from the 5G-is-whatever-I-say-it-is dept
To be clear: fifth generation (5G) wireless should be really impressive when it actually arrives, providing significantly faster mobile broadband speeds at lower latencies. The catch: the 5G standard hasn't even been created yet, and any real deployment of the ultra-fast technology isn't expected to even seriously begin until 2020. That hasn't stopped wireless carrier and hardware vendor marketing departments, which have been hyping the technology as the second coming for several years now. Sure, these salesmen don't know what 5G really even is yet, but they're pretty sure it's going to fix everything.
As these carriers rush to begin tests on the hardware and software advancements that may someday make up the 5G standard, the real yeoman's work is now being done in marketing. All of the big carriers are tripping over themselves, trying desperately to convince the public that they're going to be the first to offer the amazing new benefits 5G can provide. Verizon has traditionally been at the forefront of this hype, telling anyone who'll listen it hopes to offer gigabit speeds over wireless sometime this year (to a limited number of trial participants).
Not to be outdone, AT&T has upped the ante this week with a proclamation that the company is first to market with "5G Evolution." What is 5G evolution? It's a largely meaningless marketing term concocted by AT&T to describe 4x4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas and 256 QAM technologies that can be used to make existing LTE networks faster. It really has nothing whatsoever to do with "5G," but you wouldn't know that from reading AT&T's marketing missives this week:
"AT&T* today announced 5G Evolution plans to pave the way to the next generation of faster speeds for its wireless customers with the latest devices in over 20 major metro areas by the end of this year. We continue to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G while the 5G standards are being finalized."
"Our 5G Evolution in Austin gives our customers a taste of the future," said David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T Entertainment Group. "With 5G Evolution from AT&T you don’t have to wait to experience endless entertainment possibilities on the next generation network when you have the latest devices."
Except you will wait. For some time. A closer look reveals that the trials are only currently available in a limited part of Austin, and only accessible from those that have one of two mobile devices: the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. And while 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM advancements are a useful improvement for existing networks, they're not really new, either. T-Mobile has been implementing the upgrades on its own network since last fall.
The features AT&T is calling "5G Evolution" have been live on T-Mobile since 2016. It's not even like this stuff is that new.
— David Ruddock (@RDR0b11) April 25, 2017
And again, this has absolutely nothing to do with "5G." So why are carriers like AT&T and Verizon pushing so hard to hype a technology that doesn't technically exist? For years both carriers justified their higher prices by claiming their networks offered users superior connectivity. But as T-Mobile has ramped up competition, gobbled up their frustrated customers and closed the network coverage and performance gap -- these companies have been forced to find some other way to justify what are fairly consistently some of the highest LTE broadband prices among all developed nations. Their solution for this justification gap? Good, old-fashioned hype.
With "4G" networks, we watched as carrier marketing departments slowly but surely convinced the ITU to let them call pretty much everything short of carrier pigeons 4G. Not to be outdone, you can expect the marketing bastardization of the term "5G" to be dramatically more misleading and annoying.