The 5G Hype

5G is the new cellular standard being rolled out by the carriers and showing up on the newest models of phones. It uses a variety of new technologies to provide data transmission speeds up to 40 times faster than the current 4G technology, at least in theory. When Apple announces their new iPhone 12 series in October, 5G will be one of the features it will tout, just as Samsung did this month when they announced their new phones.

But, unfortunately, the promises are way ahead of reality, and the advantages of 5G don’t yet exist, and may not exist for years.

In in an extensive test conducted by the notable tech reporter, Sascha Segan at PC Magazine, the results were startling, as noted here:

So Wait…5G Isn’t as Fast as 4G?

We admit it, we bought into the 5G hype. Carriers, phone makers, and chip makers alike have all been selling 5G as faster and more powerful than 4G, with lower latency. So I was shocked to see that our AT&T 5G results, especially, were slower than 4G results on the same network.

This is a crisis for marketing, not for performance. All three US carriers showed significantly higher download speeds and better broadband reliability than they did in our 2019 tests. It’s just that these gains, particularly on AT&T, are largely because of improvements in 4G, not 5G networks.

The good news is, with few exceptions, you don’t need to rush out and buy a 5G phone.

As to the different carriers, he goes on to say:

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon take very different approaches to 5G. To make a long story short, AT&T 5G right now appears to be essentially worthless. T-Mobile 5G can be a big boost over 4G, but its speeds are only what we’d expect from a good 4G network—it isn’t a new experience. Verizon’s 5G is often mind-blowing, but very difficult to find.

Then there is this column in the Washington Post by tech columnist Jeffry Fowler with the headline:

The 5G lie: The network of the future is still slow

Fowler summarizes, “We speed tested 5G phones against 4G ones. America’s new nationwide 5G networks weren’t much faster — and in some places they were slower.

The bottom line is that the marketers are a few years ahead of reality. It’s something new to hype to entice subscribers to the cellular carriers and to sell new phones. We saw this with HDTVs that offered 4K and 8K resolution displays when there were no programs that were available for several more years.  It’s unfortunate that the they need to exaggerate and distort the truth when the positive benefits of 4G are noteworthy on their own. So what does this all mean? Don’t rush to upgrade your phone for one with 5G, as you’re unlikely see an improvement and perhaps will even have some problems. Upgrading for a better camera, a longer battery, or a better display makes more sense now than for 5G.


Tech News Recommendations

After being subjected to the constant promises, spin and hype we get from the tech companies, as exemplified by the 5G story above, I recommend subscribing to a couple of resources that are more likely to cut through the BS and tell you like it is:

The OnTech daily newsletter by Shira Ovide of the New York Times. This is a daily compilation of tech news, but with a much more critical viewpoint with often excellent insight.

The hugely popular Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway looks at the business of technology in a really irreverent way on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s something I never miss.



by Phil Baker