Study Shows US 5G Is An Over-hyped Disappointment

from the we're-not-#1 dept

We've noted for a while that the "race to 5G" is largely just the byproduct of telecom marketing departments and lobbyists hoping to spur lagging smartphone sales and scare lawmakers into obedience. Yes, fifth-generation wireless (5G) is important in that it will provide faster, more resilient networks when it's finally deployed at scale years from now. But the society-altering impacts of the technology are extremely over-hyped, availability has been dramatically overstated, and even if it was a "race," our broadband maps are so terrible (by industry design) it would be impossible to actually determine who won.

Even if you still want to view 5G as a race, there's very little indication we're actually winning it.

A new study by OpenSignal looked at crowdsourced 5G network performance data around the world, and included this telling chart comparing US 5G speeds to the rest of the world:

Sure, doubling 4G speeds isn't nothing. But it's sure as hell not the society-transforming technology we've been repeatedly promised. And in stark contrast to a lot of rhetoric about US 5G supremacy coming from the telecom sector and its BFFs at the Trump FCC, the data so far is aggressively disappointing.

Why is the US lagging behind other nations? One, because while 5G is wireless, you still need fiber fueling towers and providing backhaul country wide. But like so many aspects of US broadband, the companies that feed cell towers enjoy a very comfortable monopoly in most markets. A monopoly protected and propped up by the captured Trump FCC. Thanks to monopoly power and regulatory capture, the incentive just isn't there to deploy fiber anywhere it doesn't make the most immediate sense from an ROI perspective. Limited competition, spotty fiber, captured regulators, slower speeds.

The other problem, as the study explains, is US spectrum policy failure. Whereas many foreign countries have worked overtime to free up valuable, faster mid-band spectrum for public use, the US has lagged well behind on this front. The biggest holders of said spectrum are the Department of Defense and a handful of corporations, neither of which the FCC has had the courage to meaningfully pressure. It was something FCC Commissioners like Jessica Rosenworcel complained about just last year.

Instead, we've relied heavily on low spectrum bands (decent at providing service at range but not much faster than 4G), or high-band, millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum (which offers very fast speeds in select urban areas, but suffers from distance and wall penetration issues). The result is 5G networks that are offering a fraction of the speeds seen elsewhere around the world, Open Signal notes:

"Now, we find 5G is faster than Wifi in seven out of eight leading 5G countries but 4G is faster than Wifi in only two of these countries, Australia and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is the exception, where Wifi continues to offer a small edge over 5G because of the large number of U.S. 5G users connecting on widely available, but relatively slow, 5G networks that are deployed using low spectrum bands...Cellular connectivity will not replace Wifi anytime soon."

The study, in one swipe, puts to bed claims that 5G is a "race" that the US is somehow winning through sheer ingenuity and industry coddling deregulation, and that 5G will be some sort of competitive panacea (high prices also hamstring it in this area). OpenSignal has a whole separate study on why 5G won't be supplanting WiFi anytime soon. All of this runs, again, in pretty stark contrast to claims by companies like Verizon that 5G is some widely available, near mystical technology that will revolutionize everything from smart vehicles to modern medicine.

This is all before you get to the fact that carriers are aggressively overstating where 5G is actually available, and trying to prevent the government from accurately mapping availability. Or the fact that most 5G headsets are (for now) expensive, fatter battery hogs the majority of consumers aren't interested in. Or the fact that carriers like Verizon are trying to charge extra for 5G, when US consumers already pay some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world.

So on one side, we have captured regulators and wireless marketing departments falsely claiming that US 5G is going to revolutionize everything, including cancer treatment (it's not). On the other hand we have conspiracy theorists insisting that 5G is some cancer-causing Godzilla. But the reality is 5G simply isn't that interesting, powerful, or dangerous. It's a modest evolution, not a revolution. And while it will certainly be a good thing many years from now when it's fully deployed, mindless hype has been its most notable attribute thus far.

Filed Under: 5g, broadband, competition, fcc, hype, race to 5g, us


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 6:39am

    5g is hampered by regulatory capture. Lack of competition. Lack of investment by big corporations
    In building out fibre networks, so it' reflects the existing broadband market America.
    At least in some parts of America there is some community or municipal broadband networks to provide competition with compast. One reason apple does not make a 5g phone it knows it will be years before 5g is widely available

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 6:57am

      Re:

      "5g is hampered by regulatory capture."

      Before 5G is "hampered" by regulatory capture, lack of competition, or lack of investment, it is hampered right out of the gate simply because physics.

      5G gives you signal range comparable to that of a home router. Unless you're standing right at the foot of a signal repeater yopu aren't going to get better bandwidth out of it than 3G.

      However, expanding and building on the existing 4G infrastructure you might actually get the nominal capacity of that protocol (60 mbit or so) out of it. For most major cities that'll add an order of magnitude to available mobile bandwidth already.

      Rural areas where you don't stumble across a repeater mast every 30 meters will still be on a frequency which provides range rather than bandwidth so whether they'll get 5G masts is as impractical a topic of conversation as the debate whether the black hole at the heart of the andromeda galaxy is made of cheeze or not.

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

      • identicon
        Talmyr, 20 May 2020 @ 6:39am

        Re: Re:

        I think we will be able to answer that one in a few billion years when Andromeda collides with us, which is still substantially sooner than the US will have a competitive internet market.

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

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 6:51am

    And in other news...

    ...The heavily debated weather forecast that it will rain on sunday has, in fact, panned out as true, irrespective of the desperate attempts of sunshade and parasol manufacturers to predict that it will be a glowing hot day, perfect for the beach.

    Up Next; "Is Gravity a thing?". The Coca-cola and Perfetti Van Melle corporations in heavy controversy against physics experts about the use of Mentos & coke-fueled bottle rockets for personal transportation.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    tz1 (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 7:21am

    Where was Obama, your governor, and your city?

    The Trump bashing isn't warranted. Trump isn't preserving your city's cable monopolies, they could let someone put fiber everywhere, but they have to allow them to use the poles. (My small Wyoming town has Gigabit fiber everywhere from nearly a decade ago - all it took was a vote of the city Council - why doesn't your big city?). Trump isn't locking down the same monopolies in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Illinois, or Michigan which are deep enough blue states. Corruption and cronyism run deep through both parties. But instead of "Deplorables need high speed internet too!", which might convince Trump to push the FCC, it is "Orange Man Bad!". That said, there are more technical problems. 5G elsewhere isn't saturated so of course it will be fast for now. Also 5G is an excuse to have 3G removed, which is a problem out here as there are many legacy places that have ONLY 3G, so my phone won't work in the expanded "zero bar ranch" while maybe a downtown neighborhood in Portland gets poor 5G. There was a satellite/wireless internet company that has been blocked for years because their band was next to GPS and there were people afraid of interference. Once infrastructure is built and certified it is too expensive to change. (See the story of FM radio and TV and the inventor driven to suicide by the then crony incumbents like RCA - this is not the first time). Speaking of Trump, instead of another Solyndra, maybe we should do an infrastructure recovery bill, but with filling every pothole in the USA, fixing every bridge, we should run the latest highest bandwidth fiber along those roads (and railroads). Instead of worrying about 5Gs complications, why not build the infrastructure so every place has an even faster hardline and even the next generation wifi? Maybe do a wifi that can transfer connections like cell phones. And don't make this just dark fiber, let it be redundant and fast, low-latency paths.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 7:51am

      Re: Where was Obama, your governor, and your city?

      "But instead of "Deplorables need high speed internet too!", which might convince Trump to push the FCC..."

      And then you woke up?

      I'm just being curious here, but when, in Trump's last 40 years of very well documented history, did he give the impression that has a single shit to give about the "deplorables"? This is the guy who in his career as a private entity improved his mood by firing the first five people he came across - and governs the white house by firing everyone who isn't an instant sycophant.

      "The Trump bashing isn't warranted."

      Except over his last 40 years as a human being and notably in his last four years as a president at which point in time his narcissistic megalomania became everybody's business rather than single individuals unfortunate enough to be singled out.

      "Also 5G is an excuse to have 3G removed, which is a problem out here as there are many legacy places that have ONLY 3G, so my phone won't work in the expanded "zero bar ranch"..."

      Which it really shouldn't. 3G is just a frequency upgrade so if your 3G phone stops working then that's all on your phone's OEM. And if your mast only uses 5G frequencies then it's effective range will be about 100 meters (300 feet if you think in imperial) at most. Beyond that range it will still successively have to use 4G, 3G, and 2G.

      "Maybe do a wifi that can transfer connections like cell phones."

      It's called a "5G" signal tower. The main difference is that a wifi uses unlicensed bands and the signal tower - using more powerful signals - restricts itself to licensed bands. Other than this both technologies use the same electromagnetic spectrum and use ever-increasing frequencies with shorter and shorter range to allow for an increase in effective bandwidth.

      In your "small wyoming town" it's likely that you'll all be paying through the nose for AT&T to land themselves a massive contract - which brings you lot way higher phone bills against exactly nothing. Except the need to buy a new phone which is "5G-enabled" since even if you'll all still be effectively on 3G I'm fairly sure Verizon and AT&T will be all too happy to block your current hardware even if it'd work just fine on the new network.

      You may want to thank Ajit Pai and Trump for ensuring that you'll get well shorn as the sheep they - apparently correctly - assume you to be.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 9:24am

      Re: Where was Obama, your governor, and your city?

      Oh, is it infrastructure week again?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 7:33am

    is there anything connected to US telecoms/broadband that isn't a complete disappointment as well as extremely expensive with piss poor customer service? and in all fairness, where does the blame deserve to be laid? totally at the feet of the money grabbing, greedy, self serving fuckers in Government for giving the companies whatever they want in return for 'Campaign Contributions' and personal 'back handers'!! absolutely disgraceful!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 7:52am

    study finds blue is, in fact, a color.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 8:24am

    It hasn't even given me coronavirus.

    So disappointed. All these broken 5G promises.

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

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 8:39am

    STARLINK IS COMING

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 1:35am

      Re: STARLINK IS COMING

      "STARLINK IS COMING"

      ...and I'll believe it when is see a scalable solution which actually provides bandwidth to speak of. Say what you like about cable fiber, once it's been laid you don't need to leap through hoops trying to persistently cheat the basic laws of electromagnetic dispersal.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 12:32pm

    interesting to see..

    That Switzerland and S. Korea are list, pretty high in all type of g'..
    Iv wondered long and hard, for along time, about How the corps Shoot us in the foot over many many years, and we Still believe them.
    Why would S. Korea be ahead of the USA? A few reasons, in that they are also 1 of the biggest Tech nations in the world. The USA is the 1 of the biggest USERS, not creators..
    Every time I see the USA Push that we are, this/that/the best/ the first/the ONLY.. You can look around NOW, and see.. Our corps wait for things to FIT into their pocket. We no longer Advance FIRST. For all the tax Cuts the state and Fed give them, our corps are nothing special.
    The Corps and Gov. keep telling China, DONT copy our goods, that we ask you to build. But have you seen the amount of TECH they have wondering around.. Yes its limited to Hong kong Coastal line but its HUGE..
    But China is suffering abit, and finding out the Problems the USA Found in the 1970's.. The Pollution garnered from the Advancements of Manufacturing and building goods, tends to ROT the land around it, as well as the water down river. MOST of this has to sit near the rivers. and is a great place to dump. Being Landlocked, many ended up Burying it. And eventually people really suffered.
    I wont point fingers, but will ask, where is all the cotton, this nation makes, were is all the wool our sheep make.. Love that Plastic, and they keep trying to make it better, using Corn. But the by products SUCK.
    For a nation that thinks its the best, we have some of the worst food. Unless you are rich.

    Lets stay with tech here..so..
    WHO has a boom box? the ones Iv seen recently tend to be about 10 years old, have Very few options, and are abit Crap.
    I recently had to get rid of my Old one, that had Tons of Plugs in the back to addons, 2 removable speakers, 2 extra Speaker outputs, 5 band equalizer, Dual tapes, and cost $99 40+ years ago. The Volume switches died, and hard to replace.
    Anyone remember AIWA?? sony bought them. Made them into a LOW end audio company, NOT a competitor.

    the corps like things as Cheap as possible. and they can get it. They dont really, want the USA to make competitive products(thats another story about tarriffs). they get designs from other countries and Dont have to pay material prices, Pollution laws, Fair labor laws, Fair labor wages.. They dont want to make anything in this country, that would cost them great Salaries.. No employees, because they get everything Shipped in.

    then we Wine, because all the tech is over there, and Cisco cant compete. Even when (IMO) they probably get 1/2 their hardware from overseas..

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Shel10 (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 2:04pm

    "Trump" FCC Commissioners

    I get it - you don't like Donald Trump. Take a look at the list of FCC commissioners. Most were appointed by Obama. This is not Donald Trump's FCC!!!!!

    Don't pass false information!!!!!!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 2:32pm

      Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

      "This is not Donald Trump's FCC!!!!!"

      How is it not? Who appointed that Pai guy?

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 3:51pm

      Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

      The Obama FCC passed net neutrality. The Trump FCC repealed it.

      A political party can only have a single-seat FCC majority. In practice, that means the president's party gets 3 seats and the opposition gets 2. The Obama FCC had 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans; the Trump FCC has 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Suggesting that that one-vote swing is trivial and unimportant and the two FCCs are basically the same is a self-evidently ridiculous position, and you should be embarrassed by it, almost as much as by your grasp of punctuation. If Stan Lee were still with us, he'd be telling you to take it easy on the exclamation points.

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

      • icon
        Shel10 (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:32pm

        Re: Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

        All of the commissioners were appointed by Obama - regardless of party affiliation. Check this out - https://connectwithglobal.com/leadership.html

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

          I'm sort of morbidly curious whether you're going to keep digging that hole.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 4:49am

          Re: Re: Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

          "All of the commissioners were appointed by Obama - regardless of party affiliation. Check this out..."

          Ah, the list of FCC appointees from before Trump?
          Yeah, 2016 that was Obama's FCC.

          Then Trump appointed Pai and most of the sensible people in the FCC were sacked or resigned.

          So next question is whether you were dumb enough not to check the dates or dishonest enough to think we were all too dumb to do that?

          Either way fits a Trump cultist, i guess.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 12:09am

      Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

      And trump could of replaced all of them at the end of tenure..

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 1:38am

      Re: "Trump" FCC Commissioners

      "Take a look at the list of FCC commissioners. Most were appointed by Obama."

      You mean the ones of which the majority actually quit after Trump replaced the leadership with Ajit Pai and a cadre of inept sock puppets?

      "This is not Donald Trump's FCC!!!!!"

      Actually...it is. But don't let actual facts disturb your veneration of that icon of the Very Fine People of the KKK.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 3:24pm

    Regulatory capture makes it almost the same as 1g.

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

  • identicon
    trajing, 11 May 2020 @ 4:05pm

    Meteorology

    Did anything ever come of that whole 5G/weather forecasting problem that was big a while back? A quick search for "5g weather forecasting" turns up this Wired article, and it's somewhat alarming to me how quickly this topic faded into the background with no clear resolution. Certainly longer advance warning of hurricanes and other severe weather is more important than being able to watch videos on your cell phone slightly faster.

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

  • icon
    Shel10 (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:27pm

    Obama in 2012

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:32pm

      Re:

      Okay, cool. Now see if you can find a happy medium between putting six exclamation points at the end of a sentence and writing a post consisting of a single incoherent sentence fragment with no punctuation whatsoever.

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

  • icon
    Shel10 (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:31pm

    Here's the list of the current commissioners with appointment dates; https://connectwithglobal.com/leadership.html
    All Obama appointees. They typically serve for 7 years. What you are seeing is the appointees looking for new jobs. That why the have been giving more bandwidth to carriers and changing the rules.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 4:40pm

      Re:

      All Obama appointees.

      Tom Wheeler resigned as head of the FCC on January 20, 2017, slick. See if you can figure out any other relevant events that occurred on that date.

      And Mignon Clyburn stepped down in 2018.

      The reason the FCC commissioners in your link are all Obama appointees is that that list is from 2016. Might I recommend that in the future, you look for the current list of FCC commissioners at fcc.gov, instead of whatever the fuck connectwithglobal.com is?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 7:11pm

        Re: Re:

        It's like blaming Ajit Pai triggers a violet allergic reaction in these tools, who woulda fucking thought?

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

        • identicon
          ryuugami, 12 May 2020 @ 3:57am

          Re: Re: Re:

          violet allergic reaction

          Ultra-violet. With a bleach injection.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 4:51am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "It's like blaming Ajit Pai triggers a violet allergic reaction in these tools, who woulda fucking thought?"

          Can't blame them. After following the medical advice from Fearless Leader, these Very Fine People can be somewhat excused for no longer having the brainpower left to be logical and coherent.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 1:40am

      Re:

      "All Obama appointees."

      That list is right from where Trump took office. The current list makes it pretty clear that Trump's replaced most of Obama's appointees with his own.

      And not a few of Obama's appointees stated disappointment with the new direction of the FCC as a reason for resigning.

      So did you have anything to bring to the table other than shooting your own argument in the face?

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 12 May 2020 @ 7:46am

        Re: Re:

        That list is right from where Trump took office. The current list makes it pretty clear that Trump's replaced most of Obama's appointees with his own.

        That's not really true; only two of Obama's appointees have left, Wheeler and Clyburn. The other three (Pai, O'Rielly, and Rosenworcel) are still in office. What Trump's done is promote Pai to chair and appoint two new commissioners: Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks.

        While Shel faceplanted with his "everyone on the FCC is an Obama appointee" claim, he actually was technically correct earlier when he said most of the commissioners are Obama appointees -- however, that's a misleading statement. Yes, three of the current FCC commissioners were appointed by Obama -- but those three don't tend to vote the same. We had a partisan split on the FCC with a Democratic majority under Obama, and we have a partisan split on the FCC with a Republican majority under Trump. Blaming Obama for what the Republican majority has done is disingenuous and absurd.

        Obama did appoint Pai and O'Rielly; that much is true. But he had to; by law, one party can't have more than a one-seat majority, and by convention, that means three of the president's party and two of the opposition party. And who do you suppose recommended Pai and O'Rielly? Why, that would be Mitch McConnell, who was Senate Minority Leader at the time and is now Senate Majority Leader.

        Blaming Obama for the actions of a Republican-majority FCC because he appointed two of the three Republicans in that majority, because he had to appoint two Republicans, is some next-level blame-gaming. But what else is new from the Party of Personal Responsibility? When Republicans do something bad, clearly it's Obama's fault.

        None of which is to say that Wheeler, Clyburn, or Rosenworcel were perfect by any stretch of the imagination, or that I always agreed with them, or that they were immune to telecom favoritism. The Obama FCC had its flaws. But it was a hell of a lot better than the Trump FCC. Yes, the two share three out of five commissioners, but pretending that the swing from a Democratic majority to a Republican one didn't matter is just silly.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 5:59pm

    Looking at that chart, that is some SSLLLOOOWW WIFI speed. What a lot of crap to compare slow speed Wifi to So-called high-Speed 5G. I get around 250Mbps. 5Ghz is much faster than 2.4Ghz, which will show on your Wifi Connection. Which is why I have most of my stuff wired as Wired is the fastest and most reliable.

    I've been saying for quite some time that 5G has been way, way overhyped. You need 4 times the towers to cover the same area as 4G. This is just 1 reason why people aren't seeing the speeds here. In other countries, the population is denser and so the towers then have for 5G and adding some more, they are getting a lot used and making money.

    The U.S. is bigger than many people think. It's a shock to a tourist when they get here with their plans to go here and there and find out the driving distance is much further than they thought. It's another reason why we just don't have the Public transportation most of them do. Just to far spread out. It would be way, way, way to costly to have the subway, or train stations in all the places they need to be and the trains themselves to get people where they need to go all over. It would be a huge money loser. If you charged what it really required, people wouldn't pay it.

    The U.S. companies are also charging like $5-$10 more for 5G service on your phone. Even though you would be lucky to even get a 5G connection. What can't you do on your 4G phone that you need 5G anyway??? The biggest Data Hog is Video Streaming. I can already do that on my 4G phone. If anything I'd like to see some more 4G towers in some of these 4G dead zones that still exist.

    The other issue is many places like S.F. are just against more Cell Phone towers. It's hard to build any now. Almost impossible!!! You think 4 times the towers needed for 5G will fly in S.F? Nope!!! I'm not surprised by any of these results and I don't see it getting better for 2-5 years, maybe even longer.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 May 2020 @ 12:04am

      Re:

      "You need 4 times the towers to cover the same area as 4G."

      A highly conservative estimate, and somewhat misleading. 4 times as many towers won't get you the hyped 5G speed.

      I don't think 10 times as many towers would. Because that's how electromagnetism works.

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

  • icon
    ScarlettQuinn (profile), 19 May 2020 @ 7:44am

    Hmm.. interesting)

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


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