AT&T this week made good on its promise to launch a standards-based mobile 5G network across a dozen markets. The move was significant as it makes the U.S. one of the only countries in the world with dueling 5G services. But more importantly, it kicked off a new and more vociferous round of commentary on what is and is not 5G and ushered in a truly glorious age of pettiness.
First, let me take the high road and say that it’s awesome that there are now two 5G networks up and running in the U.S. This shows that despite all the hand-wringing over who is actually leading the world in 5G, the U.S. can claim some share of that crown.
Now, for some reality: neither of these networks are really 5G. Sure, they may be using an aspect or two of the dozens of specifications that are part of the 5G standard, but they are far from a true 5G network.
True 5G requires a combination of deep spectrum resources across various spectrum bands all working together as if they were just one big happy chunk of spectrum. It involves back-end software for completely automated control over network resources, including the ability for operators to slice up network resources for specific verticals. And it needs hundreds of thousands of cell sites of all sizes to allow for those spectrum and software resources to reach as far and wide as possible.
This level of network support will be needed in order to meet the wide range of use cases that permeate just about every 5G PowerPoint presentation. These first deployments are nowhere near meeting these requirements. No. Where. Near.
And that level of support won’t come for years. And by years, I mean at least five years, but probably closer to 10 years.
I base my claim on what has happened with the current 4G LTE technology, which nearly a decade after the first commercial services were launched has only recently been able to meet its much-hyped promise. And that promise currently has those 4G LTE networks more often than not outperforming these initial 5G deployments.
I am not alone in predicting that we are still years away from real 5G.
Gartner predicted in a recent report “that by 2022, half of the communication service providers (CSPs) that have completed commercial 5G deployments will fail to monetize their back-end technology infrastructure investments, due to systems not fully meeting 5G use case requirements.”
Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at Gartner, added that, “Most CSPs will only achieve a complete end-to-end 5G infrastructure on their public networks during the 2025-to-2030 time frame – as they focus on 5G radio first, then core slicing, and edge computing.”
Now, for those of you still rocking a wall calendar, you obviously know it’s still 2018. So, by my calculations that gives us another six to 11 years before we see real 5G. Will we still have wall calendars by then?
And, as if to further strain the definition of what is or is not 5G, Verizon is calling its non-standards-based deployment “5G Ultra Wideband.” AT&T has taken this a step further by calling its new network “5G+” that is obviously better than its 4G LTE-based “5G Evolution” network. Good luck keeping that straight!
These moves bring back fond memories of having lived a previous life covering the wireless industry’s migration to 3G and 4G. That first one was awesome because we got such great marketing terms like 2.5G and 2.75G, which then spilled into the next migration with 3.5G claims. (I am leaving “4.9G” out of this because I am still too upset to deal with that nomenclature at the moment.)
Let It Spin!
While I have spent the past 500 words or so downplaying these initial deployments, I want to leave you with one word as to why we are now in the best part of this generational shift: Twitter.
Since Verizon and now AT&T have launched their next-generation networks, the peanut gallery has lit up Twitter with bite-sized hilarious commentary. All it takes is a quick “5G” search on Twitter to see what I mean. (Warning: This is probably not a good idea unless you have a few hundred hours to kill.)
Even better is that the nation’s large wireless carriers are bending over backward in noting the shortfall in their competitors’ networks while obviously glossing over their own issues. Classic.
It’s as if Twitter is an alternative universe where up is down, down is up, and reality does not matter.
For instance, Verizon was more than happy to “welcome” AT&T’s launch. This even though Verizon’s service is admittedly not even using the 5G standard.
T-Mobile US, as is its way, is taking this to new highs (lows?) by dissing the lack of real devices able to connect to these networks and the lack of reach even if there were devices that could connect. It’s backing this path by touting the 600 MHz spectrum band it plans to use in support of its initial 5G launch, although the lack of depth it controls in that band will severely limit the performance of that network.
Isn’t social media fun.
Let me just conclude by stating that this is a great time to be alive and covering the 5G space. Sure, everyone at some point will have their networks deployed, will be generating billions of dollars from those deployments, and we will all be passengers in autonomous flying vehicles. I am just glad that those days are still a few years off, and in the meantime we can bask in the glow of pettiness.