from the hype-over-substance dept
Data continues to indicate that despite ridiculous oodles of hype, U.S. 5G networks aren’t much to write home about. According to a recent study by OpenSignal, the U.S. ranked dead last in terms of 5G speeds in a 14-country comparison, largely due to our failure to make mid-band spectrum available for public use. Other reports have repeatedly shown that many initial 5G networks are actually slower than existing 4G networks. Not a great look given the months of DC rhetoric about how the U.S. is in an urgent “race to 5G.” In reality, it’s less of a race and more of a drunken stumble.
While carriers (usually falsely) advertise massive 5G coverage and reality bending improvements at the hands of 5G, consumers’ first impression continues to be of the underwhelming variety:
“Millions of people are experiencing 5G for the first time this month. And I imagine they’re asking: Is that all there is? 5G hit a new level of success in the US in October with the launch of the first 5G iPhones and Verizon’s “nationwide” 5G. But the vast majority of Americans are currently getting a 4G-like, slow 5G experience that doesn’t reflect the lofty promises we’ve been hearing for the past few years.”
With smartphone innovation and sales plateauing, wireless carriers and handset vendors alike have been eager to portray 5G as less of a modest evolution and more of a revolution. Claims of 5G all but curing cancer have been common, as have claims that the technology will quickly usher forth the smart cars and smarter cities of tomorrow. 5G hype has also been used to spur network hardware sales, and has also proven useful to goose national security worries by folks eager to heighten tensions with China and boost subsidization of entrenched telecom giants.
But again, if it’s a race, the U.S. sure as hell isn’t winning it:
And this is just overall speed we’re talking about. News outlets, network data nerds, and lawmakers alike routinely fail to discuss price. U.S. consumers already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for mobile data, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down with 5G. Especially given our recent decisions to all but lobotomize FCC regulators, eliminate net neutrality (which helped control efforts to further nickel and dime U.S. users), and our utter obsession with rubber stamping competition-killing sector consolidation. The race to lower prices (the top request in most consumer surveys) is utterly nonexistent.
There really is no race to 5G. It’s a giant pile of lobbyist nonsense. Users in China aren’t impacted by whether users in Australia or the UK have access to marginally faster networks. And our broadband coverage maps here in the States are so terrible (often by design), the idea that the U.S. could even accurately measure who’s “winning” the deployment race is laughable in and of itself.
5G absolutely will ultimately deliver better speeds, lower latency, and more reliable networks over the next five years. But again, it’s more of a slow, steady evolution than some type of magical, game-changing revolution. But modest evolution doesn’t sell smartphones and network hardware, so here we are.