I'm not sure exactly when I started losing respect for Verizon, but standing on my front porch in a Northern Virginia neighborhood two weeks ago and having calls drop at least twice as I was filing insurance claims didn't help. (The #VerizonWireless Twitter-bot made sympathetic noises, but provided no data on local wireless quality of service or plan of action for corrections, FYI). To hear Verizon executives recently tout how strong the company will be in 5G and 6G put the nail in the coffin for me, as I'm having LTE deja vu all over again.
LTE was touted as the be-all and end-all for Verizon Wireless if you turn the clock back about 5 years. It would create "new business models" and potentially serve as a mechanism to deliver high speed broadband. Every device, every household appliance, we were told, could have an LTE chip in it, leading to new business models. You wouldn't buy a washer and dryer anymore, we were told. Instead, your LTE-equipped appliances would charge you by the load -- (except for mine, which would fail to start half the time because of no signal coverage).
Earlier this year, mobile video was supposed to be the Next Big Thing for Verizon Wireless, the reason why the company bought AOL.
But times change all too quickly. Verizon now says it is "going to lead" on 5G and "probably going to lead on 6G whenever that comes..." according to media reports. Why, 5G might provide the ability to deliver a nationwide broadband service delivering speeds akin or better than FiOS, implied Verizon's CEO at a late May investor conference.
Part of Verizon's 5G hype is being driven by AT&T and Sprint, who are also conducting 5G experiments similar to Verizon's demos. But it's difficult to extend experiments to assertions on leadership, in my view, when standards have yet to be formalized and consumer gear built. And when my old-school 4G cell phone still drops calls when I'm on the front porch in the middle of the DC 'burbs.
LTE's deployment history should also be taken into consideration when considering how far and fast any carrier can go with 5G. Carriers started LTE deployments with existing cell towers, then started thickening wireless coverage with more radios and lots of small cells. Verizon was among the first to promise HD voice through Voice over LTE (VoLTE), yet AT&T and T-Mobile both managed to start deployments before it.
For all the challenges of LTE, 5G is going to be bigger and harder. The radio frequencies for 5G are pretty much line-of-site and shorter range. Great for blasting gigabits per second of data, not so great if there's a tree, building, or vehicle in the way. Mesh networking may be a partial solution to working around line-of-sight issues, but at the end of the day, you'll need access to (and pay for) more rooftop rights.
In-building coverage for 5G beyond window access? I'm looking forward to hear how that happens better than LTE works today.
And let's not forget about latency, one of the biggest hype points of 5G. All wireless data network ultimately touch the existing Internet and its underlying fiber. Cutting out latency on wireless to a millisecond or two sounds really great, but unless the network core is improved, it isn't clear how much of a performance boost 5G may provide over existing wired or wireless solutions. (And latency is pretty much a non-factor for most Internet of Things (IoT) applications).
If Verizon wants to prove it hasn't jumped the shark, it will need to address how the deployment of 5G will be different and improved over its 4G LTE rollout. It will have to talk about how it plans to improve performance on its network core to match the latency reductions within 5G and spell out how such improvements will matter to anyone but high-frequency financial traders. And it should stop hot air talk about 6G until it puts 5G into a production environment.
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