As operators continue to roll out their 5G networks across the globe, we are discovering more and more that it is a mixed bag of goods, a patchwork of varying degrees of coverage, speed, and service level achieved. Some of the fastest and best-performing networks are cropping up in the least expected of places, while those countries that should be ahead of the field are often trailing behind.
In this Speedcheck study, we investigate two themes. First, we look at the 5G Speed-Price Index attributed to 257 unique 5G price plans that we studied from 72 mobile operators in 23 countries.
The Speed-Price Index, or SPI, is a metric unique to Speedcheck that we first introduced in a report published in June 2021 for mobile data in general (2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G combined). We calculated it by dividing the speed measured by Speedcheck users in each country by the average price consumers pay for a gigabyte (GB) of data in that country. We then ranked the countries according to their SPI.
Therefore, the SPI is a robust measure of the value for money consumers are getting.
In this present study, we go one step further by focusing only on 5G speed and pricing and drilling down beyond the country level to the mobile operator and even to the 5G price plans themselves. Again, we take the speed from tests carried out by Speedcheck users on each of the 72 operators’ 5G networks, from which we ranked the 257 5G price plans according to their respective SPI results. Thus, we get a good idea of which mobile operator’s 5G price plans offer the best value for money in practice.
The second theme we investigate is the nature of the 5G price plans themselves, without reference to the speed measured by Speedcheck’s users. Almost universally, sales and marketing departments of mobile operators have decided to segment their 5G service offering into different tiers. These tiers are priced individually with varying data allowances and allowed maximum speeds.
In one sense this is understandable. A 5-star hotel will offer rooms at different prices, with the penthouse suite on the top floor being the most expensive. However, no matter which room you book at whatever price, one expects a 5-star service once booked into a 5-star hotel.
Not so with 5G! Some of the lower-grade tariff packages that many operators offer are low quality and do not have a 5-star service. The worst offenders provide a pitiful amount of bundled data per month in the price plan, for example, 1 GB/month, or else artificially limit the download speed to an incomprehensible 1 or 2 Mbps. How does this fulfil the original marketing of 5G, that it promised much faster speeds than 4G? Well, it doesn’t.
We examine these price plan anomalies in detail, listing the best performers and worst offenders among the 257 price plans.
5G Speed-Price Index
Overview of the methodology and rationale used
For the 5G SPI study, Speedcheck selected 23 countries based on a combination of factors. These include their high GDP and reputation for being technologically advanced (examples being the USA, South Korea, Germany, Sweden, etc.). We chose others because they were unique in our previous general mobile data SPI study (Israel, Romania, etc.), making them especially relevant to this present 5G SPI study.
From these 23 countries, we selected 72 5G service providers and studied a total of 257 5G SIM-only consumer mobile data plans. For each of these unique price plans or tariff packages, we derived a monthly price per gigabyte (GB) of 5G data consumers are paying in their local currency, which we then converted into U.S. dollars. We also adjusted this price per GB using the Purchasing Power Index (PPI) for each country, which gives a more realistic view of what it truly costs the local consumer against an international reference point. We used Numbeo as a source for the PPI values per country.
Where the data allowance per month bundled within the tariff package was limited, that was the figure we used for calculating the price per GB. Therefore, if the SIM-only price plan costs $40 per month and the monthly data allowance is 40 GB of data, the price is $1 per GB. This figure is then divided into the 5G speed as measured by Speedcheck users on that 5G network operator to produce the 5G SPI in units of Mbps/$/GB for each mobile operator/price plan.
Speedcheck uses the median value of the cumulative user-measured internet speeds per operator, as we believe the median value offers a more representative picture.
Hence this 5G SPI study is on a per operator-price plan basis for all 257 price plans.
Where the data allowance per month is unlimited, it required a little more ingenuity. First, we looked at statistics from the OECD and other sources for mobile data usage per country globally. We extracted information for the 23 countries we examined, which were mainly for the year 2019. We projected those figures to 2021 using an assumed 25% growth in general mobile data usage per annum.
Then we added 20% on top for 5G data, as the speed and convenience of 5G will promote greater use of 5G data beyond that of 3G and 4G, as users will tend to use their 5G phones differently and more often. This phenomenon we refer to as the “5G uplift”, like a rising tide that raises all boats, both big and small.
From these statistics, we calculated that the median 5G data usage per month for 2021 for the countries that are part of our study is 15 GB. The highest was Finland, with 47 GB of 5G data.
We could not use the 15 GB as a blanket substitute for “Unlimited data” price plans, as that would penalise the other countries on our list who were higher up. For example, by using 15 GB for Finland, its 5G SPI would be incorrectly reduced by a factor of three.
Another option was choosing the highest figure from our data set, Finland, as a substitute for all unlimited data packages. It was 47 GB per month. However, we discovered that many operators offer a much larger volume of data in their limited data price plans.
Both Partner Israel and Pelephone Israel offer 1,000 GB/month of bundled data in their 5G tariffs. The vast majority of customers will consume nowhere near that amount of data per month, but replacing that with an arbitrary figure to calculate the price per GB would be a wrong call.
Another good benchmark example is Telia Denmark. Their fair usage policy (FUP) on at least two of their unlimited data 5G tariff packages cite 1,000 GB/month as the FUP threshold.
In the face of such astronomical figures, replacing all unlimited data tariff packages with just 47 GB would only serve to exclude most unlimited data tariffs from the top 20. It would unfairly and incorrectly penalise unlimited data price plans in our overall study.
In the end, the solution we chose was to use 1,000 GB of data as the substitute figure for all unlimited data price plans and use that figure to calculate the price per GB of data for those price plans.
The use of 1,000 GB normalises the study to the best performers in the set of countries and price plans we selected. Because we used the same value for unlimited price plans across the board, it placed the study in the best position to get the relative ranking of the 5G SPI across the 257 price plans studied, which is the main goal of the exercise.
5G SPI – the results
The Top 20 5G operators-price plans for SPI
Speedcheck’s Top 20 Ranking 5G Price Plans Globally for SPI
Note: Where the data allowance on the price plan is unlimited, we have substituted 1,000 GB for calculation purposes.
Of the 257 unique 5G price plans studied globally, Orange Romania’s Smart 15 tariff is ranked first place with an SPI of 120.69 (normalised value). By the way, the two decimal places are needed to compare with the lowest-ranked price plans, as we shall see later.
The same operator also appears in both third and seventh places with their Smart Plus 20 and Smart Plus 25 price plans, respectively. This impressive result from Orange Romania is in keeping with the level of service its 5G network is known to be delivering, as Speedcheck previously demonstrated in our report on 5G in Romania.
In Speedcheck's most recent cycle of speed measurements by our users (June and July), Orange Romania now has the fastest 5G network globally with a median speed of 479.15 Mbps. It has beaten SK Telecom South Korea into second place, whose measured speed is 462.24 Mbps.
LG U+ South Korea has the third-fastest speed in the world with 403.34 Mbps. However, LG U+ only managed to make it to 20th position in our 5G SPI global ranking because of the high cost of its 5G Premier Regular tariff, which is $105.84/month (PPI adjusted).
On the other hand, SK Telecom South Korea provides good price plans that are a little less expensive, resulting in four of their tariffs making it to 5th, 8th, 11th, and 14th positions in our ranking list. And so, South Korea is undoubtedly well represented even though mobile data is generally quite expensive in the country.
For example, SK Telecom’s 5GX Platinum price plan $139.25/month (PPI adjusted), KT’s 5G Super Plan Premium Choice tariff costs $144.82/month, a price matched by LG U+ 5G Signature plan. And remember, these are for SIM-only plans with no phone included in the deal. This is why none of these price plans made it into the top 20 5G SPI list despite Korea having the second and third fastest 5G networks in the world.
In second place in our 5G SPI list is Sunrise Switzerland’s Start plan, which has the second cheapest price plan on the list at an incredible $24.87/month. For that, you get a very respectable 5G speed, 248.62 Mbps according to Speedcheck users’ measurements on Sunrise, and unlimited data (which we have substituted with 1,000GB for calculation purposes).
Therefore, it is not surprising that Sunrise Switzerland also appears in 13th and 19th positions with more of their great 5G price plans.
In fourth place is Three UK’s Unlimited Data Pack having the lowest price on the list at $16.38/month. For that, you get 144.93 Mbps, as measured by Speedcheck's Three UK users, which is a decent speed, at least in terms of practical achieved 5G speeds and not theoretical 5G speeds. It also comes with unlimited data.
One problem with this tariff is that it is a 24-month contract. As we shall explore later, it is debatable whether 24-months contracts are suitable for consumers in the fast-growing world of 5G, where data consumption is increasing exponentially year on year. At least they should be very flexible to allow the customer to upgrade before the end of the contract period without undue penalties.
Never fear, Three UK also offers a 12-month contract on the same tariff, which appears in position 15 of the list. But why the drop of 11 places for the 12-month option? Because it costs twice as much as the 24-month contract.
As for the others on the list, Vodafone Romania comes in at 6th and 12th positions with two of their tariffs. As explained in our previous report on Romania, this network provides an excellent 5G level of service but is still trailing behind the trailblazer that is Orange Romania.
An honourable mention must go to DNA Finland, which occupies 9th, 10th, and 18th positions with three of their tariffs. DNA provides a decent 5G speed of 253.66 Mbps with unlimited data all at a reasonable price.
Finland is a country to keep an eye on for the trajectory of 5G in the future. According to the OECD, Finland has the highest mobile data usage of the countries they included in their study. Other reports suggest that 5G data usage growth in some Nordic countries is 40% per annum. Another Finish Operator, Elisa, made it to 16th position in the ranking.
Finally, Vodafone Australia occupies 17th position on the list, so the southern hemisphere is also represented in the top 20.
Noticeable by their absence from the top 20 list are the United States, Germany and France. In the case of the U.S., the reason is the speeds measured are generally trailing behind the leaders in the field. In Frances’s case, the reason is down to the generally very high prices for 5G data. For Germany, it is a combination of relatively high prices and below-par speeds measured.
The first American operator to appear in the ranking list is GCI Wireless, whose FastPhone tariff appears in 58th place. The first French operator to appear in the list is Orange France, whose “Go illimités 5G” price plan is ranked 83rd globally. It costs $152.51/month (PPI adjusted). The first German operator to appear on the list is O2 Germany, whose "Allrounder – Free Unlimited Smart" tariff is ranked 59th globally.
The Bottom 20 5G operators-price plans for SPI
The following list is arranged with the worst ranking entries at the bottom. Therefore, while the bottom entry is the worst performer for 5G SPI, the top of the list is the 20th worst performer.
Speedcheck’s Bottom 20 Ranking 5G Price Plans Globally for SPI
It is now apparent why it was necessary to maintain two decimal places in the SPI of the top 20, for comparison purposes. Contrast Orange Romania’s Smart 15 plan with an SPI of 120.69, with Telenor Bulgaria’s MOMAΛ+ 0.2 GB (200 MB) plan with an SPI of just 0.01, which has the worst SPI of the 257 price plans analysed globally. And its sister tariff, with 600 MB (0.6 GB decimal conversion), has an SPI ranking that is the second-worst in the world.
In the next section on 5G Price Plans, we shall examine why tariffs with such low data allowances per month should generally never be allowed anywhere near a 5G network. And these two tariffs come with 24-month contracts to boot. Imagine being tied into a 5G contract for 24 months when all you get is a 200 MB allowance per month - on a 5G network! And yes, that is megabytes.
Surprisingly, Vodafone UK occupies the third-worst position globally with its RED 1 GB tariff 30-day tariff. You get 1 GB of bundled data allowance per month, relatively poor speed of 84.39 Mbps by global 5G standards, as measured by Speedcheck’s Vodafone UK users, all for a price of $39.24/month, which is not cheap. The same tariff on a 12-month contract secures the 7th worst SPI position in the world (251st out of 257), costing $19.63, while the 24-month version occupies the 9th worst-ranked position (249th out of 257).
It is even more surprising that members of the Vodafone global group occupy five positions in the worst 5G SPI ranking, Vodafone Netherlands and Vodafone Germany appearing in 15th and 17th worst SPI positions for their respective price plans. It is common knowledge that Vodafone has been a pioneering company in mobile telecommunications and is a leading mobile service provider in the world today. And yet, there is still much room for improvement in 5G tariffs such as these.
For the rest of the list, it is a combination of high prices, appallingly low data allowances per month, and sometimes low measured 5G speed that consigns these operators' 5G price plans to the bottom 20. For a combination of these reasons, NTT DoCoMo Japan appears four times, occupying 18th, 16th, 10th, and 4th worst-ranked positions in the world for 5G SPI. So too, four price plans from Softbank Japan are ranked 20th, 8th, 6th, and 5th worst 5G SPIs in the world.
Finally, Movistar Spain’s Contract 2 tariff is ranked 19th worst globally, while Yoigo Spain’s La Sinfín 5G is 12th worst. Verizon Wireless’ 5GB price plan completes the list in 247th position, or 11th worst-ranked 5G SPI globally of the countries-price plans we studied.
In summary, one thing above all that binds these price plans to the bottom 20 is the small amount of bundled data allowance per month in the 5G tariff bundle. The second thing is the relatively high price. But what is surprising, especially for the global leading mobile service provider names who find themselves on this bottom list, is their 5G network speed attained does not measure up with the best in the world. For example, Vodafone UK, Vodafone Netherlands, and Softbank Japan speeds all lag well behind Orange Romania, Vodafone Romania, KT Korea, and LG U+ Korea.
One possible solution that would immediately increase the 5G SPI results for these operators’ price plans is to offer more bundled gigabytes of data per month on their lower-level or basic 5G tariffs without increasing the price exorbitantly. In the following section, we will look at what the minimum data allowance ought to be on a 5G network.
5G Price Plans - Best Performers and Worst Offenders
5G price plans - Best Performers
We now look at the 5G price plans themselves without reference to the speed measured by Speedcheck users on each operator's network. The metrics used in this section, including speed, are all taken from the price plans. Consequently, this is strictly a 5G price plan-only analysis.
From our study into 257 5G price plans from 72 operators, we list below the best performers in the category of service-level performance.
5G Price Plans – List of Best All Round Level of Service
In putting together this list of the best performers in the 5G price plans category, we considered the price, the bundled GBs allowed per month, the advertised maximum permitted speed in the price plan, the FUP (fair usage policy) where available, and any hidden catches.
Again, the prices are all adjusted using the Purchasing Power Index (PPI) for each country, normalised against the United States.
For a price plan to be included in this list of best performers, we have chosen to cap the price at $70/month (PPI adjusted). This means that there may be even better 5G services offered by other operators, but which we have excluded from the Best Performers list because of their very high prices (>$70/month).
For example, Orange France offers an excellent service with their Go illimités 5G price plan. It boasts excellent speeds of up to 2.1 Gbps download and 126 Mbps upload, with unlimited data and 100 GB of roaming thrown in for good measure. So why is it excluded? Because it costs $152.51 per month (PPI adjusted) after the initial reduction expires.
This seems like an exorbitant price for any ordinary consumer to have to pay for a SIM-only subscription. It is so off the scale that it would almost merit entry into the worst offenders list. However, because of its excellent service we shall leave it only as a comment here. Similarly, SFR France Unlimited 5G tariff offers a great service but again very expensive at $128.44 per month.
Likewise, more price plans from South Korea, which has some of the fastest 5G networks globally, would have made it into the best list but for their very high prices.
Also note that given the many weighted variables involved in choosing this list, it is difficult to rank them precisely relative to each other. Therefore, the list is best viewed as an overall picture of what a 5-star 5G service looks like. However, we have chosen a winner and four runners-up.
Considering the price point and the service level offered within the tariff, the winner is Orange Romania’s Smart 15 tariff package. Not only is the price set to a reasonable value by international comparison, their advertised maximum attainable speeds of 1200 Mbps download (DL) and 100 Mbps upload (UL) are proper 5G speeds.
According to the most recent 5G speed tests, as measured by Speedcheck users, Orange Romania now has the fastest 5G network globally. Therefore, their advertised maximum available DL speed can be trusted.
The tariff is also based on a rolling monthly subscription which is a big plus for many people.
In second place is Vodafone Netherlands. This is remarkable if for no other reason than Vodafone Netherlands also has a tariff appearing in our Worst Offenders list below. But with their RED Unlimited tariff, they got it right, offering unlimited data at an excellent maximum speed, all for under $50 a month. Having said that, their fair usage policy (FUP) is a little confusing, to say the least, as per the comment in the table.
In third, fourth, and fifth places are Elisa Finland's Mobile Broadband 5G 600M, Orange Romania’s Smart Plus 20, and Telia Finland’s Unlimited 5G 1000M, respectively.
The Mobile Broadband 5G 600M package from Elisa Finland offers unlimited data at a maximum speed of 600 Mbps DL and 20 GB of EEA roaming, for around $45 per month.
Orange Romania appears again in fourth place with their Smart Plus 20 tariff. At $52.95, it is somewhat more expensive than their Smart 15 tariff but still represents a very high level of service and experience for the consumer. It too is a rolling monthly contract.
Finally, in fifth place, Telia Finland’s Unlimited 5G 1000M offers excellent service on a 12-month contract for $64.42/month.
In the next section, we shall look at the "worst offenders" in the category of 5G price plans. It behooves such operators to look closely at these best performers and see what a 5-star 5G mobile service offering looks like.
But before we move on, a few comments on the rest of the field in the category of best performers.
The list from sixth place and following are not presented in any particular order. However, a few deserve special mention.
Pelephone Israel’s 1000 GB 5G tariff offers a huge amount of bundled data per month, namely 1,000 GB, for probably one of the lowest prices in the world at $25.54 per month on a 24-month contract. The problem is that they do not advertise the maximum 5G speed available on this tariff.
From the data collected from Speedcheck's users in Israel, Pelephone has a 5G speed of 45.03 Mbps (median). This probably means that Pelephone is not artificially restricting their speed to very low values, such as 2 Mbps. However, consumers are always advised to ask these questions of their service provider before purchasing any 5G contract. Speed is critical on 5G, and the operators are obliged to inform you if they are restricting the speed on individual tariffs.
Similarly, for Partner Israel, which also has very low prices and offers 1,000 GB of included data per month, but again the maximum speed available is unknown.
A special mention goes to Vodafone Ireland, one of the few operators who clearly state on their website in respect of their unlimited data offering, "Our unlimited data means unlimited. There's no fair usage policy or caps on your data." Perhaps Vodafone Netherlands should be a little clearer in the wording of their FUP (see comment in table).
As for tethering - or using one’s phone as a WiFi hotspot to connect another device to the internet - again, it is a mixed bag. Some operators allow it without restrictions, others with limitations. Others still do not allow it at all except for specific tablet-with-SIM-in-handset tethering tariffs.
For example, Three Ireland’s service terms for their unlimited data states, “The Service is available for use with your SIM Card in your handset only. Tethering or use of your handset as, or the SIM in conjunction with, a modem is not allowed, except in the case of Three customers who have subscribed to a Three handset and Tablet bundle offering. In the event that we identify that you have breached this condition, Three reserves the right to suspend, modify or restrict your use of the Service or to withdraw your access to the Service at its absolute discretion.”
Vodafone Australia’s tethering policy is a little confusing when it says, “Tethering permitted but for personal devices only and not as a substitute for a home internet service.”
One must assume that what they mean is only tablets etc. can be used when tethering, and not a home computer, which is also called a personal computer by the way. One of the beauties of tethering is that you can connect your laptop to the internet when out and about without having to worry about the availability or security of a public WiFi hotspot. Do we assume Vodafone Australia also bans this?
If they are worried about consumers using their 5G handset to replace their home internet service, it would be far better if Vodafone Australia caps their tethering data allowance to a limit they deem acceptable, for example 10 GB. Instead, they use woolly words that can confuse customers in a 5G world that is already beyond complicated.
Finally, Telia Estonia’s Piramatu tariff offers an excellent service but failed to get into our top five because its price point is just a little high at $72.55.
5G price plans - Worst Offenders
5G Price Plans - List of Worst Offenders for Worst All Round Level of Service
The worst offenders were selected based on one or more of the following criteria:
• The monthly data allowance is so low it is not appropriate for a 5G service.
• The maximum speed allowed is artificially permanently limited by the operator to such a low value that it is inappropriate for a true 5G service, or the speed is not mentioned at all (“unknown”).
• The price is inordinately high for the service, in addition to a relatively low monthly data allowance or poor maximum speed.
Where the overall service level of the price plan is excellent, but the price is exorbitant, we have omitted these from both the best performers and worst offenders’ lists, as explained in the case of SFR France and Orange France under the Best Performers’ list above.
Because there are three variables in the criteria, it is again challenging to rank the worst performers relative to each other. But certain ones do stand out.
First is Telenor Bulgaria, whose MOMAΛ+ 13.99 BGN per month tariff allows a total of 200 MB of data per month for $18.74 (PPI adjusted). Again, that is megabytes.
We shall explain later why even 1 or 2 GB monthly allowance is inappropriate for a 5G service, but for now, we can all agree that 200 MB is most definitely inappropriate. And for $25.44/month, their MOMAΛ+ 18.99 BGN per month tariff allows 600 MB.
Telenor Bulgaria also offers several other very good price plans on 5G, including unlimited data. Furthermore, there is a hint that even Telenor Bulgaria sees these two tariffs as exceptional cases. At the bottom of their advertising panel for the two tariffs, they ask the visitor to call a certain freephone number for more information. By contrast, at the bottom of the more robust tariffs, a simple click-icon says "Choose."
Such a low-grade tariff should not be on the 5G network but is much better suited to a 2G/3G/4G environment only. It is also interesting that Telenor Bulgaria is the only network operator we have come across who calibrate their data allowance in megabytes, including for the equivalent of 1 GB and above, which they render as 1,000 MB, 3,000 MB, and 20,000 MB, etc. There is also no mention in the tariff of the maximum speed available on their 5G network.
Furthermore, their prices for these two sub-optimal tariffs are not cheap. Contrast Telenor’s $25.44 for 600 MB of data a month with Pelephone Israel who offers 1,000 GB, that is 1,024,000 MB of data, or 1,706 times that of Telenor’s, for almost the same price, $25.54/month. Also, Partner Israel’s 1,000GB/month allowance for $29.80.
Next up is Vodafone UK’s RED 1 GB tariff, which limits the monthly bundled data allowance to 1 GB of data.
Now, there is some confusion in the advertising on their website. The flagship banner for this tariff clearly states “5G Ready” and “No extra charge” for adding 5G. However, as you dig more deeply into the fine print, a general statement explains that for tariffs with 5 GB or above monthly allowance, access will be provided to 5G. This implies that anything below 5 GB will have no 5G access.
The world of 5G is complicated enough for the ordinary consumer, and so we must champion the consumer who will see clearly that the flagship banner for this tariff says: “5G ready” and “at no extra cost”.
For one of the most prominent mobile network operators in the world, it is inconceivable why Vodafone UK would allow a tariff with a maximum of 1 GB of data per month anywhere near a 5-star 5G network. Their 3G and 4G LTE networks can provide as good if not better a level of service for that 1 GB tariff.
Other members of the club of “the 1 GB of 5G data allowance” are NTT DoCoMo Japan’s 5G Gigalight (1GB) and Softbank Japan’s Mini Fit Plan+ (1GB).
Another irksome anomaly with these low-grade tariffs is that many fail to mention what speed is available on the 5G network. Examples from the table above are Telenor Bulgaria, Vodafone UK, Softbank Japan, and NTT DoCoMo Japan.
5G and speed are synonymous. Therefore, to neglect to mention speed – either as an estimated maximum 5G speed on their network, or a general comment like “Maximum 5G speed available”, or, more importantly, whether the operator is artificially limiting the speed – is a marked failure on the operator’s part.
If the speed allowed is a proper 5G speed, then in all probability, the 1 GB or 2 GB of data will be consumed within a shorter period because of the 5G uplift. Consumers will begin to use their data allowance more often with the convenience of 5G speeds.
On the other hand, if the data allowance and speed allowed on 5G is limited to the same as that on the 4G tarif, the customer would get a better quality and level of service if they were to avoid 5G and remain on the 4G network only.
This would seem to be the case with Vodafone's Red 1 GB tariff. The reason is that on 4G only, the customer would have better coverage, there would be no need to register on the 5G network, and no need to hand off a data session to 4G when the handset goes out of 5G coverage. All of this would save on handset battery life.
Moving on to KT Korea 5G Save tariff, we believe it is misleading to advertise this tariff as “unlimited data” when the speed is reduced to 400 Kbps after the first 5 GB have been used.
Contrast this with the LG U+ (South Korea) tariff "5G Light Senior" (over 65s), which has 8 GB monthly allowance, which, when consumed, the speed is reduced to 1 Mbps with unlimited data for the rest of the month. But LG U+ markets their tariff as 8GB allowance, not unlimited data, and for the same price, $50.13/month. That is how it is done!
This brings us to our next example on our list, Vodafone Italy’s Infinity price plan, which caps the data speed at 2 Mbps DL, although the data allowance, in this case, is unlimited. Now, 2 Mbps is not an extremely poor speed for 3G. But for proper 5G it is atrocious. Again, this type of tariff belongs on the 3G/4G network, where the consumer will get a better quality of service.
So why have we included Vodafone Netherlands Smart M plan in the list of worst offenders when they offer a proper 5G speed of an estimated maximum value of 1 Gbps, which is among the best in our list of 257 tariffs globally? We have included this tariff in the list of worst offenders because of their 1.5 GB monthly data allowance, which is a mismatch for such an incredible speed.
If allowed to personify a 5-star, 5G, 1 Gbps speed for a moment, we could imagine it saying to itself it is not worth its while getting out of bed in the morning to feed on the crumbs of just 1.5 GB a month. It would simply go on strike. Why feed a 1-star food to a 5-star colossus?
Translating this into real 5G life, a 5-star 5G network with 1 Gbps would consume a customer's 1.5 GB of data in no time at all because of the 5G uplift.
And could Vodafone Netherlands not have made it 2 GB, or 3? Furthermore, once the customer exceeds the 1.5 GB before the end of the month, they are charged €2 per 200 MB. And it's a minimum of 12 months contract, with a 24-month one also available. Again, 5G 24-month contracts need to be very flexible with no penalties for upgrading any time within the 24 months. Even one year down the road and 1.5 GB will likely not be enough for the same consumer in the context of the exponential growth of 5G data globally per annum.
Perhaps Vodafone UK, Vodafone Netherlands, and Vodafone Italy could take a leaf from Vodafone Romania’s book on avoiding such poor low-end tariffs on 5G.
A word on 24-month contracts
A separate brief comment is included here as 24-month contracts appear among the best and worst tariffs.
With the projected exponential growth in 5G data use over the next few years and the fact that ordinary consumers will use their 5G phones differently and more often because of 5G speeds and convenience, it is likely that for those consumers who are now satisfied with an allowance of 1 GB or 2 GB per month will find this data amount insufficient to meet their needs as 5G grows.
Imagine such customers being tied into 24-month contracts? Granted, most operators will allow an upgrade in price plans within the contract period because they have sales targets to meet, but is there a hidden penalty involved for such an upgrade?
Consumers need to be aware of this and not rush into 24-month contracts just because they are cheaper per month, without understanding the fine print and the penalties for changing before the end of the contract term, and indeed whether you can change at all. Operators need to ensure that 5G 24-month contracts are more flexible than usual so that 5G consumers are not unduly penalised when they do need to upgrade to a tariff that includes more data allowance per month.
What should the minimum data allowance and speed be on a 5G tariff?
What is 5G Speed?
When discussing 5G speed it is unprofitable to refer to theoretical maximum 5G speed when these are not currently achieved on any 5G network. As 5G is still being rolled out, it is still in its infancy. Therefore, what we should refer to is the best 5G speed in practice.
For this, a key pointer is that the high-end download speed is normally pitched at 1 Gbps and above (some quote 750 Mbps and above) for 5G. As for the average 5G DL speeds, they are pitched at several hundred Mbps.
Several 5G networks now achieve these speeds, such as Orange Romania and Orange France, whose advertised maximum 5G speeds are 1.2 Gbps and 2.1 Gbps, respectively.
However, many other networks do not currently achieve 1 Gbps DL speed on their 5G networks. Therefore, we must be flexible in defining "5G speeds", as the technology is still being rolled out.
KPN Netherlands state that the maximum download speed available on their 5G network is 500 Mbps while their average download speed is 240 Mbps. The maximum upload speed is 100 Mbps, while the average upload speed is 50 Mbps. KPN also reveal that these speeds will increase further when they purchase new 5G frequencies in the 2022 auction.
Therefore, we must accept a more practical definition of 5G speeds while it is still in its early days. A useful definition is that the maximum and average speeds of 5G attained are an order of magnitude higher than those of 4G/LTE. Therefore, KPN's 500 Mbps DL top speed and 240 Mbps average speed are a good benchmark for current 5G speeds. This sets the 5G network apart from 4G maximum and average speeds attained.
By this definition, 10 Mbps, which many operators are offering in their 5G price plans, is not a true 5G speed, even by today's standards, while 5G is still in its infancy. You can easily get 10 Mbps on any ordinary 4G network.
What should the minimum monthly data allowance and speed be on 5G tariffs?
There will come a point in the not-too-distant future when there is an explosion of 5G data usage, as 5G networks mature. This will occur in both the vertical services, like M2M, V2X and IoT traffic, and in 5G consumer behaviour because of the 5G uplift. Some experts are forecasting that by 2026, 5G will carry half of the world's mobile data.
So, what should the minimum data allowance and the minimum speed be on a 5G tariff?
In the absence of any known international debate on the issue, a reasonable place to start would be between 5 GB and 10 GB of bundled data with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps on the lowest 5G tariff.
The higher this minimum value, the more 5G resources will be available for 5G enthusiasts who have bought a 5G phone specifically to enjoy the greater power, speed, performance, and service level of the 5G network. And the higher the minimum threshold for a 5G service, the less 5G operators will have to include in their policies such statements as, “We reserve the right to limit the speed temporarily in case of congestion”.
This is especially true while 5G networks are still being rolled out and before they come to full maturity and geographical coverage. We can do without – with all due respect - the clutter of having 1 GB / 2 Mbps tariffs appearing on 5G networks.
As we have shown, low-grade price plans with small data allowances and low speeds would be better served on a 4G network only, compared with the level of service they would get by adding 5G access.
For those operators who allow existing 4G tariffs - with 1 GB or 2 GB and/or low speeds of 2 Mbps - access to 5G, the operator should increase the data allowance to between 5 GB and 10 GB and increase the speed to a minimum of 10 Mbps. If an additional charge is necessary for this, then so be it. All the better if the operators keep that extra charge to a minimum, such as $5/month. Give the consumer something for adopting 5G, and a little taste of a 5G service.
Unlimited data packages and fair usage policies (FUPs)
Understandably, operators want to protect their networks from abuse from some customers’ activities, leading to network congestion. This is even more so the case with the power and speed of 5G networks.
Without a fair usage policy, a small business with five employees could take out a single non-business SIM-only plan and use a 5G phone as a hotspot to connect their LAN server to the internet via 5G. Thereby, the business could use vast amounts of data and get a reasonable internet speed, all on the back of an ordinary consumer 5G SIM-only price plan.
We would all agree that this would be an abuse of the system and should be stopped. And so FUPs should be worded clearly, indicating the operator will take action against such abusive behaviour.
The problem is when the FUP is not worded clearly but uses general terms, yet with severe penalties for breaking the FUP. Then, a conscientious consumer will always be on edge, wondering whether, after streaming the last Netflix movie, they have now finally broken the FUP and will be penalised. And what if the film was in 4K, eating 7 GB of data per hour?
Let us look at few specific examples.
KT South Korea has a well-worded FUP. They first mention, “In case of causing network overload, data rate control may be applied” Then, they refer to their “Data FUP (Fair Data Use Policy)”, which says:
Data FUP (Fair Use Policy): If you cause network overload as follows, your use may be limited/blocked, or your contract may be terminated.
Use may be restricted/blocked or terminated if it causes network overload as follows.
In case the customer uses it for business purposes by providing it to a third party (including a service provider that provides a network or software for the purpose of content transmission or mediating content transmission) for a fee or free of charge and uses it for business.
Install a server (Web/FTP/Mail/News/Game, etc.) or temporary storage device (including when using a personal PC) and provide it to the person or a third party so that they can use or use it for business purposes, etc.
When using the service by configuring a separate sub-network or connecting more than the number of terminals agreed with the company to use the service.
In case of use other than personal use as CCTV, M2M (Machine to Machine, connection between devices) equipment, etc.
In case the quality of general users deteriorates due to network load caused by using services that cause large amounts of data in a short time.
This is clear and comprehensive, and many would agree justified. It eliminates the worry of possibly breaking the FUP by watching too many movies online for personal use.
That said, we have already pointed out that KT’s 5G Save tariff should not be advertised as “unlimited data” when the speed is reduced to 400 Kbps once the first 5GB has been consumed. No one is perfect!
Then we note the wording of eir Mobile Ireland’s FUP for unlimited data on their eir mobile complete – 30 day price plan, when it says “No limits 5G data” on the advertising banner:
“No Limits data: Fair usage applies.”
FUP Para 13: "The fair usage threshold in relation to data usage for the Plans is 120GB. Should your data usage exceed 120GB in a billing cycle and eir Mobile considers that other users are likely to be adversely affected; we reserve the right to limit the data service. eir Mobile continuously monitors network performance to ensure that the service received by the Customer is not impacted through a minority of users placing high demand on network resources (e.g., large bandwidths over long periods)."
And FUP Para 15: "Data is restricted to personal use only. eir Mobile reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this service without notice should eir Mobile reasonably believe, at its sole discretion, that the service is being used for commercial purposes."
Why does eir Mobile Ireland not simply advertise a limited 120 GB allowance per month instead of calling it “No limits data”, when their FUP clearly says it most certainly is limited.
Although 120 GB is an excellent monthly allowance, if you do most of your personal internet activity on your 5G phone, you would be surprised how many gigabytes you get through in a month.
But there is another anomaly. Some operators allow unlimited monthly data but state that they do not have a FUP threshold. For example, according to Vodafone Ireland, "Our unlimited data means unlimited. There's no fair usage policy or caps on your data." This is great and highly commendable, but it begs the question why other operators cannot do the same.
Perhaps this is one of the main reasons some operators avoid "unlimited data" on their 5G price plans but instead include huge data allowances per month. This precludes the need for having a detailed FUP other than to say, in general, that the operator reserves the right to restrict usage if their network becomes congested.
A good example is Cellcom Israel who offers 500 GB on some of their 5G tariffs. Again, Partner Israel offers 1,000 GB on some 5G tariffs, as does Pelephone Israel.
On at least two of their 5G tariffs, Telia Denmark offers unlimited data, but their FUP says that the maximum allowed is 1,000 GB. Telia’s explanation is worth quoting, “As a starting point, with a ONE subscription you have free data. To avoid misuse, Telia has chosen to set a data limit of 1,000 GB of data per month. The limit of 1,000 GB is set based on what Telia considers to be the maximum consumption of data for a mobile user.”
Why does Telia consider the very noble figure of 1,000 GB to be the maximum data consumption for a user per month, but eir Mobile Ireland believes it to be 120 GB? There is a big difference between the two.
Summary and Recommendation
Summary of the results
This study has proven to be both revealing and surprising in equal measure. We have come to discover how some of the great trailblazers of 5G are to be found in unexpected places, while some of the big-brand names are trailing behind, having poor measured 5G speeds and some low-grade 5G tariffs.
With a Speed-Price Index of 120.69 for their Smart 15 price plan, Orange Romania beats all competition to become the global winner of Speedcheck’s 5G SPI ranking. Orange, who recently beat SK South Korea into second place for having the fastest 5G network globally, also occupies 3rd SPI position with another price plan.
In second place is Sunrise Switzerland’s Start 20 tariff, two of whose other price plans appear lower in the top 20 list.
Although South Korea is well-represented in the top 20, the highest any Korean operator made is 5th position, namely, SK South Korea’s price plan. Despite having some of the fastest networks globally, Korea’s price plans do not compete with Orange Romania or Sunrise Switzerland because mobile prices in Korea are relatively high compared to internationally.
DNA Finland appears three times on the Top 20 with three of their tariffs.
Countries that are noticeable by their absence from the top 20 are The United States, Germany, and France. This is down to several factors, including disappointingly poor 5G speeds (United States), the high price of data (France), or a combination of both (Germany).
As for the operator price plans with the lowest SPI, Telenor Bulgaria’s MOMAΛ+ 200 MB and 600 MB allowance take last place and second-last place with an SPI of 0.1 and 0.2 respectively. The reason should not be surprising – they offer the lowest data allowance per month on a 24-month contract at a price that compares with Pelephone Israel, who offer 1,000 GB or 1,024,000 MB of data per month for a similar price to Telenor’s.
What comes as a surprise is the frequency with which big-name operators appear in the bottom 20 SPI ranking. The Vodafone global group members occupy five positions in the worst 5G price plan SPI list, namely Vodafone UK with three of their tariffs, Vodafone Germany, and Vodafone Netherlands. Four price plans from each of NTT DoCoMo Japan and Softbank Japan also appear in the bottom 20.
Surprisingly, NTT DoCoMo’s 5G Gigalight (1GB) tariff comes in 254th place (254th worst out of 257) while Vodafone UK’s RED 1 GB (30 Days) finds itself in 255th place.
The number one thing that binds these price plans to the bottom 20 is the small amount of bundled data per month included in the 5G tariff. The second is the relatively high price. But what is surprising is that some of the global leading mobile service providers, such as Vodafone UK, Vodafone Netherlands, and Softbank Japan, are on this bottom list because they are not attaining very high speeds on their 5G networks. They still lag well behind the fastest networks in the world, like Orange Romania, Vodafone Romania, KT Korea, and LG U+ Korea.
Moving on to look at the 5G price plans on their own merit, without reference to the speed of Speedcheck’s users, Orange Romania again comes out on top of the world with their Smart 15 5G price plan.
Vodafone Netherlands’ RED Unlimited tariff made it into second place with a good package deal that is reasonably priced. However, the same operator also has a price plan on the worst offenders list!
Finland is well represented again among the best performers, with two price plans each from Elisa, Telia and DNA appearing on the list.
Pelephone Israel and Partner Israel both deserve special mention as they offer 1,000 GB of bundled data per month at some of the lowest prices in the world. One drawback with their price plans is they fail to mention the available speed on their 5G networks. Speed is synonymous with 5G, and consumers should be well informed about the available speed - especially whether the operator limits it.
As for the worst 5G price plans in our global study, again Telenor Bulgaria’s MOMAΛ+ 200 MB and 600 MB allowance take worst and second-worst positions. This is primarily because of their extremely low data allowances per month (200 MB and 600 MB, respectively) which also do not come cheap. Furthermore, the tariff does not mention what the maximum speed available on their 5G network is.
Surprisingly, many big-name operators again appear in the worst offenders list for 5G price plans, including several members of the Vodafone Group (UK, Italy, and Netherlands), Softbank Japan (twice), and NTT DoCoMo Japan.
Again, the primary thing that makes the worst 5G tariffs stand out is the meagre data allowance they offer per month.
We mentioned that Vodafone Netherlands also has a price plan in the worst offender list, their Start M tariff. It offers 1.5 GB of data with a maximum speed of 1 Gbps. This would seem to be a huge mismatch and, with the 5G uplift, surely that amount of data would be consumed in no time at all on a 1 Gbps connection.
Because of the explosion in 5G data that is projected to happen over the next few years, a 1 or 2 GB allowance that will meet the needs of a 4G consumer now is likely not to last very long on 5G - assuming 5G speeds are available.
This is why we recommend a minimum of between 5GB and 10 GB of data monthly allowance on the lowest or most basic 5G tariffs, with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps. Anything lower than that would probably be better served by remaining on 3G/4G networks only, where they would receive a better quality and level of service.
Some purists would even say that 1 GB / 2 Mbps tariffs on a 5G network insult both 5G technology and the 5G consumer. What benefit is it to the consumer to have access to a 5G network yet enjoy none of its great features, except for possibly a lower latency whose use is lost anyway on a 1 GB of data and 2 Mbps tariff? And what about all the marketing supposedly saying that 5G promises high speeds and performance?
For low-grade 4G tariffs with 2 GB of data and/or low speeds of 2 Mbps that are now allowed access to 5G, again, we recommend the data allowance be increased to between 5 GB and 10 GB and the speed should again be increased to 10 Mbps. This will incur an extra charge beyond the 4G tariff, but we recommend that the operator keeps this extra charge to a minimum, say $5/month, as a reward to the customer for adopting 5G. Then, beyond 10 Mbps, the operator is free to charge extra at standard rates.
If the 2 GB and 2 Mbps metrics of the 4G tariff are simply replicated on 5G, the customer will receive a poorer quality of service on 5G compared with their remaining on 3G/4G only. The reason for this is the 5G handset will use more power contending with the 5G network and service, coupled with the fact that the 5G network has a much smaller coverage area than 3G/4G.
We recommend that operators use a clearly worded fair usage policy (FUP) so the customer is in no doubt. Also, the use of so-called "unlimited" data allowance marketing whose FUP states that the data is limited, is questionable. Better to use the limit as stated in the FUP in the tariff metrics.
As for tethering, advertising that says tethering is allowed only on personal devices makes little sense. If the purpose of this is to avoid the customer using their 5G as a replacement for a home internet service, then the solution would be to limit the volume of data on the tethering package rather than writing woolly words in an industry that is already beyond complicated.
In this report, we have also come across some consumer 5G SIM-only price plans (no phone included) costing in the region of $140 and $150/month (PPI adjusted). These prices are not justified in most people's eyes, and we can scarcely understand who can afford them. Examples are Orange France, SFR France, KT South Korea and LG U+ South Korea. We see no reason why operators cannot provide an excellent 5G service for $70 (PPI adjusted) or less, as many do currently.
If at least some of our advice is taken up, we should see many more operators scoring higher on their 5G SPI ranking, and a lot more 5G price plans that begin to live up to the original promise of 5G, with a 5-star level of service, at prices that don't break the consumer’s bank.
5G SPI - Table of 257 5G Plans
Note: Where the data allowance on the price plan is unlimited, we have substituted 1,000 GB for calculation purposes.