The Empty Promise of #5G

by Colin Berkshire

Nobody can explain to me why 118 megabit speeds are any more important to me than 35 megabit speeds on my cell phone. Why do I care? How does its make any difference to me in any way? I just don’t see why we have this “mine is bigger than yours” obsession relating to cell phone speeds.

After you have enough bandwidth for video calls and movies, more doesn’t really do much of any value. Yes, I will grant you that there are a few edge cases such as downloading a movie over cell service (is that a thing?) where more speed makes a difference. But for the 99% of normal people, once speeds get to, say, 5 or 10 megabits the metric just ceases to be important.

But I watch commercial after carrier commercial touting 5G and multi-hundred megabit speeds. Why? So what is important?

Here are a few:
  • Not getting disconnected on phone calls. 5G does nothing to help on this.
  • Not having garbled, choppy audio on calls or videos. Once again, 5G is a dud.
  • Being able to use my phone in my yard.
  • Having coverage wherever I may be, reliably.
  • Having coverage on MY network when others have coverage on THEIR networks.

As far as I can tell, we have been sold a bill of goods with 5G. It addresses none of the important things (like actually having reliable phone service) while selling us something we just don’t care about (500 megabit speeds on our phones!)

I would love to be a fly on the wall inside the executive offices at a carrier. Do they say things like this?

  • I know customers want coverage. But that means we need to install towers and we’re busy removing towers to save costs. Sell customers on 5G, and if that doesn’t work then sell them on 5GUW and if that doesn’t work then give them some freebie like a year of Apple TV!
  • Look at this actual coverage map! What’s with these huge white gaps! I can’t sell that. Just paint it in our corporate color anyway. Whose going to actually check? And if somebody does check we’ll just say that coverage carries with weather or cosmic storm activity. But paint that map our corporate color!
  • We have a churn problem. Stop the churn. Can’t you come up with some feature like randomly assigning customers a PIN number they don’t know about, and then when they move their service to another carrier they need to know the PIN? Then, for their protection we make it really really hard to get the PIN. If we have to mail it to them they may have cooled off, or it may get lost in the mail or perhaps our system, just “forgets” to send it out. Something like that?
It’s very hard to tell whether cell phone executives are malicious or evil.

I miss John Legere, the maverick CEO from T-Mobile. He was razor-focused on giving customers what they wanted. T-Mobile became a profoundly pro-customer company under his tenure. Unfortunately, the MBAs fought back and he is out and they are back to raising prices and selling 5G when the real problem is coverage.