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This AT&T ‘5Ge’ Thing has Some People Upset

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

One of my pet peeves is journalistic license. It seems that, in our industry, much of what is reported is coming from individuals who are simply reiterating or re-spinning data that our industry puts out, with little regard to whether it is hype or not. If one doesn’t have the background, one has no choice but to do so, although proper due diligence is warranted. That works for a lot of things, but it gets hung up in certain industries. Medicine, engineering, telecommunications, law, etc. The reason I mention this is because to effectively present data in these segments requires intimate knowledge of the platform, or industry.

Now, not everybody cares. There is a platform for high-level, skimmed data reporting, especially for the non-technical types that have support roles in the industry. Many are found in marketing and sales, administration, various levels of management, and so on. Plus, keeping an eye on the global picture is a good thing. For them, high-level flyovers are very important. But to really know what is going on in the industry one needs to get information from independent sources that are part of the segment. Why? Because such individuals are capable of understanding what the data means. They can analyze the data and understand what is going on in the particular segment to insure it is accurate and the truth.

In the past month, I have read a number of analyst reports about the state of 5G. One report said that the consumer is “meh” about 5G. Another one said something like more than half of consumers are waiting for 5G. Another report said that somewhere in the neighborhood of  of two thirds of businesses will implement 5G by 2020. Still another notes that 48 percent of organizations view 5G as a priority for 2019.

So as one can see, the numbers are all over the map. Also, I have seen reports that implied most businesses will not embrace 5G until they see real value in it. We all know that data can be skewed to present what the collector wants.

There are, literally, dozens of such analyst touching on dozens of vectors in our industry. Fortunately, several of these analysts have some expertise in their area so their data is usually accurate to within a reasonable degree. However, there are the business-type pubs (Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc.) who like to put their own spin on other’s data. Their data is usually superfluous with little substance other than general specs because there is, generally, no technical expertise at such media outlets. I guess that works for readers of such publications, outside of the industry. But, none the less, such data can have the same kind of spin on it as non-tech data within the industry (i.e. AT&T’s “5G” misnomer).

Here is a typical example from within our industry. The journalist writes “AT&T’s 5G network is already live in some cities, but the carrier doesn’t have any 5G smartphones yet” Those in the know understand that this is not a real 5G network, just 4G LTE on steroids. Yet those without any technical understanding will believe it.

In the next paragraph, it says “Verizon is taking issue with AT&T’s decision to rebrand advanced LTE technologies such as 5G and said it could “confuse consumers, public officials and the investment community about what 5G really is,” in a prepared statement. “We’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities.” While this is typical of carrier back and forth banter, the point being that non-technical journalists, in and outside of the industry, do not understand how to present such data in a way that does not perpetuate myths (although it does make for entertaining reading if one knows the facts).

However, there are some brave souls who dare to take on the hype. For example, telecoms.com cut to the chase, saying,“AT&T is now effectively lying to its customers.” They go on to say what AT&T is actually doing and really call them on the carpet. Good for you, telecoms. Such hard calls are few and far in-between for most of the other news and information purveyors because they simply do not have an understanding of the technology.

In a recent column I made the comment that such misleading information is not good for either the industry or the customer and it might have negative effects on the 5G movement. This same story, in telecoms, said this “The long and short of it is AT&T is intentionally, directly, and disgustingly misleading its customers – a move that could well blow back in its face.” The latest, from telecoms, is much stronger. I posted the link because their diatribe is too long to reiterate here. But from me, this gets a big “atta-boy.”

Going forward, the saga of “spinning” 5G will likely become, even, more prevalent as pressure mounts to live up to the hype and companies try to wrangle for position in the 5G ecosystem. Will this pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes? The enterprise? Will it confuse the end user or will they just buy into it because that is usually how it goes anyway?

I get that there is a lot at stake.  However, to me, the 5G hype is more extreme and it seems that embellishing is being redefined. I do not recall this level of spinning with previous technologies.

In the end, if the end user sees value in it, whether it is 4G on steroids (LTE-A) or real 5G, they will not care. But the question begs if 5G does not show significant performance enhancements over enhanced technologies such as 4G LTE-A, will they embrace it? there is some concern out there that this may end up being the case. As much as is at stake here it is time to reel in the hype. Even if it takes a bit longer to achieve the, often, lofty and ambiguous deadlines. 2019 should be an interesting year.