5G: Getting past the marketing hype
The anticipation of 5G has reached a fever pitch.
Every wireless company wants to tout 5G and how awesome it is. The messaging for consumers is that 5G will be faster and more reliable, and it's working.
A PwC survey found that almost 70% of consumers think that 5G will be better, faster, and cheaper.
However, 5G is not the same for everyone. It's important to note the distinctions so that businesses and consumers know what they're getting.
In this post, we'll dig into the different flavors of 5G and how each of the three major US wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) are approaching it.
Let's start with a quick overview. 5G has three strands:
Low-Band: Transmits on the 600mhz frequency and has a very long range. Useful for covering rural areas where towers and antennas are sparse. Speeds can be around 300 Mbps if you're close to a tower. Average speeds are probably closer to 50 Mbps, which makes it slightly better than 4G.
Mid-Band: Transmits on frequencies that range from 2 GHz to 6 GHz, depending on the country it's in (here in the US, Sprint uses 2.5 GHz). It doesn't have the same range as low-band. Still, it can cover any major metro area without being very close to a tower or antenna. Speeds can be as high as 1 gig but average closer to 200 Mbps.
High-Band (also called Millimeter Wave): Superfast but has a short-range. Ideal for population-dense urban areas where there's a lot of concrete and steel that can't be penetrated by Low and Mid-Band 5G. Speeds can be as high as 10 Gig (!) but require significant antenna buildout. Average speeds will probably be between 1 Gig and 2 Gig.
Side note: High-Band is the technology that conspiracy theorists think is part of the government plot to control our minds.
T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T are taking different approaches when it comes to 5G as they each build stand-alone networks. They will all EVENTUALLY have 5G across all three bands. Just not quite yet.
Verizon is focusing on High-Band buildout, to start. They have 5G available in 35 cities, but coverage is spotty. They got spanked by the National Advertising Division of the BBB this week for claiming that their coverage can span across cities, which it can't yet.
T-Mobile and AT&T have focused on Low-Band 5G. It'll give them better nationwide coverage in the short term. Not as fast as Verizon but still better than 4G.
AT&T launched "5G Plus," which is its high band service, but it's only available in a fraction of major metro markets. Their coverage isn't significant enough to make an impact; however, they're rapidly building out more small cell towers.
The coveted Mid-Band is still scarce; however, T-Mobile's merger with Sprint will allow them to bring Sprint's 2.5 GHz mid-band network into the mix.
For now, 5G is only available on Android phones with Samsung and LG leading the pack. There have been no plans announced for Apple to include 5G capabilities on it's next iPhone. Still, it hasn't stopped rumors of an Apple 5G phone from whipping around the internet.
5G is not yet the game-changer we're all anticipating, but it will be. Some estimates say that the carriers will have spent $275 Billion by 2025 in 5G buildout.
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