5G is already a reality. Vodafone has been the first operator to deploy this new network in Spain in the band of 3.7 GHz in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville or Mlaga, the coastal city where I live.
Vodafone and Xiaomi have lent us Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G to be able to test your network, see how it behaves and, of course, conclude if there are differences with respect to using a 4G device on a daily basis.
I've been using the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G for two weeks as my daily phone, one week forcing the 4G connection and another week activating the 5G. In both cases, I used the phone as personal, that is, messenger, mail, social networks, browsing and consumption of multimedia content.
In addition, I have done some synthetic tests to see download speed and compare it with the speed of 4G, also of Vodafone. These have consisted of downloading movies and series on Amazon Prime Video, playlists on Spotify, heavy applications from Google and speed tests. These tests have been run at different points in Mlaga to see if there are variations.
First thing: a couple of notes on Vodafone 5G
The 5G of Vodafone is 5G NSA, that is, "5G Non-Standalone". That means that the 5G network, in part, is supported by the current 4G infrastructure. Therefore, we have a maximum thermal speed of 1 Gbps, but a lower upload speed, similar to what we would have using the 4G network. Basically, the current 5G is a kind of appetizer of what is to come.
The 5G NSA is a higher download speed, higher network capacity, less latency and Mobile Edge Computing capabilities. That is, it is a faster and less saturated network, but not until the arrival of 5G SA (with all that that implies in terms of infrastructure and investment) when we can access all the advantages.
The 5G is still in the NSA phase, so, for practical purposes, we will only notice an improvement in download speed
Also, it should be noted that Vodafone 5G is only available at unlimited rate (the one with unlimited data) and prepaid plans. For that matter, we have been able to access a SIM card with the first one, so consumption has not been a problem.
On the other hand, the mobile we have used is the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G, which is the same as the standard version only that has the Snapdragon 855 and the Qualcomm X50 modem. As they point out from Vodafone, "the current 5G terminals that Vodafone sells can be used with the 5G SA network by updating their software."
The test results: it is faster, and now
That said, let's talk about the test results, which were done in different places of Mlaga. The downtown area and the Caleta (the promenade) stand out for having the best coverage, so it is through this area that we have moved. They are not the only ones, but the busiest areas.
Not all applications are optimized to download using 5G, which is why it can be seen that, in some cases, download times do not change radically despite having more speed. From Vodafone they told us that among the optimized are Vodafone TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Ookla (the speed test) and Hatch, a mobile gaming platform in streaming.
The speed is up to 10 times higher than what we can get using the 4G network
It is obvious that The download speed is much higher than when we use 4G, up to 10 times, although we have never been able to access, in any test, that Gbps that Vodafone 5G is able to offer. The highest we have achieved are 522 Mbps, half. However, the upload speed does not change so much. In fact, it is curious that in most cases we have had an equal or higher speed using 4G. Remember that we talk about 5G NSA, not 5G SA.
Latency does not change radically either. With the 4G, on average we have 34 ms, which is not bad, and with the 5G NSA we have managed to lower 10 ms. This may be something that is seen playing competitive 'Counter Strike' on a computer, but in the mobile experience it is not noticeable at all. The clearest example we have in Hatch.
When you play Hatch using 4G, the experience is completely smooth. Unless there is another occasional pull when there is a lot of graphic load, the avatar responds immediately to our commands and we can play as we play a game installed in the mobile. With the 5G, those punctual pulls are eliminated, but the experience is equally fluid. We have not noticed notable differences in one network or another. With the 5G you play well, but it is with the 4G and with the WiFi of our house too.
The Vodafone 5G network is not yet completely stable and, on occasion, we had connection problems.
Vers that we put the Plaza de la Merced and that the speed is very low, much lower than the 4G despite being in the 5G. The 5G connection that we can access today is not entirely stable, so we can find ourselves connected to it and not be able to enjoy the advantages. Let's say 5G is constantly developing. When we did the tests in the Plaza de la Merced, the 5G gave us an error. In fact, above you can see some screenshots trying to access Xataka. The only way to solve the network problems was to force the 4G connection.
Download times are lower, there is no doubt, but the difference is not too noticeable with respect to 4G. I mean, the download is completed before, but what makes it different to download the first chapter of 'Good Omens' on Amazon Prime Video with 4G and with 5G is 10 seconds at best.
If we talk about the download of a heavier item, as it could be 'PUBG Mobile' (that ah where you see it weighs a whopping 2.07 GB, enough to leave a limited data rate shivering), we see a more important difference. Possibly, because Google Play Store is well optimized for high download speeds and allows us to take advantage of it.
Download times are reduced, but the jump is not dramatic
When we download 'PUBG Mobile' using 4G we invest 87 seconds on average. It is not much, but it can be less. In the Plaza de la Constitucin, downtown Mlaga, we cut the figure in half, until little more than 40 seconds. In other places, about 50 seconds, second up, second down. Now, is it an abysmal difference? Has a radical change in my life been able to download a heavy game in 40 seconds less? Do not.
Spotify is an application that Vodafone does not mention as one of those optimized for 5G, so we wanted to try it also to see if it takes advantage. Spoiler: neither. For the tests, we download the "successes in Spain" and "Coffee Table Jazz" lists (464 MB and 1.5 GB, respectively), and the time differences are not too high. With the 4G it took us 35 seconds to get the first and 110 seconds to get the second. With 5G, the figure is reduced between 20 and 30 seconds on average, but I insist, it is not an abysmal difference.
In fact, the only important difference that I have noticed and that, in a way I have been grateful, is in the rate. Vodafone launched the 5G at its unlimited rate, so you can download everything you want without worrying about speed reductions. In another context, doing these same tests with my normal rate would have meant running out of data in just over a day. During the first day of testing, it consumes no more than 30 GB, so you can get an idea.
5G in the day to day
Simply put, have 5G on your mobile it's like having a fast WiFi connection almost everywhere. You can do exactly the same thing you will do with your home WiFi, including, in the case of unlimited rates, the lack of concern for consumption. But little else. As I said before, using a 5G phone has not changed the way I use my iPhone 8 Plus on the day.
What do I mean by this? What do you think about why you use your cell phone every day? In my case, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, checking the mail, reading web pages, I see many videos on YouTube, send messages on WhatsApp and Telegram and, from time to time, especially when I travel, I play a movie or series on the mobile I have previously downloaded. Does 5G change this? Absolutely. Something is done faster, but the jump between 4G and this little advance of 5G is negligible.
If you want to take full advantage of 5G, an unlimited data rate becomes an almost indispensable requirement
It goes without saying that 5G in Bit and prepaid rates, recently announced, cannot be taken advantage of because these rates have limited gigabytes: 5 GB in the case of Yuser, 15 GB in Mega Yuser, 6 G GB in Super Yuser and 25 GB in Bit Mvil and Bit Mvil + fiber. You consume 5 GB of data when downloading a season from a series or a pair of movies in maximum quality. Unlimited rates are configured as an indispensable requirement to take advantage of 5G, simply and simply.
On the other hand, 5G NSA does not penetrate buildings since it uses the frequency of 3.7 GHz. In my house, where I spend most of the time, 5G does not arrive. I have 4G +, but 5G, despite being built on its infrastructure, does not arrive. For this, with total security, we will have to wait until we say goodbye to DTT and the band of 700 MHz is released. And let's be honest, who uses your mobile network at home if you have a decent WiFi connection?
This test, this period of analysis, I would like to repeat it when Google Stadia and other streaming video game services are available. And if it is with 5G SA instead of 5G NSA, better than better, since that is when we can take advantage of the full potential of this new network. Meanwhile, the only thing that can be said about 5G is that yes, it is faster, and yes, it has potential, but right now it does not have good coverage, nor do mobile phones and applications allow us to take advantage of it.
The 5G has potential, but its low current coverage and the lack of applications that take advantage of it show that it still has a way to go
In fact, companies like Orange or Telefnica have preferred take the deployment more calmly. Toms Alonso, engineer director of Orange Espaa, said that "we are not going to deploy network just because we deploy it" And it makes sense, because the full spectrum is still pending adjudication.
Telonica, meanwhile, it was more resounding: "Today we can say that 5G does not contribute anything with respect to 4G. The great advantages of this technology cannot be exploited in a deployment that only offers coverage outdoors (or very limited indoors) without applications that can take advantage of it and with very limited offer of smartphones ". After trying it, I must say that I agree with that statement.
It is something that has been debated in an infinite number of occasions: the 5G network is not a mobile network such as 4G. The 5G is the network of cities, connected cars, IoT devices; it is the network that connect each and every element of our lives to each other and that allow a 5G mobile be the command center of all those elements. But until that comes, we still have to wait.