5G is, by design, supposed to have performance advantages over 4G for mobile service provides and customers. For customers, the advantages include faster top speeds and lower latency. For mobile operators, the advantages include faster top speeds, lower latency, virtualized networks, which promise new features and lower cost, higher device density (supporting lots of sensors and internet of things devices) and lower cost per bit.
That list is a clue to why 5G will be adopted, perhaps even more rapidly than 4G: it benefits mobile operators more than consumers. In fact, an argument might be made that 5G benefits mobile operators almost to the exclusiion of consumers, at first. In the early going, using low-band spectrum, 5G might not be noticeably faster than 4G.
When mid-band and millimeter wave spectrum is used, speeds will be much faster than 4G, but in ways that do not actually benefit the use cases most people have for their phones. Big file downloads will be faster, but what percentage of time do people spend downloading big files?
At first, the early adopter desire to “get it first,” where the driver is as much status as anything else, will be the driver. But there will be indirect drivers as well, such as the value of “5G comes with your new service plan.” In many cases, 5G will be a “nice to have” attribute of a service plan, but it is the service plan that drives the switch.
Perhaps that will change over time, as new use cases develop. But it might also be the case that 5G gets adopted because it provides value for mobile operators, who will create incentives to adopt 5G, even if the actual experience advantages might be hard to demonstrate.
This can be seen in recent Opensignal measurements of speeds on new 5G networks. Where early tests of U.S. 5G rely exclusively on millimeter wave spectrum, the U.S. has the highest speed. Aside from big file downloads, the experience advantages are almost impossible to demonstrate. Faster might be better, but actual consumer smartphone apps cannot actually take advantage of the faster speeds, yet, since virtual reality and augmented reality are not yet widely used.
Conversely, not that in some markets where low-band 5G has been launched, the speeds are almost identical to 4G, so there is no actual experience advantage.
Compared to existing 4G, 5G in early days has doubled to nearly tripled real-world speeds in some cases, but had almost no impact on speed in a few cases. Again, the choice of spectrum, or availability, really do matter. Where low-band spectrum is the 5G choice, it sometimes does not life speeds very much. Where millimeter or mid-band spectrum is used, 5G speed advantages are clear, but app performance and user experience do not change much, with the exception of big file downloads.