5G Has Become The Magic Pixie Dust Of Tech Policy Conversations

from the hype-parade dept

Fifth generation wireless (5G) has quickly become a sort of magical carrot on a stick in tech and telecom policy circles. Telecom lobbyists and the Ajit Pai FCC have spent the better part of the last two years trying to claim that unless we gut consumer protections like net neutrality, America will somehow fall behind in the "race" to 5G. U.S. companies have also convinced the government that if America doesn't want to lose said race (whatever that means), we most assuredly should ban cheaper Chinese networking gear from the country (the protectionism angle of this is entirely coincidental, they'll insist).

More recently, Sprint and T-Mobile have been telling anybody who'll listen that their competition and job eroding merger is the only way to ensure that America doesn't fall behind on 5G. Despite the fact that both companies are on record clearly stating they both could have easily deployed 5G independently, that same argument popped up again this week during merger hearings on Capitol Hill. As did the well-weathered claim that the merger is essential if America wants to beat China in the rush to 5G and avoid being laughed at by the other kids on the 5G playground:

"In prepared remarks, T-Mobile CEO John Legere ties the proposed merger to “American innovation and national security,” and specifically argues that the merger will be necessary to make the United States a leader on next-generation 5G network technology. “The stakes are high — nothing less than preserving our edge in innovation and maintaining our security,” he plans to say.

The CEO plans to say that the US is “falling behind” China on 5G, which he says “has taken a global lead in the race.” He says in the remarks that only a newly merged T-Mobile will be able to compete.

Of course this is all bullshit. As we've noted previously, the "race to 5G" rhetoric is largely nonsense crafted by hardware vendors looking to sell more network hardware and wireless carriers looking to justify high US mobile data prices and spur lagging phone and tablet sales. It's not a race, there's no way to measure a winner (especially given our broadband maps are hot garbage due to regulatory capture), and the only folks likely to win this particular game are the companies selling the hype and related products.

5G is important, but it's not paradigm-rattling important.

5G will be a very useful evolution in wireless in that it will provide faster, lower latency networks that are more easily managed (in large part due to virtualization technology). But 5G is not some mystical fucking panacea. It can't, for example, magically compensate for the reduction in competition in the wake of the T-Mobile deal, a bit of mathematics that never ends well for consumers (go ask a Canadian or the Irish). It won't miraculously compensate for regulatory capture at the Ajit Pai FCC. Given these and other broken market realities, it's unlikely to result in what consumers really want: lower prices.

In tech policy circles, 5G has become the equivalent of lobbying and policy mysticism, entirely untethered from factual reality. You just sprinkle a little bit on your argument and you can use it to justify pretty much anything. Blake Reid, a Professor at Colorado Law, probably put it best:

Again, it's perfectly fine if you're realistically enthusiastic about the modest but important improvements 5G networks are going to bring. But carriers have been trying to pass the technology off as the next industrial revolution and some kind of deus ex machina. Not just because they want to sell product, but because they're using it as a regulatory carrot on a stick, claiming that unless you give big telecom "X" (X=less oversight, more subsidies, merger approval, the death of net neutrality), America will somehow fall behind an arbitrary measurement they've entirely pulled out of their collective ass.

If we follow down the rabbit hole hyping 5G without addressing the massive problems in both the fixed and wireless US broadband markets, this race ends with all of us crying and nursing a pulled hamstring.

Filed Under: 5g, hype, overhype, wireless


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 6:38am

    China Version of the Internet

    Why does Techdirt criticize The Great Firewall of China and all the wonders of surveillance it brings on the one hand but have no problem cheerleading companies tied to the Chinese Communist Party seeking to bring that surveillance to the rest of the world?

    I'm conflicted on how to view this.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 6:48am

    "Of course this is all bullshit."

    We had the stone age, bronze age, the iron age ... the industrial age, the space age, the world wide web age ... and now the bullshit age.

    It is really amazing just how much bullshit some people are able to consume without becoming nauseous. People have become rather complacent about the typical bullshit they encounter on a daily basis, for example the continual barrage of bullshit we commonly refer to as advertising but when a bullshit artist, or mentally ill person, is elected to a position of power and authority there is some reluctance by the politicians of like party to call out the obvious bullshit. They know it is a pile of bullshit and endlessly attempt to polish the turds so the general public, or at least 30% of them are completely bamboozled - and this is all just in order to maintain their gravy train, because they are entitled to your resources and soon it will jail time for saying anything about it. You will be required to be happy.

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

  3. identicon
    TFG, 15 Feb 2019 @ 7:02am

    Re: China Version of the Internet

    "...cheerleading companies tied to the Chinese Communist Party seeking to bring that surveillance to the rest of the world?"

    Who are we talking about?

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re: China Version of the Internet

    Presumably Huawei.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 7:21am

    Re: China Version of the Internet

    Look at the second link in the body of this article. It's a link to an Techdirt article with some outside data and facts regarding Huawei and spying.

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

  6. identicon
    TFG, 15 Feb 2019 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: Re: China Version of the Internet

    Presumably. If so, the whole point of the Huawei dig is that "seeking to bring that surveillance to the rest of the world" lacks any significant evidence to support that actually being the case.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 7:43am

    On a scale from banana to sasquatch, how many people actually give a rat's ass about 5G?

    Oh, stop complaining. That question makes as much sense in this 5G dustup as anything said by any proponent.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 8:33am

    Pixie dust or....

    Turbo encabulator

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 8:49am

    Re: China Version of the Internet

    Because the argument of "it's China so of course they're spying on you through Huawei" is dangerous without publicly available information to prove it.

    By that standard other nations could just as easily say "it's the USA so of course the NSA is spying on you through Cisco".

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 9:54am

    If it further enables the IoT, it is more likely to accelerate the destruction of networks and opportunites more than fostering them. Let's take a page from American 4G, and make some minor improvements, call it 5G, and declare victory.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: China Version of the Internet

    By that standard other nations could just as easily say "it's the USA so of course the NSA is spying on you through Cisco".

    And there is evidence to support that claim, unlike claims against Huawei.

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

  12. identicon
    Iggy, 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:21am

    Cell phones have become a big thing in African countries with poor infrastructure. Maybe that's where the US is headed. Instead of universal access to next gen fiber infrastructure, we can have satellite internet and 5G.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:27am

    Re: China Version of the Internet

    "seeking to bring that surveillance to the rest of the world?"

    Too late.

    As if it is not already in place.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 10:28am

    Re:

    Well - it is easier to spy upon that way.

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

  15. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 15 Feb 2019 @ 11:58am

    Magic Pixie Dust

    Maybe 5G will get the FBI to shut up about going dark?

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2019 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: China Version of the Internet

    Of course it's already in place. That's how it is being marketed. 2016 China's ZTW brought the Fatherland card to Venezuela.

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

  17. icon
    Dougbo (profile), 15 Feb 2019 @ 3:41pm

    Finally some truth

    Thanks for the refreshing truth. Checking out mobile assets:

    • Greenfield customers: few
    • Scalable infrastructure: nope
    • Historical innovations: ringtones
    • Current innovations: throttling / "up-to" speeds
    • Future innovations: some more bandwidth, fixed then mobile: yawn
    • Incredibly friendly regulators willing to tip tables hard in their favor and hype national security Boogeyman: yes
    • taxpayer subsidy for otherwise no-business-case build out: bingo

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

  18. identicon
    Patricia Ormsby, 15 Feb 2019 @ 4:27pm

    Not to mention "health"

    People are getting fed up with being stonewalled over the health effects of radiofrequency radiation. Even stronger concerns exist over the millimeter band that 5G will use, combined with phased array transmission (coherent beams). Nearly 50,000 signatories so far: https://www.5gspaceappeal.org/the-appeal/ "In 2015, 215 scientists from 41 countries communicated their alarm to the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO). They stated that 'numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF [electromagnetic fields] affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines.' More than 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate harm to human health from RF radiation."

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

  19. icon
    Fred McTaker (profile), 17 Feb 2019 @ 7:07pm

    5G proves we don't need carriers at all.

    Ironically, real 5G technologies are existence proofs that the spectrum-monopoly policies exploited by Big Telco/Broadcast with generous help from their captured regulators worldwide have never been necessary. All the 5G bandwidth advantages come from efficient reuse of spectrum over both time and space, just like the open spectrum technologies WiFi and MIMO. Giving out regional monopolies over light waves makes distributing these signals LESS efficient.

    In other words, to get the best 5G networks possible, all cell and broadcast corporate spectrum licenses should be rescinded and eliminated. Thus Open Spectrum policy should be the only policy.

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


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