5G claims vs reality

Technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will help prevent potential network logjams as global mobile data traffic grows exponentially — but we’re not there yet. Here’s how to differentiate the marketing hype from today’s reality.


It’s getting crowded out there, folks.

Cisco just put out its annual forecast update for global mobile data traffic, and it expects mobile traffic to reach almost 930 exabytes per year by the end of 2022. That’s 113 times the amount of mobile traffic worldwide in 2012. (This is the point where we shock you by saying, in a Dr. Evil voice, that an exabyte is … one BILLION gigabytes!)

Fortunately, Cisco believes two new technologies in particular will help prevent potential logjams.

Wi-Fi 6

Cisco says Wi-Fi 6 will improve Wi-Fi speeds and play a key role in the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), namely through MU-MIMO. Multi-user, multiple input, multiple output technology simultaneously supports up to eight users through one access point, providing the same consistent speed to all of them at once.

The Wi-Fi Alliance’s recently unveiled Wi-Fi 6 certification program for security and interoperability should help things along. Andrew Zignan, senior research analyst at ABI Research, expects more than one billion Wi-Fi 6 chipsets to be shipped annually by 2022.

5G

And of course, 5G is coming, bringing lower latency, bigger cost savings, energy efficiency and higher bandwidth. Cisco forecasts that by 2022, 5G connections will make up more than three per cent of all global mobile connections and account for almost 12 per cent of global mobile traffic.

The build-up to 5G has been so intense, it’s almost time for a chant: “What do we want? 5G! When do we want it? Now!”

You may want to hold your beer, however, when you get to this part of Cisco’s forecast: “Large scale commercial (5G) deployments are not expected until the latter years of the current forecast.” (That would be sometime around, oh, 2021 or 2022.)

Although widespread 5G deployment may be two or three years away, the marketing war is already raging right now, especially in the U.S.

5G claims

Last fall Verizon launched a TV ad campaign touting it as “the first to 5G.” In reality, Verizon is starting an extremely limited rollout in only two U.S. cities, and its 5G home Internet service isn’t based on official 5G industry standards.

Rival AT&T complained to the National Advertising Division that Verizon’s commercials were misleading, and in late March, the NAD agreed. Although NAD urged Verizon to drop the claim from its ads or kill its TV campaign entirely, NAD is a self-regulatory body whose findings and rulings are not legally binding.

AT&T has attracted its own share of flak. In February it replaced the tiny “LTE” symbol that appears atop its customers’ smartphone screens with a “5GE” icon. AT&T says the new icon stands for 5G Evolution, and indicates to consumers that AT&T is actively testing and phasing in 5G service.

As you can imagine, AT&T’s carrier rivals were not thrilled with this new 5GE label. Sprint has filed a suit in U.S. federal court, accusing AT&T of “deceiving consumers” into thinking it offers 5G service when, in fact, it still only offers 4G LTE. Sprint also took out a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring that “AT&T’s fake 5G claims are deceiving consumers.”

Instead of going to court, T-Mobile took its AT&T beef to Twitter. It posted a cheeky video of someone slapping a “9G” sticky note over the “LTE” smartphone icon, along with a tweet that says, “Didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating.”

5G hype extends beyond international borders, however. The Canadian market is also ripe for consumer confusion.

Canadian 5G confusion

Last October my home Internet service suffered an epic 10-day service outage that could not be fixed by technicians from two different service providers. My stint in the Stone Age finally ended when we installed a fancy-dancy two-in-one router/modem combo. Once the thing was up and running, my husband said:

…“Cool. Now we have 5G.”

ME: “No we don’t. 5G isn’t available in Canada yet.”

HIM: “Then why is there a ‘5G’ icon here?”

Sure enough, an icon called “[Network Name]-5G” had popped up in the Wi-Fi network listings of our mobile devices. Assuming I keep this router/modem unit for a few years, I will be able to get 5G on it … eventually.

But when?

Although Canadian carriers are testing 5G, a few things will likely have to happen before 5G service is rolled out to the Canadian masses. Between now and late 2021, the federal government will hold auctions for many spectrums expected to be used for 5G. There’s also a prickly matter involving Huawei that remains unresolved.

The Canadian government is doing a security review of Huawei equipment over fears (also voiced by governments in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.) that Huawei is essentially a corporate cyber spy for Beijing.

In January, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver and charged by U.S. officials with bank fraud and conspiracy to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile. Huawei and Meng deny all charges and, so far, she hasn’t been extradited to the U.S. The impact on 5G plans at Canadian carriers remains up in the air.

So if you see any 5G claims or offers, don’t believe the hype. Canadian carriers are waiting out some political matters before they can flick on the proverbial 5G switch.

Image: Jeff_Hu/iStock

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