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The War Over 5G


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5G wireless is finally coming, but before it's even arrived, there are already multiple battles brewing over the tech, naming rights, and it's ability to live up to the hype.



I think it's important to know that 5G is, in part, a very different technology than previous cellular standards. Part of the 5G spec does involve the typical application of new technology and methodologies to get more speed out of the same spectrum. 4G LTE used wavelengths between 700 MHz and 2600 MHz. 5G radios will expand that to a range between 600 MHz and 4700 MHz, and should get both 15-20% more speed and at lower latencies than 4G LTE. That evolution is nice, but the exciting part of 5G is that it also includes a spec for a second frequency range between 24 GHz and 40 GHz (sometimes referred to a millimeter wave), allowing theoretical speeds of up to 20 Gbit/s at very low latencies.


5G phones will likely be announced by the dozen during WMC at the end of this month, but it won't really matter yet since the infrastructure isn't really there yet. Verizon put out Home 5G in a few cities, but their tech wasn't based on the final 5G standard, and won't be rolling out anywhere else. AT&T did something similar, rolling out very tiny bits of 5G coverage, and they've been getting pretty good speeds, but it's unclear when they'll have real 5G available.


In the meantime, AT&T has decided to just lie about the availability of 5G by updating 4G phones (including iPhones) to say "5Ge" instead of 4G. The same thing happened with 4G, but this time other carriers aren't following along, Sprint is suing AT&T for false advertising.


5G's availability is also running into some significant roadblocks, especially in more rural places in the country. Part of the problem is that the 5G equipment is expensive, and the really high speeds require a lot more of the high frequency antennas to cover a similar area. Huawei makes slightly cheaper equipment, but there are significant security concerns that might block their adoption. Then there are questions as to if our fiber infrastructure is capable of handling the promised speeds of 5G even if it is deployed widely.


5G is the most exciting leap in wireless since 3G, and even has the potential to supplant wired internet for some homes and businesses, for the time being it's a minefield questionable promises, shady practices, and outright lies. I think it's safe to say that you can ignore 5G branding (especially from AT&T) for now, but hopefully we'll start seeing real 5G trickle out this year.


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Even once it's rolled out more significantly it's going to amount to a lot of hype. Fallback to LTE is part of the 5G spec. And the density of microcells required for millimeter wave service means that it's just not going to be everywhere.


The hype also conflates the use of 5G for fixed-location internet service with mobile 5G. You might spend a significant amount of time on 5G microcells in a place like Manhattan as a knock-on effect of the density of fixed location service but otherwise you're really not going to experience it outside of places like sports stadiums.

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