Wireless industry is trying to hide where 5G is actually available
from the ill-communication dept
Buried underneath the blistering hype surrounding fifth-generation (5G) wireless is a quiet but growing consensus: the technology is being over-hyped, and early incarnations were rushed to market in a way that prioritized marketing over substance. That's not to say that 5G won't be a good thing when it arrives at scale several years from now, but early offerings have been almost comical in their shortcomings. AT&T has repeatedly lied about 5G availability by pretending its 4G network is 5G. Verizon has repeatedly hyped early non-standard launches that, when reviewers actually got to take a look, were found to be barely available.
There's a solid chasm between where carriers say they offer 5G, and where 5G is actually available. And there's every indication that mobile carriers are working overtime to make sure that chasm isn't obvious to consumers.
As the FCC finally buckles to pressure to fix the US's comically inaccurate broadband availability maps, both AT&T and Verizon are trying to ensure that 5G is excluded from these efforts. The FCC has been widely ridiculed for blindly relying on overly-generous ISP data indicating where wireless and wired broadband exists. The FCC has long declared that an entire census tract is technically "served" with broadband if just one home in that tract has service. After massive bipartisan political pressure, the FCC recently announced it would at least take a look at using more accurate geospatial data to pinpoint broadband availability.
But in letters to the FCC, the wireless industry declares that 5G should be excluded from these mapping improvements because it might reveal ambiguously "sensitive" information:
"It would be premature for the Commission to require wireless providers to submit coverage maps for 5G service at this time," AT&T said, stating that "requiring 5G coverage maps in this early stage of 5G deployment could reveal sensitive information about cell site locations and even customer locations."
The CTIA, the wireless industry’s top lobbying organization, mirrored those claims in its own filing, insisting that while the organization “supports efforts to monitor 5G deployment,” it is “premature to propose standardized service requirements” for mapping 5G availability.
The broadband industry has historically lobbied against any real effort to improve broadband mapping. Why? Better public data would only more clearly highlight the country's broadband availability gaps and lack of competition, and might result in somebody, you know, actually trying to do something about it. In this case, the industry isn't keen on having its rosy 5G availability promises exposed as a marketing farce:
"Right now, 5G is the technological equivalent of the emperor's new clothes,” she said. “It's the finest new technology, but no one can see it. Without maps that clarify where 5G service is offered at particular service standards, carriers have few checks on their claims about 5G's current reach and capabilities.”
The Trump FCC has used the promise of looming 5G availability as partial justification for obliterating countless consumer protections (read: you don't need oversight of a historically predatory industry because 5G competition will drive amazing innovation!). But there's every indication that, like 4G, 5G will be spotty in areas where the industry has skimped on deploying fiber because it's not profitable enough, quickly enough, for Wall Street. As such, knowing where the emerging standard is actually available is going to be kind of important.