No, Next-Gen Wireless (5G) Won't Magically Fix The Broken U.S. Broadband Market

from the ain't-no-panacea dept

We’ve made it pretty clear by now that despite some promising gigabit fiber deployments, the U.S. broadband industry is actually getting less competitive than ever in countless markets nationwide. That’s occurring in part because telcos like Verizon have shifted their focus toward slinging video ads at Millennials (poorly), instead of upgrading antiquated DSL lines in countless states. As a result, the nation’s two dominant cable providers (Charter Spectrum, Comcast) are securing a growing monopoly over broadband, especially at faster speeds.

The net result is less competition, but more of everything everybody dislikes about American broadband: mindless rate hikes, usage caps, net neutrality violations, terrible customer service, and an obvious, active disdain for the captive customers these companies “serve.”

Of course there’s many (most notably the broadband industry) that try and argue these problems aren’t that big of a deal because fifth-generation (5G) wireless will soon arrive, basking the country in ubiquitous connectivity and broadband competition. That’s certainly the story the broadband industry has been telling the FCC as the agency conducts its annual review of U.S. broadband deployment, even though this ignores that wireless isn’t, and won’t be for years, a suitable-replacement for fixed-line broadband:

“AT&T and Verizon are trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission that mobile broadband is good enough for Internet users who don’t have access to fiber or cable services. The carriers made this claim despite the data usage and speed limitations of mobile services. In the mobile market, even “unlimited” plans can be throttled to unusable speeds after a customer uses just 25GB or so a month. Mobile carriers impose even stricter limits on phone hotspots, making it difficult to use mobile services across multiple devices in the home.

Some other investment-centric websites have tried to argue that 5G wireless will bring so much additional competition to bear on the broadband market that net neutrality (violations of which are just a symptom of limited competition) is no longer relevant:

“AT&T says it will launch its first mobile 5G network by the end of this year. T-Mobile aims for a nationwide 5G network in less than two years, with speeds up to 4 Gbps. All of it means more competition for high-speed internet at home. And that’s why the case for “net neutrality” just collapsed ? not that there ever was a good case for it to begin with.”

You’ll see this claim a lot from carriers as 5G rolls out, but it’s bunk.

While 5G wireless broadband will certainly be useful, it’s not going to magically fix an industry that’s been broken for decades. As noted above, wireless connections are routinely capped, throttled, and face a universe of bizarre restrictions, like the industry’s recent decision to charge you more money if you want HD streams to work as intended. “Unlimited” connections are routinely shown to be very limited (as California firefighters just found out), especially in more rural markets where limited investment results in many users getting kicked off the network for using often-ambiguous amounts of bandwidth.

And while ideally 5G wireless updates should make wireless networks more resilient with greater capacity, there’s an underlying reason that pricing and arbitrary restrictions aren’t going away anytime soon. Namely, the monopoly companies like CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T hold over the special access market.

Also known as the business data services (BDS) market, this business segment connects everything from cellular towers to ATMs, and because there’s little real competition there either, the companies have no incentive to seriously lower prices. Worse, Ajit Pai’s FCC has, like all other sector issues, been more than happy to turn a blind eye to the problem. And if you don’t fix the monopoly problems that plague the cell towers and transit lines at the heart of the wireless sector, you aren’t likely to see better rates, broader deployment, and more competition on the retail end anytime soon.

Combine this with the biggest carriers’ stranglehold over wireless spectrum, the death of net neutrality, and the regulatory capture these companies enjoy in countless states, and you should start to see why 5G is a good, modest improvement in technology, but isn’t some mystical panacea for the deep-rooted problems that plague the sector.

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Comments on “No, Next-Gen Wireless (5G) Won't Magically Fix The Broken U.S. Broadband Market”

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30 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

though this ignores that wireless isn’t, and won’t be for years, a suitable-replacement for fixed-line broadband:

It never will be, as the significant figure is not what data rate can it deliver to a single customer, but rather how many customers can it provide a decent bit rate to from a single tower.

Also, spacial separation between re-uses of the same frequencies is measured in miles for wireless, and millimeters for fiber, which has the result that one tower, fed from one or maybe two fibers will serve multiple customers, while with fiber, if the demand was there, each customer could be fed by two or more fibers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

as the significant figure is not what data rate can it deliver to a single customer, but rather how many customers can it provide a decent bit rate to from a single tower.

No, the significant figure would be how much bandwidth it can get to each user in a congested area. Whether they do it with large cells or by dropping a tower every 50 ft hardly matters to the customer.

Generalizing further, there’s no reason the FCC should exclude wireless technologies. If we want unlimited unthrottled connections compatible with normal home routers, let’s make that the requirement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Even if you reach the stage of a tower for every home, fiber is still more capable, because you can run in multiple fibers to every home. Beside which, with a tower every fifty feet, it would be cheaper to just run a fiber to every home.

Besides which, if it is a genuine tower, it will also be serving passing vehicles and pedestrians, and how many people can it serve is still a relevant question.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Even if you reach the stage of a tower for every home, fiber is still more capable, because you can run in multiple fibers to every home. Beside which, with a tower every fifty feet, it would be cheaper to just run a fiber to every home.

I only care about the costs of my service, not how much it costs to build the network. If they want to run fiber to me I’ll take it. If they’d rather give me a receiver that connects to 10 towers, each via several beams… also fine, if it performs well and doesn’t suck power. The FCC need not express a preference w.r.t. these details.

Anonymous Coward says:

I work this area and have been both a customer, and I have worked for carriers. I’m not sure you are correct here.

From what I’ve seen, though it may vary by area, there is tremendous competition in the special access market. Whenever I put out RFP/RFI’s for special access services I would receive 6-8 responses. And most of those responses would be competitive on price.

ECA (profile) says:

LOGIC RULES

#1..5g..and how do you want to spread the signal, after the 1st antenna?? Are you going to make ALL the interconnections Wireless also?? Lets add this up.. For a rural area to a Suburb,to a city are to a metro area…lets start with 1000 people on 1 Hub line. and you have 20 lines OUT from the metro..20,000 from the outside, and Double that for Each layer but Still 2 lines running to the middle..20,000+ 40,000, 80,000, 160,000..All adding into 1 MAIN location.. NOW how are you going to get your signal to the NEXT CITY/STATE/anywhere?? You are jumping to the FIBER BACKBONE..which is NOT OWNED BY YOU…

I live in a small town of 2600 NEXt tot he freeway, at a BEND in it…THERE ARE 6(2g/3g) cell antennas around this town..Then we have Cable and DSL, and wireless…so get a hint.

What could be done IF’ they wired up all the homes??
Small Cell phone system on EACH, Wireless phone to the Owner, Internet, CABLE TV with every channel from around the world) and being able to carry your HOME PHONE(not a cellphone) around your area??? PRICELESS..

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Silly Bode

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

[laughter] – reaction of AT&T execs to ARPANET crashing while Bob Metcalfe showed them a demonstration of its power, 1974

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

“Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” – Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995

“5G will never replace cable because mobile 4G has data caps” – Karl Bode, 2018

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Silly Bode

"5G will never replace cable because mobile 4G has data caps" – Karl Bode, 2018

First off, he never said that, so good job stuffing your own words down people’s throats.

Second, what makes you think 5G WON’T have data caps? That’s a huge money maker for telcos. I would be shocked if 5G didn’t have data caps.

So, much like all the quotes you posted, you’re an ignorant fool (or deliberate shill with an axe to grind) who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and has to rely on lies to support his point.

Try again Richard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Silly Bode

Well congratulations on being partially right for once in your life. Though, I think you conflate the fact that most people here are talking about mobile 5G, not 5G home internet which is only just starting to come into existence.

Sadly, you also ignore several key factors:

  1. Verizon 5G Home has been deployed in only 4 cities, to date.
  2. No other ISP is offering it.
  3. ISPs with mobile 5G offerings still have data caps.
  4. There is no guarantee that data caps won’t be coming in the future. After all, when mobile first started out, it had unlimited plans which then got axed, and broadband ISPs are pushing heavily to implement data caps on home ISP service as well.

So I ask again, what makes you think mobile or home 5G won’t have data caps, either now or in the future?

Try again Richard.

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