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Gather round, friends. Listen close. It's time to list the five biggest lies about 5G

Let's cut the crap, El Reg style

Comment We thought the hype over next-generation mobile broadband networks couldn't get much thicker, but we were wrong. So let's just jump into the five biggest lies about 5G.

1. China is using the tech to spy on God-fearing Western nations

No, it's not. 5G is upcoming technology, and China – because it is resurgent – is making a big push for it. Its engineers are world-class and its companies can produce equivalent or better quality products than Western gear at lower prices.

One country in particular hates this – the United States. And so, in conjunction with the Trump Administration's knee-jerk anti-Beijing sentiment, the US government (with the joyful encouragement of the US telecom industry) is insisting that Chinese 5G products are a security threat and no one should buy them or use them.


Germany tells America to verpissen off over Huawei 5G cyber-Sicherheitsbedenken


Why not buy products from the good ol' USA which has never used its technological prowess and ubiquitous foundational technology to spy on people?

There are even industry conference sessions these days on the political component to 5G. And it is something that governments and big business have to consider.

Just this week the conclusion by the UK's National Security Council (NSC) that Huawei did not represent a major security risk – and that its telecoms equipment can be used in all but Blighty's core networks – has led to severe political fallout. But let's just say it out loud: China is not using 5G to spy on people.

2. There is a "race to 5G"

There is no race to 5G. It is instead a clever marketing slogan dreamed up by American telecoms companies who surprised themselves at how effective it was.

Every person in the US Congress that has ever spoken about 5G has mentioned this fabled "race" and often used it to explain why something has to be rushed through, or normal practices have to be skirted. We admit it, it sounds exciting – like the Space Race but with phones.

But it's bollocks: how can there be a race when any country or company will, soon enough, be able to buy the equipment needed at any time and install it wherever and whenever they want? It's an open market and 5G is an evolving standard.

If there's a race to 5G, there's also a race to internet, and a race to bridges and buildings, and a race to rice and pasta. Here's broadband industry expert Doug Dawson hitting the nail on the head:

Next time you hear someone mention the "race to 5G" ask them what exactly they mean, and then tell them to stop being so stupid.

3. 5G is ready to go now

It's not. In fact, even the most advanced 5G installations – in South Korea – have been accused of over-hyping themselves. Verizon's 5G launch in Chicago this month? No one could find it.

AT&T just settled a lawsuit with competitor Spring over its use of the term "5GE" – which AT&T argued with a straight face would never be misunderstood as referring to "5G." Well of course it wouldn't, why would anyone imagine that 5GE means anything other than 4G+?

The fact is that the 5G standard isn't even finished. A first part of it is there and companies are wildly rushing toward it but there still isn't a single functional public 5G network. The telcos are excited about getting even a single handset working right now.

So just bear in mind that 5G exists in the same way that virtual reality exists: it is sort-of there but not in the way that you are being told to imagine it is. Don't believe us? El Reg visited China's "5G hotel" literally this week and guess what? It didn't have 5G.

4. 5G is the answer to all our broadband / fast internet needs

It absolutely, definitively is not. Despite constant claims that 5G is the internet of the future – including by people who should know better, such as commissioners on America's comms watchdog, the FCC – the fact is 5G, while wonderful, is not in any way a replacement for wired connections.

Child wearing a suit and using a computer

Huawei thanks US for 'raising 5G awareness' by banning telecom kit giant's wares


5G signals cannot magically travel vast distances. In fact, they can only go relatively short distances and struggles to penetrate into buildings and through walls – which is why one big battle is about how to install tens of millions of new micro-base-stations to make sure people can get a reliable signal.

The 5G network will rely 100 per cent on fast, wired connections for backhaul. Without those lines (hopefully fiber), it is basically useless because the one big plus to 5G is speed. Also, you are unlikely to get 5G unless you are in a big, built-in city. And even then, there will be dead spots when you go around a corner or close to an overpass.

Literally this week, Verizon's CEO said in an investor call that 5G is "not a coverage spectrum" - which is code for "won't be available outside cities." T-Mobile has been blunter. Its CTO said - again, this week - that 5G will "never reach rural America."

5. Spectrum auctions will solve all the issues

Both the FCC and the Trump Administration would have you believe that a big auction of new spectrum is going to solve all the issues with 5G – first the ability to get it to people, and second it will raise money that will be spent on expanding rural internet access.

Neither of those things are actually true. The FCC is auctioning off the wrong kind of spectrum for 5G because that is the only spectrum it can currently get its hands on, largely because of broader US government dysfunction.

What everyone else in the world is doing is auctioning "mid-band" spectrum which basically lets you get faster 5G-style speeds over longer distances. The spectrum the FCC is auctioning will travel far shorter distances and so will only really be useful in built-up cities, which are already first in line for 5G anyway because of the concentration of customers and money.

Will the money made from auctions lead to $20bn in investment in rural broadband, like the president and the head of the FCC have claimed? No, it won't. Until there are some major policy changes, significant political pressure in the opposite direction, and a willingness to take on the all-powerful telcos and make them install faster internet connections across the US, then the rural American is going to continue to be screwed over.

And please, for the love of God, don't buy a new phone just because it's branded "5G" or "5GE" or "5G$$." And don't pay more for a 5G service from your mobile operator. Phones and services are going to be far ahead of any 5G realities. Just keep doing what you do and in five years – if you live in a big city – you'll find that you can watch videos on your upgraded phone much faster.

The rest of it is nonsense. ®

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