Yet Another Study Shows U.S. 5G Over Promises, Under Delivers

from the unwarranted-hype dept

It was the technology that was supposed to change the world. According to carriers, not only was fifth-generation wireless (5G) supposed to bring about the “fourth industrial revolution,” it was supposed to revolutionize everything from smart cities to cancer treatment. According to conspiracy theorists and internet imbeciles, 5G is responsible for everything from Covid-19 to your migraines.

Unfortunately for both sets of folks, data continues to indicate that 5G is nowhere near that interesting.

A number of recent studies have already shown that U.S. wireless isn’t just the most expensive in the developed world, U.S. 5G is notably slower than most overseas deployments. That’s thanks in large part to our failure to make so-called middle band spectrum available for public use, resulting in a heavy smattering of lower band spectrum (good signal reach but slow speeds) or high-band and millimeter wave spectrum (great speeds, but poor reach and poor reception indoors). The end result is a far cry from what carriers had spent the last three years promising.

PC Magazine was the latest to put carrier promises to the test and came away decidedly unimpressed. Networks certainly are getting faster, the report concludes, but it’s largely due to steady evolutionary improvements being made to 4G networks, not newer 5G networks. As such, PC Magazine is forced to admit they bought into early carrier hype promising an amazing revolution:

“We admit it, we bought into the 5G hype. Carriers, phone makers, and chip makers alike have all been selling 5G as faster and more powerful than 4G, with lower latency. So I was shocked to see that our AT&T 5G results, especially, were slower than 4G results on the same network. This is a crisis for marketing, not for performance. All three US carriers showed significantly higher download speeds and better broadband reliability than they did in our 2019 tests. It’s just that these gains, particularly on AT&T, are largely because of improvements in 4G, not 5G networks.”

Wireless carriers haven’t given much thought to the perils of over-hyping 5G, thereby associating the standard with empty bluster and frustration in the minds of consumers. You’ll recall that AT&T has lied repeatedly in trying to pretend that 4G is 5G via misleading phone icons, and Verizon perpetually enjoyed hyping 5G market launches, only to have those looking for an actual 5G signal find that availability is these markets is spotty… at best (one study found that a Verizon 5G signal was available around 0.4% of the time in launched 5G markets).

Not too surprisingly then, PC Magazine routinely found it difficult to actually obtain a 5G signal:

“It’s been more than a year since the US carriers launched 5G. AT&T purports to have 5G in 22 of our 26 test cities; Verizon has it in 18; and T-Mobile has it in all of them. But our 5G results were disappointing all around, on every carrier. Often, it was a choice between faux G (we?ll explain this shortly) and no G…most of our current 5G coverage offers people a slightly improved 4G experience dressed up with a shiny new icon. That?s not bad, but to live up to their lofty promises about how 5G will change education, medicine, industry, and home internet, the carriers will need to use more spectrum and better technology than they?re currently giving us.

It’s also worth noting that despite all the promises surrounding the T-Mobile and Sprint merger, the initial result has been slower speeds overall as the companies work to integrate discordant networks:

“So far, T-Mobile’s absorption of Sprint hasn’t shown much advantage for consumers. It’s to the contrary, really: In our results, it looks like the rush of Sprint users onto T-Mobile’s network has created some congestion that has caused T-Mobile to fall behind in comparative performance. All of the carriers’ speeds increased from 2019 to 2020, but T-Mobile’s increased less than AT&T’s and Verizon’s did.”

PC Mag’s study was mirrored this week by a Washington Post investigation that basically concluded all the same things. Namely that 5G isn’t much to write home about, and in many instances U.S. 4G networks outperform 5G in 5G launch markets:

“Your experience with a 5G phone in 2020 is likely to be all over the map. I got searing fast 750 Mbps downloads from AT&T in one corner of downtown. But in the same spot, my 4G phone got an also extremely fast 330 Mbps. Moreover, because of the pandemic, those aren?t places I go very often. As I write this from my home office in the middle of San Francisco, I?m getting 11 Mbps downloads on my AT&T 5G phone. On T-Mobile, I get a laughable 8 Mbps on 5G, which is barely enough to stream HD Netflix.”

I regret to inform you that despite a lot of tech policy bluster and carrier marketing, we are most assuredly not winning the “race to 5G.” In fact, our broadband maps are so routinely terrible, I’m not sure we’d be able to confirm it if we were.

Again, 5G will certainly offer faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliable networks over the long haul, especially as carriers push new middle band spectrum to market. Even then, don’t expect 5G pricing to be particularly innovative thanks to the death of net neutrality and reduced competition due to consolidation. Carriers are also lobbying the FCC to exclude 5G from broadband mapping improvements (meaning don’t expect an accurate read on where it’s truly available any time soon). The more things change…

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “Yet Another Study Shows U.S. 5G Over Promises, Under Delivers”

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8 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

From what I read for 99 per cent of users 4g is actually faster than 5g , there’s problems with spectrum eg certain company’s own the spectrum
that is needed for 5g signal to work at long distance,
4g does not have that problem.
And the fcc at this point has greatly reduced powers even if it wanted to fix this problem.
Of course it 25 times faster if you stand within 100 metres of the cell tower .
It, ll probably take 3 years to build emough towers to provide 5g even in city’s and urban area, s

Anonymous Coward says:

I assumed Karl was being hyperbolic when claiming that Verizon was saying that 5G will cause a “fourth industrial revolution.” One could easily read the headline to mean that 5G will be important in that change.

Then I read the entire press release. They really are claiming that.

“5G literally has the potential to start the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

tts says:

5G was always mostly hype and that stuff from carriers about it being a 4th industrial revolution was flat out hyperbolic BS.

They’re just trying to sell more phones, phone plans, and get a halo effect going for a new premium tier.

At the end of the day 5G doesn’t have significantly better barrier penetration or signal reach than 4G does and is only truly significantly faster at very close (10′ or so) ranges anyways. This is also true for 5G in Europe BTW. EU and SK 4G is much better in general than US 4G though.

Its a physics + signal space issue and tech isn’t going to make either of those issues go away.

Maybe in a few years 5G phones will be interesting to buy but for now, in the US at least, don’t bother they’re not worth the expense and extra power draw.

Anonymous Coward says:

5G may be faster, BUT it’s clearly been over hyped. The problem is it’s using higher frequanzy which has a much shorter distance. That means you need at least 4 times the cell towers to cover the same area as 3G and 4G. Look how many weak places there still is with 3G/4G all over. In a number of City’s, especially S.F. where it’s almost impossible to put up a new cell tower. How the F do you think they’ll be able to put up 4 times the cell towers there? They can’t!!!! The city won’t allow them to and I’m sure many other city’s are simular. So if you’re in the small area of 5G, it should be good, but walk a short distance away and it starts dropping off fast and now you’re back to 4G.

Which is why when people are complaining that the iPhone doesn’t have 5G. it’s like So what!!! It’s pointless!!! It really hasn’t gotten much better when the new iPhones come out later this year which I hear will have 5G. Does it really matter? Not really as it’s worthless for most people.

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