Another Study Finds Verizon's 5G Is Barely Available, Not Scaleable
from the big-old-hype-parade dept
We’ve talked a lot about how while fifth-generation (5G) wireless is a good thing (in that faster, more reliable networks are always good), it’s been comically over-hyped by cellular carriers and network hardware vendors looking to justify high prices and sell network gear and handsets. It has also been accompanied by what appears to be a race between cellular carriers to broadly misrepresent what 5G is capable of, and where and when it will actually be available.
At the heart of a lot of this hype has been Verizon, which routinely insists 5G is the “fourth industrial revolution,” and will almost mystically result in a universe of smart cities and smarter supporting technologies. Ironically, while saying all of this, Verizon executives publicly warn about carriers over-hyping 5G. For example here’s a Verizon blog post from last January:
“The potential for 5G is awesome, but the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist. If network providers, equipment manufacturers, handset makers, app developers and others in the wireless ecosystem engage in behavior designed to purposefully confuse consumers, public officials and the investment community about what 5G really is, we risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology.”
And that’s a good point. Carriers desperately want consumers to be excited about 5G, but by over-hyping the technology (or misrepresenting it completely as AT&T did when it pretended its 4G network was 5G) the companies risk associating 5G with hype and bullshit.
That said, Verizon hasn’t listened to its own advice. Analysts and reporters keep finding that Verizon’s 5G network “launches” so far are largely fluff and nonsense. One analyst recently noted how Verizon’s 5G “launch” in Sacramento was, in reality, barely a launch. And absolutely not something Verizon could quickly replicate at any real scale:
“This is not what I expected,” Lum said.
Instead of a city covered with 5G signals, and a network geared for mobile services, Lum said he instead found select locations in Sacramento where Verizon built a network that seems exclusively designed to offer fixed wireless services to a handful of potential customers.
Basically, Lum’s big takeaway from his work is that, if Verizon wants to cover all of Sacramento with mobile 5G at 28GHz, “you’re talking about a crapload of poles.”
“I don’t think there’s enough people in the industry to deploy these,” Lum added, noting that antennas would need to be installed every 1,000 feet or so, and each would need the requisite permits, power, backhaul and technicians capable of doing the work. And that labor would have to be replicated at each street corner across Sacramento and, ultimately, across every major and minor city in the country. “I think there’s a long way to go,” Lum concluded, estimating a ten-year buildout timeline for such an endeavor.”
5G will rely heavily on small cells or micro-cellular towers positioned on city lamp posts. Another more recent piece of analysis by telecom analyst Craig Moffett found that just 6% of Sacremento could actually get Verizon 5G in the city, again suggesting the company not only dramatically over-hyped availability, but again questioning how easy it will be for Verizon to duplicate these efforts at national scale. He also ironically found that 5G deployment costs are comparable to what it will cost to deploy fiber, which is generally seen as more efficient and more reliable:
“To us, the most interesting statistic isn’t so much the low take rate as it is the relatively low coverage, as it illustrates the enormity of the challenge of scaling a small network, in neighborhood after neighborhood, across the United States,” Moffett wrote…The report notes that the cost of the drop for fixed wireless broadband (it could dip to about $200) is lower than it is for an FTTP network (about $700), but the “passing cost” is about the same. The difference maker, Moffett said, is the number of homes that are eligible for service and the ultimate take rate. The low penetration rate Verizon has seen thus far for 5G Home in Sacramento isn’t nearly enough to achieve economics that are better than a typical FTTP network example, the report found.
“Our analysis suggests that costs will likely be much higher (that is, cell radii appear smaller) and penetration rates lower than initially expected,” the report explained. “If those patterns are indicative of what is to come in a broader rollout, it would mean a much higher cost per connected home, and therefore much lower returns on capital, than what might have been expected from Verizon’s advance billing.”
Verizon has taken a lot of heat for effectively letting its aging DSL lines rot on the vine as executives shifted its focus from fiber to wireless. And while Verizon would have you believe 5G is a perfectly symmetrical alternative to fiber, that’s just not true. Neither is the idea that 5G is going to come in and magically bring oodles of new competition to these neglected markets, something both AT&T and Verizon are quietly making obvious.
Again, the faster, lower-latency connections 5G will deliver will be a good thing — provided it’s actually available in your neighborhood anytime soon and you can afford the premium Verizon intends to charge for it. But over-hyping what 5G can do and where it’s available is only going to bite the industry on the ass as it generates distrust among consumers who otherwise might be genuinely excited about the tech. It’s a bit of dysfunction Verizon would be smart to heed its own advice on.