Verizon's New 'Nationwide' 5G Isn't Nationwide, Barely Faster Than 4G
from the that-word,-it-does-not-mean-what-you-think-it-means dept
While unveiling its shiny new 5G-enabled iPhones this week, Apple brought Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg to the stage to declare that Verizon had launched an updated, “nationwide” 5G network that shores up the company’s 5G coverage. Until now, Verizon has largely embraced “high band” or millimeter wave 5G, which provides amazing speeds if you’re near an antenna, but suffers from terrible range and building wall penetration issues. As a result, the company has been routinely criticized for comically overstating not only what 5G is capable of, but where 5G is available.
To attack this credibility problem, and drive some hype for the new iPhones, Verizon announced that it was dramatically expanding its 5G network to 200 million more people.* To do so, Verizon’s using “dynamic spectrum sharing” (DSS) that helps utilize some existing 4G channels to offer 5G. The problem: Vestberg wouldn’t state what speeds this new “5G” service operates at, because it’s not likely to be much faster than existing 4G. It will however make the “5G” icon on your phone light up, which is helpful for marketing purposes:
“As there’s going to be no additional airwaves in use, you shouldn’t expect much better speeds than on 4G. 5G shines when it has big, broad lanes to itself. On the other hand, this lets Verizon manage a transition from 4G to 5G smoothly, and lets it light up a 5G icon on many people’s phones for marketing reasons.”
In time, 5G will provide faster, more reliable, lower-latency networks. But Verizon has repeatedly tried to advertise 5G as less evolutionary and more revolutionary, claiming (falsely) that it’s akin to the “fourth industrial revolution,” will revolutionize cancer treatment (something doctors I’ve talked to have laughed at), and will result in amazing next-generation smart cities of tomorrow. In reality it’s an incremental upgrade that’s good but not game changing, especially given a recent study showed Verizon 5G was available just 0.4% of the time in the real world.
Several problems: one, a self-regulatory oversight system constructed by the telecom sector to pre-empt real regulatory action declares it fine to abuse the word “nationwide,” (something T-Mobile is doing as well). *And the FCC, for decades, has done a piss poor job verifying the chasm between marketing hype, ISP claims, and actual availability. Regulatory capture also means industry sees little meaningful penalty for lying about coverage, so they, you know, keep doing it.
In wireless carrier and handset vendor PR land, 5G is an incredible, revolutionary upgrade that changes everything. With smartphone innovation flailing and overall sales lagging, they’re eager to drive mass upgrades by portraying 5G as something more substantive than it is.
Here in reality, U.S. 5G continues to be far slower than a long list of overseas networks because we’ve done a poor job making mid-band spectrum available for public use and driving fiber to lower ROI areas (despite billions upon billions in subsidization). And numerous studies have found that current 5G is in some instances slower than 4G. In a few years as more mid-band spectrum is pushed to market this will steadily improve. But right now, consumers (correctly) don’t really see 5G as worth it, which is a major reason why Verizon had to back off plans to charge a $10 monthly premium just to access it.