Just like 4G LTE connectivity a decade ago, 5G wireless networks and 5G-capable mobile devices got off to a bit of a rocky start last year for a number of different reasons related to both cellular infrastructure and the many technological challenges faced by smartphone manufacturers at the turn of a new era.
But the industry is advancing at a surprisingly fast pace this time around, and even though the maturity point is still at least a couple of years away, the top wireless service providers stateside and worldwide are being forced to make some very quick decisions and aggressively promote their inherently flawed 5G rollouts so far in anticipation of the biggest product launch yet.
5G needs to be a “generational change”
For those of you who’ve been living under a rock for the past 18 months or so, we should point out 5G is an extremely broad moniker encompassing several types of cellular technologies providing radically different real-life user benefits right now.
From a general spectrum standpoint, there are three main 5G flavors theoretically available across the US, each of which has its perks… and its inconveniences. It’s been surprising therefore to see Verizon focusing exclusively on high-band acquisitions in recent years and then sluggish mmWave rollouts delivering insane download speeds… for a small fraction of its subscribers.
For the umpteenth time in the last year and a half, the market-leading carrier has defended this game plan earlier this week by highlighting its intention to offer “something different” from 4G. A true 5G experience rather than a 4G+, 4.5G, or, well, a 5GE network, which is what AT&T and T-Mobile have put together tapping into low and mid-band spectrum for towering coverage but modest (or outright nonexistent) speed gains.
A key reason why Big Red chose this difficult path to a ubiquitous 5G signal is its 4G LTE network, whose lofty availability numbers and solid speed scores cannot be denied by the competition. Last but not least, Verizon still aims to leverage a groundbreaking technology dubbed DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing) to rival both the impressive coverage and underwhelming speeds of T-Mobile’s nationwide low-band 5G network by the end of the year.
5G built… where?
For their part, T-Mo’s head honchos remain confident the 5G layer cake approach they “pioneered” and now everyone wants to copy is in fact the long-term winning horse, combining all three aforementioned 5G flavors to enable the best possible network experience in all corners of the country… eventually.
Ray is still skeptical of both the primetime readiness of DSS and its ability to challenge T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network, which relies on “free and clear” low-band spectrum as its bottom layer rather than “dynamically” sharing resources with its existing 4G LTE infrastructure. Of course, the “Un-carrier” is not rejecting the viability of this technology altogether, planning to add it to its “toolbox” at some point for deployment in places “where it makes sense.”
The mid-band spectrum acquired from Sprint remains Magenta’s most valuable piece of that toolbox, mind you, aiming to strike a perfect balance between coverage and speed. Believe it or not, the target is to achieve nationwide mid-band 5G availability “by the end of 2021”, which seems like an aggressive goal even by T-Mobile’s standards.
After all, there are currently less than 100 cities and towns where T-Mo customers can squeeze “up to gigabit-per-second” peak 5G speeds from their compatible phones, although we’ve been repeatedly told to expect expansions to “thousands” of additional locations by the end of 2020 alone.