5G Wireless Hype Overshadows Fact Nobody Actually Knows What 5G Is Yet

from the first! dept

At the Mobile World Congress convention in Spain last week, one of the most well-hyped products in convention history was something that doesn’t technically exist. Fifth generation wireless (5G) was all the rage at the show, with multiple carriers promising they were in various stages of bringing the new ultra-fast wireless standard to consumers. The problem is that while engineers have a general idea of some of the technologies that may be included in the final standard when approved, nobody actually knows what 5G is yet. And when it does finally get solidified, it’s likely to be 2020 or later before actual launches occur.

For marketing departments, this apparently wasn’t a problem, but an opportunity. Verizon immediately set to work well ahead of any standard ratification, telling anybody who’ll listen that the company has begun trialing 5G wireless service capable of 1 Gbps, with deployment scheduled for sometime in 2017. That resulted in a lot of press outlets crowing that we’ll be enjoying wireless service faster than Google Fiber in just a few years. But to be clear, Verizon’s testing a lot of technologies that may or may not be part of 5G, including beam forming, NFV and SDN integration, and millimeter wave technologies.

But these early trials (focused mostly on fixed, not handset, 5G) overshadow the fact that there’s still multiple global partners and a wide variety of coalitions debating what the standard will even look like. A hard standard isn’t actually expected to emerge until 2018, with actual real-world deployment not expected until 2020 (which in telecom terms means 2021 or 2022). Verizon competitor T-Mobile isn’t mincing words when it comes to what Verizon’s up to:

“We’re starting to see a lot of news starting to form in and around the 5G space,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said during a conference call to discuss the carrier’s quarterly earnings. “I think folks have seen some of the earlier announcements, and you know, Verizon trying to move and saying they’re going to be the first to 5G, well, it’s kind of BS, to be honest.”

Entertaining T-Mobile CEO John Legere was a little more blunt in his assessment of Verizon’s planned 2017 5G “launch”:

“That’s pure horseshit; it’s not going to happen,” Legere said on the call. “Either (McAdam) doesn’t know, or what they’re attempting to do is what they’ve done before several times, to connect the current (capabilities) to a long-term strategy for 5G, but call it 5G way before the standards or the handset capabilities are available.”

Why’s Verizon marketing 5G so hard, so early? As competitive pressure from T-mobile has grown, Verizon has found it harder and harder to avoid having to compete directly on price. Verizon avoids direct price competition like a chatty, annoying party attendee, arguing price competition isn’t necessary because Verizon has the superior network. But as T-Mobile’s network has gained ground, Verizon’s argument has started to run out of runway. Enter 5G: something Verizon can “beat” the other carriers at even if nobody actually knows what the race track even looks like:

“We?re so far away from it, it?s not even funny,? Recon Analytics? Roger Entner said. ?There is a lot of prep work going on, but to a certain extent this all reminds me of a toddler wearing a Harvard class of 2035 bib. So we have to be measured with our enthusiasm.?…?In a marathon run, we?ve barely passed the 100 meter line,? Entner said. ?It?s way too early (to tell who?s ahead), so everybody is just saying ?Hey, we?re out of the starting blocks, look at us.? But all of them are neck and neck with each other.”

Ah, marketing. That’s not to say 5G doesn’t offer some major reasons to be excited, and it will usher forth the start of wireless actually being a stronger fixed-line broadband alternative. But with the kind of pricing companies like Verizon have pushed with their 4G services, whether you’ll be able to afford the next-generation leap is another question entirely. And given that the United States currently sits 55th in terms of overall current 4G LTE speeds, 5G’s potential doesn’t mean U.S. carriers should get too far ahead of themselves.

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Companies: t-mobile, verizon

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Comments on “5G Wireless Hype Overshadows Fact Nobody Actually Knows What 5G Is Yet”

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33 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Super fast connections... for about two days

Probably the best dose of reality to quench the enthusiasm for super fast connections can be summed up in two words:

Data caps.

It doesn’t matter if you have a blindingly fast connection speed if simply using it to any real extent quickly eats through your monthly data allowance, either dropping you right back down to a drastically slower speed or charging you out the nose to maintain your speed.

Advertising how insanely fast your service is(or will be), while having penalties in place for people who use it to even a notable fraction of it’s capabilities is like advertising an all you can eat buffet… and then charging by the plate past the first one.

ThatFatMan (profile) says:

Re: Super fast connections... for about two days

I had a similar thought. Data caps basically make it useless anyway, unless they know something we don’t with regards to what the FCC is planning or they have a long term plan for slowly increasing data caps.

In any case, I voted this insightful, and I vote that you should get your own section in the weekly top funny/insightful article too. Keep up the great commentary please.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

5G? But we don't even have 4G yet!

Do your phone and your carrier support 4G LTE? Mine do. Do you know what the “LTE” part stands for?

LTE is “Long-Term Evolution,” which literally means exactly what it says. 4G LTE: “this is not actually 4G quality yet, but we’ll get around to it eventually.” Funny how no one ever mentions that in the ads…

So what in the world is anyone talking about 5G for?!?

DigDug says:

Never stopped the U.S. Carriers before

The United States has absolutely ZERO 4g carriers.
Every one of the carriers in the U.S. uses a bastardized version of 3G that they coerced the international committee into “adapting” the specs to allow them to call their 3G+ 4G.

I look forward to the U.S. getting bastardized real 4G that they will claim is 5G.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Never stopped the U.S. Carriers before

It’s similar to how the FDA has been coerced to allow food manufacturers to advertise foods with synthesized compounds as being ‘natural’ just because those compounds may occur in nature. The FDA doesn’t protect the consumer or help them be properly informed.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Smoke without Fire

Isn’t it interesting that media companies are so invested in being the first to report talk about smoke like it a solid substance that formed actual things, yet never find any fire.

Down the road, some other media company might find the smoke canisters that created the smoke that didn’t form any actual thing, but they do that only to disparage the first to publish media companies.

Decades later after the smoke has dissipated, been analyzed, seen through, and air cleared do we find out there never was a fire, but at that point no one cared any longer. Isn’t media great?

vastrightwing (profile) says:

It's one more than 4g

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s faster? Is it any faster?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one faster, isn’t it? It’s not four. You see, most blokes, you know, will be streaming at four. You’re on five here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on five on your phone. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to five.
Nigel Tufnel: Five. Exactly. One faster.
Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make four faster and make four be the top number and make that a little faster?
Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to five.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Numbering Should Go Up Exponentially

The trouble when you number things (whether “version” numbers or “generation” numbers) 4, 5, 6 etc is that successive steps sound less and less impressive.

I think a good approach is to use the Fibonacci series: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 … that way the steps continue to look much more dramatic, don’t you think?

hwertz says:

5G rollout and data caps

First off, agree about the caps. Higher speeds are useless with the kind of data prices we’ve got now.
As for the 5G deployment… I won’t call BS, but I assume what this deployment will probably consist of is a prototype deployment. Like they’ll roll out whatever is available in 2017 in central Chicago or Secaucus, NJ or something and make sure they’ve got a handle on it, so they will at least have some real-world testing for feedback as the technology is further developed.

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