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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

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

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

  1. 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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.