The battle for the best wireless network is on. After years of PR and marketing hype, wireless carriers have finally turned on their 5G networks. But don’t be surprised if you discover that carrier campaigns have been outpacing actual networks—or that you are nowhere near one. Last week, buoyed by a thumbs up from the global leader in internet testing and analysis, Ookla, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, AT&T, vaunted its wireless network as the nation’s fastest. AT&T published speed test results that appeared to validate its new 5GE network as the fastest around.
Meanwhile, Verizon launched a 5G network in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis that has been hailed as blazingly fast —but good luck finding any coverage.
True to word, AT&T’s network did clock the fastest broadband speeds by the end of Q1 2019. But averaged over an entire quarter, it was only very marginally better than what rivals Verizon and T-Mobile offered.
AT&T’s average download speed by the end of the first quarter was an impressive 40.7 Mbps. But that’s the case only because the carrier’s new 5GE network gained serious visibility following the release of Apple’s new OS.
According to the Verge, AT&T’s new 5GE icon started being displayed on iPhone Max, X, XR, XS, XS max, 8 and 8 Plus devices upon the launch of iOS 12.2. Naturally, users ran speed tests to check whether the new standard was an upgrade on the existing LTE network, which in turn juiced its network numbers for the final week. AT&T has the good fortune of being home to the largest number of iPhone users of any carrier, with 70 percent of its customers toting an iPhone compared to 62 percent for Verizon and 49 percent for T-Mobile.
Averaged over the entire quarter, however, AT&T’s network speed suddenly looks very average, with its network speed of 34.65 Mbps being only marginally better than T-Mobile’s 34.11 Mbps or Verizon’s Verizon’s 33.07 Mbps.
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AT&T’s fortunes aside, the Verge reports that Verizon’s newly launched 5G network in Chicago and Minneapolis is very threadbare and difficult to find despite hitting some impressive speeds. It appears Verizon rushed the rollout to avoid falling too far behind rivals, but now risks being shunned by customers due to poor user experience.
That’s a head up to Verizon customers who might be planning to buy 5G-compatible hardware like the 5G Moto Mod and paying an extra $10 every month to the carrier to receive 5G.
Readers might find it disconcerting to learn that much of what U.S. carriers are now touting as 5G is far from the real thing. 5G technology is not meant to merely be an upgrade on existing 4G/LTE systems—on the contrary, its intended to be orders of magnitude better. True 5G networks could reach download speeds 100x faster than 4G and feature latencies of as low as a millisecond compared to 50 milliseconds by LTE.
Consequently, AT&T not has to contend with lawsuits including from rival carriers who say its 5GE label is misleading. A March report by OpenSignal found that AT&T 5GE was actually slower than 4G LTE service from Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T has been playing catch up to other carriers after being late to advanced LTE and 5G parties.
The AT&T and Verizon situations are an apt demonstration of the current messy state of the 5G industry. The latest wireless technology has been marred by a litany of issues including delayed rollouts, conflicting standards, limited hardware tests and a healthy dose of political wrangling.
But with telecom companies waging an all-out war to be seen as the top dog in the space and standards still few and far between, the 5G mess will probably continue being par for the course.
By Alex Kimani for conil.me
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