Verizon's 'World First' 5G Launch Was A Bit of a Dud

from the underwhelmed dept

We’ve noted for a while that 5G is being aggressively over-hyped. While it’s an important evolutionary step in wireless connectivity, it’s far from the revolution hardware vendors and cellular carriers are promising. Verizon, for example, insists that 5G is the “fourth industrial revolution” that will almost miraculously spur the smart cities and smarter cars of tomorrow. While 5G is important (in the sense that faster, more resilient networks are always important), the idea that 5G will fundamentally transform the broken broadband market tends to overshoot the mark.

Under the din of hype, groups like the EFF have repeatedly warned that fixating on the technology obscures the industry’s failure to deploy fiber broadband to countless Americans despite billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks. Fiber that’s essential in driving 5G outside of major metro markets.

Meanwhile, companies like Verizon continue to overstate not only what 5G can do, but where it’s available. A closer look at Verizon’s “Home 5G” service (which affixes a 5G antenna to user homes) in cities like Sacramento has found it to be barely available. Last week, Verizon again heralded the “world first” launch of truly mobile 5G service in both Chicago and Minneapolis. Again however reporters who visited the city to cover the launch walked away unimpressed, noting that while speeds were blisteringly fast (upwards of 500 Mbps on the test network), actually getting a steady signal was largely impossible:

“Even carefully positioned a few feet away from the 5G node, the large on-screen icon exclaiming Verizon’s 5G network toggled back and forth from 4G to 5G,” CNET said. “After two hours, we had run maybe one clean app side by side with the Galaxy S10 Plus.” Samsung’s phone is a 4G LTE device.

The Verge said, “coverage is so extremely sparse that, for right now, I’d caution anyone against buying the 5G Moto Mod and paying Verizon an extra $10 every month to receive 5G,” even though it found “blazing fast data speeds.”

Again, this was a PR network, with little to no actual congestion on it, so it should have performed notably better than this. But the trials highlighted a technology that’s clearly not ready for prime time. Only one, unimpressive phone supports these early launches right now (the Motorola Moto Z3), and even then, to actually get the phone to work required an additional $200 “mod” for the device. A mod that contained not just the necessary mmWave antennas needed to get 5G signal, but an additional battery pack to handle the immense battery drain issue phone manufacturers haven’t solved yet.

That doesn’t sound like much of an industrial revolution. Verizon, for its part, apparently tried to blame phone icons for the patchy availability of its shiny new product:

“When people try and look for coverage, the way the icon works on the phone is different than it works in the past,” Mike Haberman, Verizon’s vice president of network engineering, told CNBC, noting that the icon that shows a 5G connection only appears when you try to use 5G. So, unlike 4G LTE, right now you don’t see the 5G icon even in a coverage area. That will change in a couple of years.”

Granted, that just floats over the fact that reviewers couldn’t get any 5G signal at all for the lion’s share of their testing last week. Verizon appears to have rushed these launches just so it could claim it beat the South Koreans to market, even if that means fielding a product nobody’s all-that impressed by. That this might result in consumers associating 5G with empty hype apparently hasn’t crossed executives’ minds.

Again, some early bleeding edge hiccups aren’t unexpected, and these early efforts will likely be a far cry from what we’ll see once hardware is more fully cooked and 5G is more fully deployed. But Wall Street analysts like Craig Moffett also told me this week that after crunching the numbers, he’s skeptical that Verizon’s 5G plans can affordably scale across the United States:

“Yes, it will be better than 4G eventually, and it will be great for supporting huge numbers of low bandwidth IoT connections,? Moffett said. ?But broad-based availability of the kinds of insane speeds people have gotten so excited reading about won?t be available for many, many years, if at all.”

To hear carriers tell it, 5G was supposed to provide ubiquitous connectivity coast to coast as a much-less expensive alternative to the fiber connections companies like Verizon refused to fully deploy. But as Moffett’s data analysis points out, there’s increasing skepticism that’s not going to be the case. While 5G will be incredibly useful in urban areas, even Wall Street thinks it’s going to fall short in terms of driving next-gen connectivity to the more rural and less affluent urban and suburban corners of America that need it most.

And this is all before you factor in price and network restrictions. Americans already pay some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world, something that’s only going to continue in the face of regulatory apathy and wireless industry consolidation. And despite greater capacity, 5G connections are almost certain to include additional restrictions in the face of net neutrality’s demise, almost certain to at least partially curtail the technology’s utility and potential in a bid for even bigger revenues.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Verizon's 'World First' 5G Launch Was A Bit of a Dud”

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Anonymous Coward says:

While 5G will be incredibly useful in urban areas, even Wall Street thinks it’s going to fall short in terms of driving next-gen connectivity to the more rural and less affluent urban and suburban corners of America that need it most.

Don’t worry. There is a solution. All Congress has to do is give many more billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies to Verizon. The Verizon will then be happy to roll out 5G to these communities as long as each community completely subsidizes the construction of each network.

Anonymous Coward says:

I went back to a flip phone and bring a tablet with me.

Tablet without the phone plan provides the when-necessary convenience of a smart device, with the data protection I want from my next smart phone.

Manufacturers only offer ever more sensitive tools for data collection. That’s fine. Taking step back in technology provides the reduced tracking footprint that I actually want, at far cheaper cost.

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