I’ve been seeing increasing mention of 5G (and sometimes even 6G) wireless devices of late. The intro item for this story comes from Thurrott.com, with the headline “Samsung Launches the World’s First 5G Tablet.” I don’t mean to single Thurrott out in particular: you can find lots of 5G discussion, complete with breathless hype all over the Internet. That’s what got me wondering, though: how much 5 G coverage is available right now anyway? Turns out — as with much in technology — there are many ways to answer that question. So I decided to answer it by country and by US and European cities.
5G By Country
According to Worldometers.info, there are 195 countries in the world in 2020. This includes 193 member states of the United Nations, plus 2 non-member observer states: The Holy See (aka “The Vatican”) and the State of Palestine. According to sdxcentral, there are 5 top countries in the world that have multiple-company 5G mobile networks in deployment: China, Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the USA.
The same article also mentions Switzerland, and the so-called Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) as worthy of mention in the arena of 5G efforts as well. Total count so far: 11 countries out of 195, or 5.6%. That’s just over one in 20 countries with a noteworthy 5G deployment to speak of. Kind of disappointing, but explains nicely why the Samsung tablet mentioned in the preceding Thurrott article is for sale only in South Korea (Samsung’s home base, not coincidentally).
5G By City: USA and Europe
There are 21 cities in the USA with access to 5G network services. Listed in alphabetical order, they are
Atlanta, GA Las Vegas, NV Orlando, FL Austin, TX Los Angeles, CA Raleigh, NC Charlotte, NC Louisville, KY San Antonio, TX Dallas, TX Nashville, TN San Diego, CA Houston, TX New Orleans, LA San Francisco, CA Indianapolis, IN New York City, NY San Jose, CA Jacksonville, FL Oklahoma City, OK Waco, TX
I’m somewhat bemused to see my home state of Texas make the top of the list by state (5 cities), trailed closely by California (4). My source for this information is CNN Business in a story dated April 19, 2019 (and thus somewhat outdated, most likely). For my list of European cities, I turn to the European 5G Observatory, which keeps a running tally of such things (and is thus usually more up-to-date). Those cities are:
Amsterdam, NL Ghent, BE Oulu, FI Aveiro, PT L'Aquila, IT Patras, GR Barcelona, ES London, UK Prato, IT Bari, IT Madrid, ES Stockholm, SE Berlin, DE Malaga, ES Talinn, EE Bristol, UK Matera, IT Turin, IT Espoo, FI Milan, IT
Stunningly, Italy leads the pack in Europe with 6 out of 20 locations; Spain comes in second with 3. Neither of these countries, excuse my perhaps obvious biases, seems like a hotbed of wireless communications technology. I’m surprised.
Waiting for 5G? Keep Waiting…
Given the limited availability for 5G network service, and the cost and complexity of deployment, my best guess is that reasonable coverage in the developed world is at least 5 years out. Full coverage is probably double that long, or longer. Don’t hold your breath.
5G is interesting and powerful stuff, but it’s not going to replace the wired services that currently bring you streaming media any time real soon. I hope I’m wrong about this, but my gut feel at present is that breathless hype and immoderate excitement about 5G right now is off the mark. Stay tuned.
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.