The 'Race To 5G' Is Largely Just Marketing Nonsense

from the double-hype dept

By now you've probably been informed that the next-generation of wireless broadband technology is going to revolutionize everything. Much like they did with 3G and 4G, wireless carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have repeatedly hyped the fifth-generation (5G) wireless standard, insisting that the technology will somehow usher forth a "societal transformation" that's going to have a magical, cascading impact on every sector in technology, from the internet of (broken) things to the smart cities and self-driving car technologies of tomorrow.

The idea that we're in a "race to 5G" with other nations has been a cornerstone of the Trump administration's factually-dubious protectionism aimed at blacklisting Chinese hardware vendors. And hoping to pander to this sentiment, both T-Mobile and Sprint have played up this rhetoric in public statements as they seek approval of their job and competition killing megamerger:

"Ubiquitous high-speed 5G service and Internet of Things (“IoT”) capabilities will ignite innovation across industries and create the conditions for U.S. firms and innovators to lead the globe in the 5G era.

“Going from 4G to 5G is like going from black and white to color TV,” added Claure. “It’s a seismic shift – one that only the combined company can unlock nationwide to fuel the next wave of mobile innovation."

Time and time again, the two companies insist that 5G will somehow create a world of innovation and new technology (though only if the government agrees to reduce competition and approve their $23 billion merger):

"5G for All will unleash incredible benefits and capabilities for consumers and businesses. Imagine, for example, augmented reality heads-up displays that see everything you do, and provide real-time cloud-driven information about the people and objects around you. Imagine never losing anything again because low-cost sensors with decade long battery life are embedded in everything you own. Imagine an earpiece providing real-time translation as a friend speaks to you in another language. Imagine environmental sensors in infrastructure and for agriculture having a profound impact on productivity."

How exciting! The problem: none of those ideas really require "5G" to function, and can be easily developed on existing 4G infrastructure and technologies. 5G might modestly help make data delivery a little faster and more resilient, but 5G technology is not the technology equivalent of Doctor Strange.

You'll find the same rhetoric over at the website of the CTIA, the lobbying arm for major wireless companies. There, you'll find the "race to 5G" prominently hyped alongside all manner of breathless claims about how America must win said race or people could lose their jobs:

"The next generation of wireless is coming. The race to lead the world in 5G is underway and countries like China, South Korea, and Japan are doing everything they can to win. The competition carries real stakes. Today, the wireless industry supports over 4.7 million jobs and contributes roughly $475 billion annually to the American economy. 5G will be even more transformative—making our lives better, our communities safer, and our nation more prosperous. It’s important the United States do everything we can to maintain our wireless leadership. Because when we win the race to 5G, we all win."

It's simply not a race. Yes, companies like Cisco may see it as a race in terms of selling more routers than their overseas competitors, but deployment of 5G networks and handsets (which won't even truly take off until 2020 or thereafter) isn't like a 100 meter dash. It's a lengthy, convoluted process that's going to take years to define, test and implement.

The reality, which simply doesn't sound as sexy in company press releases, is that 5G is less a seismic shift, and more of a modest, natural evolution. Yes, 5G technology will involve all manner of new core network, virtualization, and antenna technologies that should make existing wireless networks faster, more resilient, with lower latency. But the standard is not going to magically eliminate all of the problems that make American wireless networks some of the slowest (we're ranked somewhere around 62 in 4G LTE speeds) and most expensive (40th) among all developed nations.

The reasons we're lagging behind in wireless price, speed and innovation isn't because of software and hardware standards. It's because the entire broadband sector suffers from regulatory capture, where entrenched, wealthy players dictate nearly all meaningful spectrum and competition policy with state and federal lawmakers and regulators. It's also because just a few companies (AT&T, Verizon), enjoy a government protected monopoly over the business data service market that feeds everything from cellular tower backhaul to ATMs.

So will 5G be an improvement over 4G? Sure. But unless we address the underlying problems that keep the U.S. wireless notably broken (spectrum policy, regulatory capture, our fascination with mindless, competition and job killing megamergers), we're not going to be "winning" much of anything beyond higher mobile data bills.


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  • identicon
    TruthHurts, 18 May 2018 @ 6:41am

    First, the U.S. has to get to actual 4G...

    Nothing in the U.S. is actual 4G, it is 3G+ extensions.
    The American Cell companies *forced* the international standards body to rebrand the U.S. 3G+ as 4G.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 7:43am

      Re: First, the U.S. has to get to actual 4G...

      Well, what do you expect from the country in which pizza is considered to be a vegetable ...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      LanceJZ (profile), 20 May 2018 @ 9:17pm

      Re: First, the U.S. has to get to actual 4G...

      Yes, 4G is just 3G+. But LTE is 4G, and the US has that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        The Wanderer (profile), 24 May 2018 @ 5:01am

        Re: Re: First, the U.S. has to get to actual 4G...

        Are you sure?

        I'm given to understand that "LTE" stands for "Long-Term Evolution" - i.e. that "4G LTE" is something which is not 4G, but will evolve into 4G over the long term. (IIRC, they complained about not being able to implement the 4G standards as they were being defined by whatever international standards body did that, and got permission to use the "4G LTE" terminology instead - primarily for marketing purposes.)

        Since they're still calling it "4G LTE", I've been presuming that this evolution has not actually taken place, and what they're calling by that name does not actually meet the 4G standard.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CK, 18 May 2018 @ 6:49am

    How about they do a race to ipv6? :-P

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 6:58am

    I think many will agree with me that giving at least average coverage, stability, reliability and pricing would be a few worlds better than having 5G by 2020. Be a decent service provider before hyping new stuff you won't deliver properly anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 7:16am

    IoT/IoS

    Imagine never losing anything again because low-cost sensors with decade long battery life are embedded in everything you own.

    Some people have been calling the "internet of things" the "internet of shit"—and if you've got so much shit you need an inventory system and locator beacons to find it, it's time to admit you have a problem. Meanwhile, Google have been taking it a little too literally.

    All of the examples seem like fairly minor conveniences, with the potential to go horribly wrong if they're insecure (a device that sees everything I do? great!).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 7:25am

      Re: IoT/IoS

      Tbh it would be pretty funny if the diapers leaked info. Can you picture some hacker probing the sensor for it's status and receiving "poop" back?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 8:19am

        Re: Re: IoT/IoS

        Not as funny as would be for the hacker to be seeing that info and knowing that the parent will soon be too preoccupied with that to take notice of the other things that he also has access to in the general area.

        We're talking about the sort of thing that has been used to break into a casino's database via an aquarium thermometer. There will be nefarious purposes for these things, and security is at the bottom of the list for most developers in the space.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 7:52am

    Imagine, for example, augmented reality heads-up displays that see everything you do, and provide real-time cloud-driven information about the people and objects around you.

    Also imagine how fast that will consume your data cap, and push you into overage fees if that is allowed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 7:53am

    Thanks to data usage caps this will only be relevant in the form of overage charges, by accident or from rogue apps.

    Granted, that's probably the real motivation for carriers adopting 5G.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 8:55am

    FTFY

    Ubiquitous high-speed 5G service and Internet of Things (“IoT”) capabilities will ignite innovation across industries (that we own) and create the conditions for U.S. firms and innovators to lead the globe (in paying us large sums of money for the same service they were getting on 3G) in the 5G era.

    Going from 4G to 5G is like going from black and white to color TV, and we will charge for every color” added Claure. “It’s a seismic financial shift for our monopoly – one that only the combined Mega-company (TM - all your base are belong to us) can unlock nationwide to fuel the next wave of mobile innovation and continued apathy from the ONE (after buying all other media companies ONE is the only option)."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 9:30am

    Better comparison

    I feel a better comparison may be going from HD tv to a 4K ultra HD TV

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 9:41am

    Marketing versus underlying problems

    You have to love American companies for their distracting marketing ability: let's sell everyone on the fancy new features and hope they never mention the underlying problem.
    If we fixed the underlying problem with cars (that they use gas), maybe we'd be using electric cars since the 1990's. But instead, we get marketing people pushing rounded designs and fins and large trunks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    5G Marketdroid (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 10:30am

    You are so wrong. 5G is better in every way, because it has 5 G's instead of 4 G's. That's like a 500% improvement right there. Of course it takes 5G to support all those new fangled IOT apps, because we won't let them be built on 4G, because 4G won't support them and 5G will! 5G is like magic, it solves every problem you have, and some you don't. Support 5G now, my bonus depends on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      Technically it's a 25% improvement, adding one more G. But that G is everything. What would the future do without a 5th G?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 10:36am

    I'm in the IoT industry, involved in a deeply technical aspect.

    Even I'm confused by some of the claims about 5G, and how it will transform everything.

    Remember the change from DOCSIS 2 to DOCSIS 3.0? And how it changed everything? What about the utterly transformative experience of upgrading from 100Mbps Ethernet to 1Gbps?

    Wait, are you saying that those changes barely registered? That those upgrades occasionally save a second or two? Well hold onto your hat, those time savings are about to double.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 11:12am

      Re:

      ...and no new jobs were created as a direct result.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Brad, 19 May 2018 @ 9:57pm

      Re:

      1.) It's all about the back-haul. LTE (4g) and Massive MIMO (5g) are vastly different on the back end which no one at techdirt would understand.

      2.) Massive MIMO stacks way more antenna density on the front end removing allot of today's LTE throughput issues which will improve latency on the spectrum.

      3.) 5g costs a butt-ton of money. It's estimated AT&T & Verizon will be spending close to 11 trillion (yes with a t) to create a 5g network which will require allot of tax payer pork that Sprint and T-Mo can't leverage alone.

      Keep in mind how the companies look financially:

      AT&T = about $136 billion
      Version = about $116 billion
      Sprint = about $38 billion
      T-Mo = about $37 billion

      Combining the two companies plus the extra Softbank and Deutsche Telekom will be chipping in should get it close to the $100 billion number to make it a competitor. *IF* done correctly (that's a big if) it would be a good thing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 21 May 2018 @ 4:05am

        Re: Re:

        "1.) It's all about the back-haul. LTE (4g) and Massive MIMO (5g) are vastly different on the back end which no one at techdirt would understand. "

        I do love it when people make bare assertions about the knowledge of other readers on this site. especially when "I know better" is the only argument presented and they refuse to provide their own credentials.

        It makes your assertions very easy to ignore.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Brad, 22 May 2018 @ 8:30am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Unlike some random wanna be commenter? The idiotic story by itself proved my point but hey don't let facts get in your way.

          The difference here is I'm a Network Eng. for Sprint and actually do have a clue how it works.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 22 May 2018 @ 9:27am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Unlike some random wanna be commenter? "

            We are both on the same level as far as commenting here is concerned. The problem is, you're trying to claim that you know better and we should just believe you just because, and everyone else is inferior. I, on the other hand, am simply saying that your bare assertion about other people here is a lie.

            Sorry, doesn't work like that, especially when your only known credential is the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

            "The difference here is I'm a Network Eng. for Sprint "

            ...and I am a... for ....?

            That's the problem with anonymous people trying to claim greater knowledge than other people they don't know online. You have not provided any reason for anyone else to believe you, but you have shown that you think that naming your employer is better than discussing or citing actual facts in thread. That's not a good look, especially for someone who actually knows what they're doing.

            A real expert tends to discuss facts, not their resume.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 4:34pm

    Use case for 5g and Internet of Things

    For Internet of Things devices, WiFi and 4g use too much energy for long-term battery powered devices. You can't plug in an IoT device to charge overnight every three days. To get below a critical threshold for the economics of deployment, you need a battery life on the order of months to years and low-cost modem chips.

    There are three competing low power standards, each with slightly different use cases.

    LORA: free, open-source, suitable for fixed location, outdoor deployments (where you can justify installing your own gateway ~$300). Think farm instrumentation. up to 10 kilometer range. Limited geographic coverage.

    NB-IoT: A commercial network alternative to LORA with more widespread coverage, with some benefits for indoor deployments.

    LTE-M: Commercial system piggy backed on the 5g system, allowing reliable coverage for mobile IoT device.

    LTE-M is the simplified industry term for the LTE-MTC low power wide area (LPWA) technology standard ... This allows battery lifetime as long as 10 years or more for a wide range of use cases, with the modem costs reduced to 20-25% of the current EGPRS modems.


    https://www.gsma.com/iot/long-term-evolution-machine-type-communication-lte-mtc-cat-m1/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard Bennett (profile), 19 May 2018 @ 1:03pm

    This is a recycled Motherboard story

    See motherboard.vice[dot]com/en_us/article/59j7v8/the-race-to-5g-is-just-mindless-marketing-bullshit for the original screed.

    In neither story does Bodey McBodeface justify his claim that 5G is just marketing bullshit with anything more serious than some weak merger arguments.

    In reality, 5G is a radically different approach to wireless network design than the one used in the other G's: the main advance is radical densification with small cells supplementing today's macros. 5G also includes new bands, aggregation, substantially lower latency, and 100x higher speeds.

    This is what technology revolutions look like. It's hard for professional trolls to admit it, but 5G opens a new chapter in mobile networking that makes pretty much all of today's networks - both wired and wireless - obsolete.

    It would be a shame to remain so firmly stuck in whining about today's carrier market that you can't appreciate what's coming. Yes, there's some hype, but hype is a fact of life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2018 @ 7:31am

      Re: This is a recycled Motherboard story

      "radical densification"
      - Is that a technical term?


      "This is what technology revolutions look like"
      - Really? LOL


      "5G opens a new chapter in mobile networking"
      - You just proved Karl is correct, as this is total marketing bullshit. You hear this same crap every day.


      "firmly stuck in whining about today's carrier market"
      - Just hang in there folks, please continue paying exorbitant rates for shitty service because there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a huge train about to crush you - believe me, I am not lying like before ....


      "You can't appreciate what's coming"
      - Actually - I have a pretty good idea of what is in store. All one needs do is look to the past in order to see what will eventually happen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2018 @ 8:05am

      Re: This is a recycled Motherboard story

      but 5G opens a new chapter in mobile networking that makes pretty much all of today's networks - both wired and wireless - obsolete.

      The limitation on wireless development is that all wireless uses in a given area, say a house, have to be divided up over a spectrum that is about the same as a single fiber core. While, if required, fiber technology can deliver multiple fibers to each of a dozen devices on a single desk.

      When it comes to massive data carrying capacities, wireless is nowhere in sight, and cannot compete with fiber to the endpoint. Also, each radio cell is dividing much less than a fibers worth of capacity amongst multiple end points.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2018 @ 8:38pm

      Re: This is a recycled Motherboard story

      Yes, there's some hype, but hype is a fact of life.

      Like your Pai worship?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 21 May 2018 @ 4:03am

      Re: This is a recycled Motherboard story

      "This is a recycled Motherboard story"

      Yes, authors quite often get stories published in different venues, sometime republished or rewritten for different audiences. That doesn't change any accuracy about the claims within the article. Do you have an intelligent rebuttal, given that the entire point of this venue is discussion?

      "Bodey McBodeface"

      No, of course you don't.

      "so firmly stuck in whining about today's carrier market"

      Yeah, yeah, they've proven inept at installing previous versions of tech, and have proven rather adept at using it to rip off consumers, but THIS time it will be different! You provide no reason to trust them, other than some talk of how magical everything if we only trust them. Given your history of accuracy in this forum, I'll choose not to take your claims at face value..

      "Yes, there's some hype, but hype is a fact of life."

      It's called "marketing bullshit", as stated in the articles, and you appear to be doing a very good job of parroting what it says without addressing the comments pointing out why it's bullshit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2018 @ 9:42pm

      Re: This is a recycled Motherboard story

      In neither story does Bodey McBodeface justify his claim that 5G is just marketing bullshit

      So then when I am getting true 4G huh? I've still only got LTE which is just 3G+. Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it.

      In reality, 5G is a radically different approach to wireless network design than the one used in the other G's: the main advance is radical densification with small cells supplementing today's macros. 5G also includes new bands, aggregation, substantially lower latency, and 100x higher speeds.

      Hype, hype, buzzwords, and more hype.

      It's hard for professional trolls to admit it

      That's rich coming from you, arguably the highest paid troll on this site.

      5G opens a new chapter in mobile networking that makes pretty much all of today's networks - both wired and wireless - obsolete.

      Fiber called, it would like to have a word with you about speed and data capacity. Especially considering that the backhaul for 5G is ALL FIBER.

      It would be a shame to remain so firmly stuck in whining about today's carrier market

      You mean the carrier market that charges me $25 PER GIGABYTE I go over my monthly 30 GB limit? Oh yeah, they are just angels and revolutionaries.

      Yes, there's some hype, but hype is a fact of life.

      Just because hype is a fact of life doesn't make 5G the greatest thing since sliced bread. There's been hype around MANY things that fell flat on their face. Hype is meaningless other than to try and get people to buy into it. Which you apparently have. How's that koolaid taste?

      Try again Richard.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2018 @ 7:41pm

    Absolutely overhyped.
    What good is 5G 'faster than the speed of light' [TM] download speeds if you only have a couple of gigabytes to play with?
    No-one is going to cover rural areas and small towns either. If you're not living in the city, you're not getting coverage.
    IoT is equally overhyped and shows the disconnect between marketing agencies and realities. No-one wants devices that spy on everything you do. Also irrelevant for 5G because you don't need superfast wireless to send passwords to a C&C server.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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