added Boyle.

However, it’s a different story today as 5G performance and availability has greatly improved. Currently, 5G is available with one or more MNO in over 100 UK towns and cities. “Following upgrades and improvements to 5G equipment we found that 5G performance is now much more stable,” commented Bryant. “Testing of new business grade routers and antennas at the back end of 2021 produced great results – a significant uplift in performance which gave us greater confidence that 5G was on its way to becoming a viable business solution. Further testing this year has reinforced this assessment.”

For some businesses and individuals a 5G connection is a viable option

While 5G availability is still predominantly in urban locations it has become more accessible in some less populated areas too, like the edges of towns and cities. “Such is our confidence in 5G now that we have begun deploying 5G solutions to our customers,” added Bryant. “While there are still some growing pains they are providing far better results and more stable performance than a year ago. That said, it is certainly not ready for the masses, but for some businesses and individuals a 5G connection is a viable option and work is continuing to expand its availability to less populated and more rural areas.”

Even as 5G infrastructure and equipment has been finding its feet, developments in 4G technology have meant that for many, the service still represents a better solution. “Although the 5G service has come on leaps and bounds, in many locations 4G (LTE) and 4G+ (LTE-A) will still deliver better performance than 5G,” said Bryant. “With 4G+ now widely available across the UK the service is still a key part of the county’s connectivity infrastructure.”

Boyle noted that upgrades to the 4G network and equipment have given improved performance almost across the board, and, at the moment, it is available in a far greater number of locations than 5G. “These improvements will also likely continue due to the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network programme, as well as continued investment from manufacturers and networks,” he added. “There’s no time pressure to switch to the 5G network anytime soon, so 4G will be providing a stable service for millions across the UK for a long time yet.”

Whether a 4G or 5G option is taken will depend on customer needs, and perhaps most importantly, location. “After an unsteady launch 5G services are now more readily available and providing reliable connections,” reaffirmed Boyle. “If you’re in a city or town and are looking for a reliable broadband connection 5G could certainly be an option. Beyond the spheres of city centres and other urban areas 5G may not be the best choice.”

Bryant reiterated that developments in 4G LTE equipment and coverage have resulted in a significantly improved performance. Therefore, for customers considering a broadband option in a residential, suburban or even rural area, 4G LTE may likely provide a faster and more stable connection than 5G currently provides. “Ultimately, we believe it will be a case-by-case decision,” he added. “For our customers we’ll be considering their requirements and location and identifying the best solution for them.”

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