Monday, February 17, 2020

5G Doesn't Mean Anything

When I first heard about "5G" wireless I asked some friends what it meant. I got answers like, "You know, the next generation of technology, like 486 vs 386 or something." But what would that mean in terms of actual performance? Nobody seems to know.

The first country to deploy 5G technology widely was South Korea, and the results are now coming in:
…Samsung, which makes both handsets as well as 5G network equipment, told investors on its own call that it expects its 5G business in South Korea to “shrink somewhat compared to last year.”

That last revelation is sobering. South Korea was the first market to deploy 5G services on a wide basis. Service launched in April 2019, but by year’s end consumers already were complaining that it didn’t live up to the hype. Part of the problem is that services marketed under the 5G label can vary widely in terms of speed and availability. Some aren’t much faster than existing 4G networks. And the fastest—including those using millimeter wave technology—currently are available only in certain dense urban areas due to their signal limitations.
I understand that the actual performance of wireless systems varies a lot more than the speed of a CPU: the speed you get depends on how many other users are tied to the same tower, the geometry of the buildings around you, the weather, and probably a million other things. But the reluctance of tech companies to put any number on their services bothers me. Can't they figure out how much faster the new networks are on average? I suspect they can, and if they aren't saying it's because the number is underwhelming. Would you pay twice as much for a phone that was 20% faster than your old one?

It isn't just wireless. In my neighborhood you can get your internet from the cable company, or you can have Verizon run a fiber optic cable into your house. (They already run down all the streets.) When kids working for Verizon came around trying to sign me up, I asked them how the speed compared. They didn't know. I went online, and neither Verizon nor the cable company was saying.

I find this all puzzling. The only explanation I can come up with is that the technology just isn't that great, so telling people the actual performance numbers would depress sales rather than increase them. Which is a sobering thought.

1 comment:

JustPeachy said...

From what I've heard, the only thing different about 5G is that it repels birds and insects.

I've never needed anything faster than DSL...