The age of mmWave 5G sputters to a dusty death

According to OpenSignal, the average mobile user in the US today connects to a millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G network less than 1% of the time. That figure is true for Verizon, which has positioned mmWave 5G at the center of its “ultra wideband” nationwide marketing message for years, as well as T-Mobile, which has made barely a mention of mmWave 5G.

Indeed, the difference between the two companies’ mmWave 5G efforts sounds like a rounding error: According to OpenSignal, Verizon customers connect to a mmWave 5G network 0.7% of the time, while T-Mobile customers connect to a mmWave 5G network 0.2% of the time.


OpenSignal obtains its data from software installed in more than 100 million phones around the globe, which send back anonymized usage data to the company on a daily basis. OpenSignal’s latest mmWave 5G report features data collected from March to June, 2021.

“The lie of millimeter wave is dead,” agreed the financial analysts at New Street Research after hearing of Verizon’s latest mmWave buildout targets. After all, a Google study from 2019 indicated it would take roughly 13 million transmitters and $400 billion to deliver 100Mbit/s to 72% of the US population using 5G in mmWave spectrum.

Regardless, mmWave proponents march ever onwards. “The global deployment of 5G mmWave is now inevitable,” proclaimed Qualcomm’s new CEO, Cristiano Amon, in a recent release touting international momentum behind mmWave 5G. Qualcomm hopes to profit from the sale of mmWave chipsets to smartphone makers globally.

Most industry observers believe operations in mmWave spectrum will eventually find a place within a bigger 5G network. For example, mmWave 5G might never cover a standard American neighborhood, but it might be widely available in destinations like restaurants or offices.

But that kind of coverage likely will require new technologies that dramatically cut down the cost of mmWave deployments. And in the meantime, expect most mobile users in the US to remain connected to 5G on lowband and midband spectrum, leaving mmWave connections for an occasional trip to the airport or a football game.

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