A few days ago, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said that China is not beating the United States on 5G — yet. According to Stephenson, Chinese 5G networks remain in trial stages, he said at an event hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. This, perhaps, to allay the hand-wringing from the Trump administration, and policymakers, about America’s ability to compete with China in the 5G space.
However, a few days before that, China announced that The Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai China, one of Asia’s biggest traffic hubs, has launched a 5G network using Huawei’s 5G digital indoor system that will allow passengers to experience data speeds, up to, 100 times faster compared to LTE. Hmmm… we must not be reading the same news bytes or drinking the same Kool-Aid.
There is some interesting reading in all of this.
AT&T claims to have 5G up and running in dozen markets. However, it seems like an empty claim without phones. To be fair, China does not have any phones either. So, will the winner of the 5G race be the one who has phones first? That could be another one of the many bogus claims to have won the 5G race.
Essentially, without handsets, systems are just taking up space, here, there, anywhere. Stephenson claiming we are ahead, behind, even, whatever, is really just smack talk against China.
What makes all of this even worse is AT&T’s claims to have been the first in 5G late last year. It was a hollow victory, if it was a victory at all. As well, they tried to pass off some chicanery in 4G as 5G (5GE and 5G+). At this point, I have a hard time believing anything they say as being other than embellishment. This latest statement by Stephenson takes even more credibility away.
Why does this matter? Because this is one of the big problems facing the wireless industry, today, and why so many consumers are unaffected by 5G. Misstatements, embellishments, ignorant statements, or even outright lies make it that much harder to buy into the technology and its benefits. A chief executive should know better.
There are warning signs about all this that are beginning to bubble up. However, it seems that the companies on the edge of wireless do not believe the signs or are just pushing ahead for fear of losing momentum. Lately, there has been noise around companies taking a hard look at their outlays for 5G in light of some of the economic data that has surfaced.
For example, while only one segment of 5G, smartphones are seeing some serious speedbumps, relatively speaking. 2018 saw, for the first time, negative growth in smartphones. Granted, the percentage was small, but the implications are huge. As well, the introduction of the over $1000 phones did not receive the warm welcome that was predicted.
There are other signs, as well. Sluggish government action to provide the necessary framework to advance 5G as quickly as some deem necessary, particularly at the local levels where permits are often slow in coming.
Then there is the indoor deployment segment. Carriers and others still have no real methodology to deploy indoor 5G networks that can meet the needs of users in crowded, high-density areas where thousands of people, simultaneously, want to use the network.
Sports venues have provided some data for such environments but that may, or may not, play forward to 5G networks without hiccups. The theory is there, but the use cases have yet to be implemented. Moreover, as one knows, all too well, there is that adage, which says anything that can go wrong, will.
Next, take the U.S.’s stance on Huawei. It has failed in its attempts to derail Huawei, worldwide. Just today, across the Atlantic, Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for Digital Single Market, is suggesting the Commission resist an outright ban across the bloc.
For the United States, this is pretty much the worst-case scenario. Our political influence and economic power has been undermined and the United States’ belief in its own influence has clearly been over-estimated. That is just another nail in the U.S. Huawei-ban coffin.
Whether we like it or not, Huawei is the leading company producing the necessary 5G network components. The U.S. government’s ban does not bode well for unimpeded 5G progress here, even with other vendors stepping in to fill the void.
Since nobody else is on board with the Huawei ban, they are all moving forward without being hamstrung, widening the 5G gap between the United States and the rest of the world. I have discussed the Huawei situation in past missives so I will not go into it here.
Now, circling back to the types of statements made by industry leaders. The fact is that 5G is far from a done deal, anywhere. There are chinks in the armor. It is fraught with trials and tribulations – some technical, some economic, some political, some geographic, some financial, some perceived, and some imagined. Pile on top of that the huge pool of embellishment, almost truths, wishful thinking, Kool-Aid drinking, and the cold, hard truth is that we have a long hard road ahead before we can breathe a sigh of relief and 5G hits its stride.
Statements like those by Stephenson are, IMHO, just embarrassing.