This year represents a “tipping point” for consumer 5G adoption and enthusiasm, according to recent research from Global Wireless Services.

5G coverage is up, 5G device adoption has jumped markedly in the past year and people with 5G devices (even if they don’t have 5G access plans) spend 37 minutes more on their devices per day than users who don’t have 5G phones, says GWS CEO Paul Carter, summarizing a new look at consumer usage of and attitudes toward 5G.

Carter adds that this research is really meant to be more about digging into the state of 5G and consumer attitudes, rather than network benchmarking. After early deployments in which 5G access was limited, its performance was uneven (and sometimes worse than LTE) and consumers didn’t have much of an appetite for it, “What we’re seeing [in 2022] … is that 5G is finally here and it’s reached a tipping point,” Carter said. “The numbers are now significant in terms of coverage footprint, in terms of use across different demographic age groups and across our [user] panel, and what people are doing with it and how much they’re using the 5G network phone.”

Based on GWS’ analysis, the number of consumers who accessed 5G grew just 7% from 2020 to 2021, but between 2021 and 2022, that figure jumped 18%, to more than half (61%) of consumers. Coverage “dramatically improved” across all geographic area types, Carter said, with rural users’ 5G coverage expanding from 29% of rural users in 2020 to 65% this year; covered suburban users rising from 39% in 2020 to 76% in 2022; and 5G covered urban users going from 61% to 83% in the same timeframe.

“While there is still work to be done to ensure every inch of the country can access the network, it is encouraging to see significant improvements in previously uncovered areas and among various age groups,” Carter said. He added: “People are understanding [5G], they’ve heard about it enough and the number one reason why people are buying new phones is because they want 5G network accessibility and capability.”

Still, he added that when asked about what carrier network attributes consumers considered most important, their first priority was reliability, followed by speed and value for the money.

“Reliable networks still are crucial,” Carter said. “Fast networks are important, but still not the primary reason that people adopt the networks.”

GWS’ study was based on a combination of independent consumer polling plus insights from its opt-in OneMeasure Consumer Panel (OMCP) of US adult smartphone users, which the company says provides more than 50 million daily data points.

“It’s clear that 5G is here, people are happy with it, people are excited about it, and it’s those people who are using their devices more than ever,” Carter said.