A Deeper Look At Verizon's Early 5G 'Launch' Finds It's Barely Available

from the aggressively-overhyped dept

Wireless carriers haven't quite gotten the message that their relentless hype surrounding 5G may result in consumers being more annoyed than excited, potentially undermining the entire point.

While 5G is certainly going to be a good thing in that it will provide faster, more resilient connectivity, we've discussed at length how the talk about a "race to 5G" is largely just marketing nonsense pushed by cell carriers and network hardware vendors. As are claims that 5G is going to fundamentally transform the universe in some mystical capacity (like this piece claiming 5G will soon have us all working four day workweeks). 5G is good in that it will provide lower latency, faster connections, but it should be seen more as a modest evolution than some kind of dramatic revolution.

From claims that 5G will magically build the smart cities of tomorrow to lobbying org proclamations of 5G as a job creator, 5G is routinely heralded as something far grander than it actually is by industry. Much of this is tactical; carriers have been using 5G for several years now as a carrot on a stick for gullible regulators, informing them that unless they do everything the industry wants (like, say, gut all meaningful government authority over predatory natural monopolies), the United States will be the laughing stock of the world.

But the fact that over-hyping the tech could cause brand damage is something these companies don't seem particularly concerned about. AT&T, for example, has been widely ridiculed for simply changing the 4G logo on peoples' phones to 5G in the hopes that the press and public were too stupid to know the difference. And AT&T's early 5G offerings have been similarly over-hyped, promising availability in "12 cities" that barely exists if you take a closer look. Pricing isn't so great either, AT&T's initial product delivering just 15 gigabytes of usage for $70, not including network access fees, a $500 hotspot, and usage surcharges.

Verizon's initial 5G offerings are being similarly over-hyped. Despite Verizon's claims last fall that its shiny new 300 Mbps, $50 home 5G service ($70 if you don't bundle Verizon mobile wireless) would be widely available in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, folks who have actually measured availability say they're not particularly impressed:

"This is not what I expected," Lum said.

Instead of a city covered with 5G signals, and a network geared for mobile services, Lum said he instead found select locations in Sacramento where Verizon built a network that seems exclusively designed to offer fixed wireless services to a handful of potential customers.

Basically, Lum's big takeaway from his work is that, if Verizon wants to cover all of Sacramento with mobile 5G at 28GHz, "you're talking about a crapload of poles."

"I don't think there's enough people in the industry to deploy these," Lum added, noting that antennas would need to be installed every 1,000 feet or so, and each would need the requisite permits, power, backhaul and technicians capable of doing the work. And that labor would have to be replicated at each street corner across Sacramento and, ultimately, across every major and minor city in the country. "I think there's a long way to go," Lum concluded, estimating a ten-year buildout timeline for such an endeavor.

In other words Verizon, fresh off its promise not to over-hype 5G, launched a tiny market trial that can't be replicated at scale, but disguised it as a major industry milestone. This is, of course, well on par with Verizon's past hype efforts, which have included calling the technology the "fourth industrial revolution," and insisting it is "going to change everything."

Again, 5G certainly isn't a bad thing, in that network advancements are always good. 5G, whenever it launches at scale (likely 2021 or later for many), will offer faster, lower latency networks, assuming it's available in your neck of the woods. The virtualization tech accompanying much of the standard will make these networks easier to manage. But 5G isn't some mystical panacea that's going to fix everything wrong with the broadband sector (especially, say, the monopoly over cell tower backhaul, waning competition in light of mindless merger mania, or the glaring regulatory capture we do nothing about).

By overstating what 5G is carriers risk setting consumer expectations too high, and carriers may just be cementing a backlash as consumers realize that 5G (especially 5G pricing) isn't anything close to an actual miracle, assuming it's even actually available. And given the damage the sector has done to its brand during the recent games of regulatory patty cake with Ajit Pai, good will towards this telecom industry was already arguably in short supply.

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Filed Under: 5g, overhype, wireless
Companies: verizon

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