In one of my recent columns I had questioned what the prize would be for being the “first” with 5G. I had noted that being first had no real prize that comes with it, other than, perhaps, bragging rights.
Well, it seems that just happened. The last couple of weeks has been rich in media hype around AT&T’s end of the year launch of their 5G services. According to one media source, on the 21st of December AT&T will become the first telco, in America, to cross the finish line. And win the “prize.” AT&T claims to have a mobile 5G service over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network.
From another media site, outside of wireless, the following was penned “Bragging rights are important. AT&T will now, and until the end of time, be the first mobile 5G network in the United States.” But about all it can do is put that on billboards and in marketing promos. There is nothing attached to it that can be taken to the bank.
In reality, this is a marginal network spanning only 100 MHz channels. It uses the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. It is only available within AT&T’s coverage areas and is a tiny coverage bubble. In AT&T’s own words the “initial launch starts small and will be limited,” but that “customers will see enhancements in coverage, speeds, and devices.”
If you think I am hard on the 5G hype, you should read what Toms Guide, a tech rag that I have read for years, said about it. While they are not in the wireless space, per se, they are a pretty savvy computer technology group. Their headline was “Carrier peddles fake 5G. AT&T Plans to Put 5G Labels On Non-5G Phones.” Well, butter my rump and call me a biscuit. Talk about saying it like it is!
This takes its place along “5G E”, another sleight of hand 5G label, which is being rolled out by them, as well. 5G E leverages 4G LTE advanced capabilities to emulate near 5G with technological upgrades such as carrier aggregation, 4 x 4 MIMO, LAA, and 256-QAM. While these enhancements do improve network performance and meet some of the 5G specs, this platform is not fully 5G.
Furthermore, it seems they taking embellishment to the max in the cities where they are launching 5G service platforms. It is replacing some 4G phones’ on-screen “LTE” indicators with “5G E” logos — a marketing ploy to, further, blur the lines between 4G and 5G service for customers.
This is an interesting approach. One has to beg the question, if 5G E, and similar fake 5G offerings from other carriers, work well, might they be shooting themselves in the foot? What if the end user is happy with this level of performance? Perhaps, when the real 5G is up and running, they may not be all that eager to jump on the platform.
While it MAY be the first “5G” network, it reminds me of my engineering days when we were under pressure to develop something against a set of specs and get it out there, no matter how marginal the product was. This network is simply an experiment that barely meets the 5G designation. To differentiate the service at mmWave, AT&T has added a “+” to the 5G – 5G+ is what it will be designated. That is also where the Netgear 5G Mobile Hotspot will operate.
One can argue that it has to start somewhere. I am all in on that. What I am not all in on is the ridiculous hype that surrounds it. I would have much more respect for these carriers if they came out and said it like it is. In this situation, the AT&T service is, simply, a limited initial 5G jump off service as a first step with no phones. Does that really qualify as a first?
One thing worth mentioning is the pricing philosophy. Unlike what many manufacturers do when they release a new generation or line and use premium pricing, for this network it is approaching it as a loss-leader with realistic up-front pricing. That is the smart approach, considering the unproven benefits for the time being.
For a few months it will be free. Then the buzz is that, in early 2019, list price for the hotspot will be $499. 15 GB of 5G data will cost $70 per month. There is no price yet for phones or other add-on services. Undoubtedly, there will be some uber-geeks, those with more money than sense, and the bragging rights community that will purchase this service. But for the rest of us, it is a “meh.”
What I am hoping now is that, as 2018 draws to a close, the claim of 5G being live has been made and the bragging rights awarded. Whew, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The 2018 claim has been staked. Let us hope 2019 pulls back on the hype, and other the craziness, and we can all get down to the business getting 5G out there, practically and reliably.
Happy new year, everyone! And wishing you all the best for 2019!