Though European 5G coverage is lacking, things are about to change

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A 5G connection in Seoul, Oslo or Abu Dhabi is almost four times as fast as in Amsterdam, Berlin or Vienna. Research by Speedtest indicates vast differences among the speed and coverage of 5G networks worldwide.

Speedtest ranked the coverage and speed of 5G networks in over forty countries and capitals. According to the organization, The United States has the world’s broadest 5G coverage, peaking at 49 percent. The Netherlands follows at number two with 45 percent.

The speed of connections in their respective capital cities (Washington and Amsterdam) is significantly lower than top scorers such as South Korea, Norway and Sweden. There, a connection is almost four times as fast.

Speedtest adds that the average speed of all 5G connections decreased by 13 percent (download) and 39 percent (upload) in the past year. That’s nothing to shrug at, but insufficient to dismiss the value of 5G. Connections regularly remain ten times faster than predecessor 4G.

Speed loss is explainable. An increasing number of devices support 5G frequencies, which increases the number of connections to networks. Capacity is distributed among a larger group, after which speed decreases. Some countries are successfully combating the phenomenon by rapidly constructing transmission towers and stations. Other countries are lagging behind. Here’s why.

The technology

A 5G network typically consists of three types of transmission towers. The first group transmits waves at a low frequency, the second group at a medium frequency and the last group at a high frequency. Low-frequency waves have the greatest range, but lag behind mid- and high-frequency waves in terms of speed.

To achieve both speed and coverage, providers place their masts in strategic locations. A high-frequency transmission tower works well in a densely populated city centre. Although the mast’s range is limited to the city, it succeeds in connecting a large group of people. Masts for medium- and high-frequency waves are practical for sparsely populated areas. The waves move slower, but travel long distances to cover a larger group.

A transmitter on every street corner achieves the optimal speed. In practice, this is unrealistic. Providers must consider budgets and government guidelines. In South Korea, the guidelines are favourable. The nationwide demand for 5G is huge, prompting the government to allow the construction of a large number of transmitters. According to Statista, the country has 170,000 5G stations. Nearly 60,000 stations came into being in the past year.

In the Netherlands, the network is expanded more conservatively. The most recent report from government agency Antennebureau indicates 50,000 national 5G units. Thereby, we arrive at the explanation for the differences in speed and coverage in countries worldwide: politics.

Balance between desire and legislation for 5G

According to Speedtest, connections in Oslo (capital Norway) are the second-fastest in the world. However, national coverage extends to a meagre 8 percent. While connections in Stockholm (capital Sweden) are the world’s third-fastest, Sweden’s coverage is 2 percent. Both countries aspire to greater coverage, but frame the network’s deployment through careful and relatively conservative policies. In contrast, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have excellent speed and coverage scores. Both countries share an encouraging national stance.

On a positive note, the position of most European countries promises to improve in the near future. Local laws are subject to change in accordance with recent EU guidelines for improving connectivity.

In the Netherlands, for example, telecom laws were recently adjusted to support EU guidelines. As a result, providers have greater freedom in constructing 5G stations. Before, municipalities had the right to autonomously decide on permits for 5G station construction. At this time, municipalities can be forced to permit 5G station construction if the construction plan is deemed reasonable by the government. A prime example of the modernization that will undoubtedly lead to greater 5G speeds and coverage in the EU.

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