5G Wireless Hype Overshadows Fact Nobody Actually Knows What 5G Is Yet

from the first! dept

At the Mobile World Congress convention in Spain last week, one of the most well-hyped products in convention history was something that doesn't technically exist. Fifth generation wireless (5G) was all the rage at the show, with multiple carriers promising they were in various stages of bringing the new ultra-fast wireless standard to consumers. The problem is that while engineers have a general idea of some of the technologies that may be included in the final standard when approved, nobody actually knows what 5G is yet. And when it does finally get solidified, it's likely to be 2020 or later before actual launches occur.

For marketing departments, this apparently wasn't a problem, but an opportunity. Verizon immediately set to work well ahead of any standard ratification, telling anybody who'll listen that the company has begun trialing 5G wireless service capable of 1 Gbps, with deployment scheduled for sometime in 2017. That resulted in a lot of press outlets crowing that we'll be enjoying wireless service faster than Google Fiber in just a few years. But to be clear, Verizon's testing a lot of technologies that may or may not be part of 5G, including beam forming, NFV and SDN integration, and millimeter wave technologies.

But these early trials (focused mostly on fixed, not handset, 5G) overshadow the fact that there's still multiple global partners and a wide variety of coalitions debating what the standard will even look like. A hard standard isn't actually expected to emerge until 2018, with actual real-world deployment not expected until 2020 (which in telecom terms means 2021 or 2022). Verizon competitor T-Mobile isn't mincing words when it comes to what Verizon's up to:
"We're starting to see a lot of news starting to form in and around the 5G space," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said during a conference call to discuss the carrier's quarterly earnings. "I think folks have seen some of the earlier announcements, and you know, Verizon trying to move and saying they're going to be the first to 5G, well, it's kind of BS, to be honest."
Entertaining T-Mobile CEO John Legere was a little more blunt in his assessment of Verizon's planned 2017 5G "launch":
"That's pure horseshit; it's not going to happen," Legere said on the call. "Either (McAdam) doesn't know, or what they're attempting to do is what they've done before several times, to connect the current (capabilities) to a long-term strategy for 5G, but call it 5G way before the standards or the handset capabilities are available."
Why's Verizon marketing 5G so hard, so early? As competitive pressure from T-mobile has grown, Verizon has found it harder and harder to avoid having to compete directly on price. Verizon avoids direct price competition like a chatty, annoying party attendee, arguing price competition isn't necessary because Verizon has the superior network. But as T-Mobile's network has gained ground, Verizon's argument has started to run out of runway. Enter 5G: something Verizon can "beat" the other carriers at even if nobody actually knows what the race track even looks like:
"We’re so far away from it, it’s not even funny,” Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner said. “There is a lot of prep work going on, but to a certain extent this all reminds me of a toddler wearing a Harvard class of 2035 bib. So we have to be measured with our enthusiasm.”...“In a marathon run, we’ve barely passed the 100 meter line,” Entner said. “It’s way too early (to tell who’s ahead), so everybody is just saying ‘Hey, we’re out of the starting blocks, look at us.’ But all of them are neck and neck with each other."
Ah, marketing. That's not to say 5G doesn't offer some major reasons to be excited, and it will usher forth the start of wireless actually being a stronger fixed-line broadband alternative. But with the kind of pricing companies like Verizon have pushed with their 4G services, whether you'll be able to afford the next-generation leap is another question entirely. And given that the United States currently sits 55th in terms of overall current 4G LTE speeds, 5G's potential doesn't mean U.S. carriers should get too far ahead of themselves.

Filed Under: 5g, standards, wireless
Companies: t-mobile, verizon


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  1. icon
    Karl Bode (profile), 2 Mar 2016 @ 7:01am

    Re: Verizon's Magical Beans?

    Sounds gross. Fixed, thank you.

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