T-Mobile's 'Nationwide' 5G Isn't Nationwide, Only Slightly Faster Than 4G

from the ill-communication dept

We've noted for a while now how mobile carriers don't seem particularly aware that they're associating 5G in the minds of American consumers with hype and bullshit. AT&T's efforts to use bogus phone icons to pretend 4G is 5G; Verizon's tendency to dramatically overstate availability; scant handset support and annoying surcharges; overly ambitious marketing means that consumers' first contact with 5G is generally one of disappointment.

That's not to say that 5G won't be a solid improvement when it arrives at scale, just that carriers were abundantly eager to overstate what 5G can do and where it's available, and didn't stop to think that they were doing the technology a disservice.

The latest case in point: T-Mobile this week proudly proclaimed it had launched "America's first nationwide 5G network." But a closer look at actual availability finds that by "nationwide," T-Mobile means about 60% of the US. When pressed for clarification, the company that professes to be the "no bullshit" alternative to AT&T and Verizon wouldn't really answer the question:

"The US Census Bureau estimates the population to be more than 330 million people. T-Mobile hasn't actually forgotten about the other 130 million people in the US, as a sentence halfway through the carrier's press release notes that "T-Mobile's network covers more than 60 percent of the population." At 1 million square miles, the carrier's 5G network also covers about 28% of the country's 3.53 million square miles, and it's far short of the geographical reach already provided by T-Mobile's 4G network.

We asked T-Mobile to explain why it defines "nationwide" as "60 percent of the population." T-Mobile did not answer that question."

Only later did T-Mobile attempt to defend its head fake by claiming that the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau declares anything over 200 million to be "nationwide." But NAD is a largely toothless self-regulatory apparatus designed to help the industry forestall any meaningful government punishment for false advertising. Its definition of "nationwide" is meaningless to the broader public and factual reality. Either you're actually deploying 5G to everybody, or you aren't.

One plus side of T-Mobile's 5G launch: at least it's not charging consumers extra to access the network, though you can probably expect that to change post merger when sector competition is weakened. Though there's another issue with T-Mobile's claims that its 5G network is somehow revolutionary: the company's initial implementation of 5G isn't really all that much faster than its existing 4G network, given this initial launch largely relies on the same 600Mhz spectrum it uses for 4G. Not the millimeter wave spectrum that offers lesser range but notably faster speeds:

"The 5G service T-Mobile announced today isn't much faster than T-Mobile's 4G service. That's because the "nationwide" 5G covering 60% of the population uses the same 600MHz spectrum that T-Mobile already uses for 4G. The big speed increases on 5G are expected to come from millimeter-wave spectrum, but those higher frequencies don't travel as far and are being used primarily in densely populated urban areas."

Again, faster, more reliable networks are always good. But they're not magic. And 5G isn't going to magically fix everything wrong with US telecom, be it high prices, regulatory capture or a refusal to upgrade most of the nation despite billions in subsidies. But since "just ok" doesn't sell new handsets or make for sexy headlines, carriers have resorted to dramatically overstating what the standard can do, in turn associating 5G in the minds of many with bluster and bullshit.

Filed Under: 4g, 5g, competition, coverage, nationwide, truth in advertising
Companies: t-mobile


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 6:15am

    The future of derision

    In 2039, or there about, someone will be discussing some huge scam being pulled by some industry very publicly and on a website like Techdirt, or maybe even Techdirt itself, someone will snort "Yeah, they're trying to pull a 5G on us".

    Whether that future post wins an insightful vote or funny vote, or both remains to be seen.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 6:50am

    carriers have resorted to dramatically overstating what the standard can do, in turn associating 5G in the minds of many with bluster and bullshit.

    If 2016 taught us anything it's that 40% of the country actually prefers bluster and bullshit Probably a bit ironic that this population is not the ones served by T-mobile 5G.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 6:57am

    I like the other ad that called it "5G evolution...the first step to 5G."

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 7:46am

    Facts and fiction..

    These are hard to separate..
    The dream is there, the idea is there.. but what is needed to fulfill it..

    1?... the Whole of the system requires certain things..

    To give access to #?? people you need a bandwidth equal to THAT number Times the bandwidth, and abit more. How to get that Much bandwidth over the Fiber lines installed in many of these towers??
    Do you think copper will do it? NOPE, well it could, if you added about 3-5 times as many cables installed there already.. Any one remember the beginnings of Cellphones?? dead spots all over.. lets have more fun.

    the main fantasy is creating a REAL wireless backbone, but the amounts of Data exchange is Huge. and i wonder if the TOP people with the dreams have talked to anyone that understands this..
    Anyone wish to tell these children the problems??
    How about Local 5g is possible, IF you build it up now..going across the country is going to be Not so good, until someone pays for the upgrades..

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 7:48am

      Re: Facts and fiction..

      And just an aside..
      When is this country going to Hold corps up to their promises??
      Probably not, after the Corps paid them small fortunes..
      If we could only find their money..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 8:38am

    I've been saying for quite some time that I wouldn't worry too much about the over-hyped 5G. I still have a lack of 4G or any kind of signal in places where I should have a good signal with T-Mobile. Middle of town in some places it's just weak.

    5G has a shorter range. You really need 4 towers for 5G for every 1 tower of 4G to cover the same area. So even if you can get 5G, it's spotty at best. Not sure why you need even faster speed on your phone anyway? Streaming Video is about the biggest bandwidth hog you're going to do on your phone and you can already do that with 3G and 4G.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 9:44am

    Is there such a thing as an honest US business, one that actually does (and delivers) what it claims? I'm struggling to think of one! They're all very good at spining large portions of BS and taking extortionate amounts of money but collapse at the first hint of being sued by anyone who expects to get what they're paying for but not! And most of the screw ups are ably backed by politicians, the like of whom would be hard to beat anywhere on the Planet!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 10:12am

      Re:

      "Is there such a thing as an honest US business"

      I would start looking at the family type Mom 'n Pop shops. Once you go selling shares, things tend to change.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 5 Dec 2019 @ 8:31am

    Well, T-Mobile is certainly acting like they've already merged with Sprint and learned the old telco marketing methods rather quickly.

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


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