It’s A 5G Land Of Confusion: AT&T And Verizon Muddy The Waters

By Will Townsend - May 31, 2017
5G, or Fifth Generation, is the next iteration of wireless telecommunications promising to deliver unbelievable speed to your mobile phone or connected device as well as support more devices, improve reliability, and deliver longer battery life. Published in March of this year, the new 5G Radio standard was set by the governing body 3GPP or 3rd Generation Partnership Project. Carriers and service providers around the world are jumping into the 5G pool—with some I believe muddying those waters with pre-announcements, trials and misleading nomenclatures. AT&T’s “5G Evolution” AT&T recently announced a limited market rollout of its “5G Evolution” service, but the name is misleading. The AT&T offering is based on a standard called "LTE Advanced Pro" or what is commonly referred to as “Gigabit LTE”. The underlying network deployment is a derivative of 4G. T-Mobile in particular took AT&T to task recently calling its service “Fake 5G”.
Shortly after the AT&T announcement, one of my analyst colleagues attempted to verify “5G Evolution” network speeds in Austin, Texas. AT&T provided one of the only two devices supported (the Samsung Galaxy 8 and S8 Plus) for testing, and the performance was far below the gigabit threshold, around 120-140Mbps, as the carrier cautioned it might.  In fact, it was along the same lines of T-Mobile’s LTE Advanced Pro network performance in the same geography. To be fair, AT&T did say initial speeds wouldn't be gigabit and committed those by the end of 2017. We're looking forward to re-running those tests. Unfortunately, it’s not the first-time AT&T has taken liberty with misleading service positioning. With its previous 4G network rollout, AT&T delivered an HSPA+ based solution considered by most other carriers and 3GPP standards to be an enhanced 3G service well in advance of 4G network readiness.
Verizon’s 5GTF and “Fixed 5G” Verizon Communications announced a pilot roll out of a “pre-commercial” 5G service through 11 markets across the US starting this summer. The technology is based on its own proprietary “5GTF” company specification that claims up to 1 Gbps in bandwidth operation. This pre-5G standard has existed for some time before AT&T’s announcement and is not based on the 3GPP 5G official standard. Verizon has also been promoting “Fixed 5G” or what is commonly referred to as 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) as a replacement for traditional wireline broadband in the home. The proof-of-concept was showcased at the most recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona earlier this year. Verizon has positioned it as a “stepping stone” to widespread 5G deployment, which is not expected until 2019 at the soonest given the recently updated 3GPP timeline. 5G FWA will be the basis for Verizon’s test deployment and won’t provide uniform coverage but rather “hot spot” access. As with AT&T’s recent announcement, this falls short of what true 5G will deliver. A Land of Confusion The carriers do a disservice when they allow their marketing teams to position trials and tests as next generation wireless infrastructure deployment. I keep thinking of the song “Land of Confusion” by Genesis. Wouldn’t that be a great theme for these carrier’s commercials promoting pre-5G tests and deployments! Bottom line AT&T and Verizon: let’s call it what it is and stop confusing the market!
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Will Townsend manages the networking and security practices for Moor Insights & Strategy focused on carrier infrastructure providers, carrier services, enterprise networking and security. He brings over 30 years of technology industry experience in a variety of product, marketing, channel, business development and sales roles to his advisory position.