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Are the carriers throttling 5G?

October 7, 2019



Ann Arbor served as a 5G testbed for Verizon and in July the mobile carrier began turning on more of Metro Detroit. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service is initially rolling out in parts of Dearborn, Livonia and Troy (around Oakland-Troy airport). If you’re in one of these areas you’re likely thinking about running out and getting a new 5G phone and maybe even changing carriers to Verizon. You might want to hold that thought as my initial tests seem to indicate the carriers may be throttling 5G.

Why is 5G such a big deal anyway?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology. It promises to be faster (estimates are 10 to 100 times faster), more reliable (fewer dropped calls and connections), and offers greater capacity. Along with speed you’re also getting lower latency (delay when you first connect) and greater capacity.

A file that takes ten minutes to load on 4G today will only take ten seconds on 5G. Capacity is also important as many more people will be downloading and streaming content when devices support this speed.

Is the Roll-Out 5G Throttled?

CIT is a Managed Service Provided (MSP) and telecommunications is a core service for us. As you would expect, over the last couple of years I’ve attended numerous tradeshows where 5G was demonstrated. Like everyone, I marveled at the speed of 5G when I tried to download almost anything.

As mentioned above, Verizon used Ann Arbor as a test bed for 5G. It’s also now rolling out in Dearborn, Livonia and Troy. I frequently travel through these areas on business and have a 5G phone. What I’m experiencing as 5G rolls-out is significantly slower than what was demonstrated at tradeshows. This makes me wonder if the carriers are throttling the initial roll-out?

The Big 5G Marketing Stunt

Just before the 2019 NFL season kicked off Verizon announced they would be providing 5G at 13 NFL stadiums on opening night. The list of stadiums included Ford Field the home of our Detroit Lions, Empower Field home of the Broncos, CenturyLink Field home of the Seahawks, Gillette Stadium home of New England and Lucas Oil Stadium home of the Colts.

Verizon warned fans that not all areas of the stadiums would be covered. They targeted 5G primarily at the seating area for these events.  A lot of that has to do with the nature of Verizon’s 5G mmWave spectrum which has minimal range and trouble penetrating hard surfaces.

Those disadvantages are why Verizon wanted to use NFL stadiums, particularly the seating area, to showcase 5G. The wide-open space is where Verizon’s 5G mmWave thrives.  It’s not a real world environment and all of the disadvantages are mitigated.

Verizon got excellent press and everyone was impressed by the speed of 5G. This also was very similar to what we’ve seen at tradeshows where the technology was showcased.

The Big 5G Challenges

5G operates on higher wave bands. At these higher bands Verizon’s 5G achieved extremely low latency and 1 GB per second data speeds when transmitting in open areas with no structural impediments. The problem is 80% of device usage happens inside buildings.

The extremely high-frequency nature of 5G means indoor coverage could be very poor. This means consumers may have to accept 4G LTE or even 3G inside of buildings. Even using a lower frequency 5G might penetrate untreated glass windows, but likely nowhere else inside buildings.

Have the carriers worked this out or are we in for a big disappointment?

Temper Expectations

Are the carriers throttling 5G? It’s possible, but more likely we’re seeing how 5G works in real world environments. The good news is 5G might get more people to spend time outside. I have visions of people huddled outside near the doors holding their phones up. Now the smokers will have company.

Like any new technology these limitations will probably be quickly overcome. You know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention. When some enterprising entrepreneur sees a bunch of people huddled outside in the cold he/she will go home and invent a solution. Until then we should probably temper our expectations around 5G.

About Complete Interactive Technologies, Inc. (CIT)

Like all of Connection’s services, Network Infrastructure Services are customized to your business requirements. Our experts will work with you to determine the services you need to reach today’s goals with an eye on areas for growth. From SMBs to enterprise organizations, federal and higher education to healthcare, we can tailor these services to fit your organization and your industry.

About the Author: PAUL YANTUS

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