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.