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5G service sounds amazing but is it necessary?

By Ryan St. Andrie June 16, 2016, 8:49 am

Sprint has been making a lot of headlines lately after they showed off their 5G chops with a demo at the Copa América Centenario soccer (or football for our non-U.S. readers) tournament. Rocking out download speeds up to a whopping 2Gbps with a super low latency, it was indeed an impressive feat to say the least. They showed it off streaming 4k video as well as streaming some VR goodness courtesy of VideoStitch and as far as we can tell it all went off there without a hitch cruising along on the 73GHz spectrum. Here soon they plan on showing off their service on a 15GHz spectrum touting speeds of 4Gbps down outside the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia as part of the tournament. Sounds cool right?! Sure it does but the more appropriate question would be is 5G technology really necessary yet?

My belief is that from a mobile perspective we don’t need this technology any time soon. I’m not going to throw a barrage of specs and jargon at you which honestly is confusing for most. I’m a very tech savvy person and more than capable when it comes to knowledge in this field and even I get confused. Instead I’m going to attempt to show why I’d prefer to see Sprint, and all carriers for that matter, fill in their gaping holes in coverage. I can’t speak for the rest of the world but I know that the U.S. is far from being able to rid ourselves of the tired old 3G technologies of yore. I recently went on a trip from Orlando Florida to Nashville Tennessee with roaming turned on on my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the results were less than ideal. And before anyone asks, yes I called Sprint and had them enable me to roam on my account. Long story short there were times when I was stuck on 2G speeds, and even worse, times I couldn’t even get a data signal whatsoever. Yet Sprint wants to start tooting their 5G horn?!

Holes like Swiss cheese

T_Mobile_Coverage_Map

The LTE blanket covering the U.S. is by no means a blanket at all. If anything, a good analogy for the coverage here would be more along the lines of the ancient bedspread you’ve refused to let go of for the last ten years that now has huge holes in it. Sure you may claim it makes for better ventilation but it doesn’t hide the fact that in the winter your feet become frozen blocks of ice! Every day we see ads and commercials thrown at us from the “big four” talking up their coverage. They love to show you those cute little coverage maps, which are misleading at best, and swear they have the best coverage. The honest answer is that some carriers are better than others depending on where you live. I, for example, live in an area where Sprint surprisingly has amazing coverage in the city as does AT&T. Yet Verizon and T-Mobile have inconsistent results or are horrifically slow to the point to where they shouldn’t even be able to claim them as 4G speeds. Regardless of how you slice the pie nobody can take a long road trip here and get the type of service these carriers would like you to believe they offer.

My point in all of this is that Sprint needs to keep plugging away at filling in their coverage gaps first. Sprint is historically a company that likes to jump the gun just to claim to be the first much like they did when they hopped on the WiMax bandwagon. WiMax was without a doubt an inferior technology to LTE but they took the chance that it would be “good enough” just so they could be first out of the gate claiming to have 4G service. Now they are still trying to come back from that misstep as they are several other mistakes like that of the now defunct  iDEN network.

It seems like every year we are hearing claims from every carrier of plans to move over to an all Voice over LTE model to leave their older technologies behind. Granted, we have seen the implementation of VoLTE over the years but how often is it actually being used? The infrastructure simply isn’t there yet to accomplish killing off their 3G or even their 2G networks yet.

What do you actually do on your phone?

When I see someone bragging about their super high speed test results and how X carrier is better than Y carrier  because of said speed tests my first question is, “What do you use your phone/tablet for?” This question is usually met with a dumbfounded look as they don’t often understand why I’m asking such an absurd question. The usual answers I receive are music/video streaming, social networking, and surfing the web. I immediately come back and tell them that their awesome 50Mbps+ download speed is way more than they would ever need to do the things they listed and that the average user will never notice the difference between that and a solid 5Mbps download speed. They usually look at me somewhere between confusion and being slapped in the face but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m right. So long as you are receiving an acceptable latency, super high download speeds matter very little. This same statement can apply to most people for their home connections as well but not nearly as much as they do from a mobile standpoint. Unless you are downloading large files regularly or are sharing your connection with multiple sources a download speed of 5Mbps is more than sufficient to stream Netflix with little to no buffer, pull up your Twitter stream with no lag, and load the mobile web fairly quick. I personally switched from a 100Mbps download speed at home down to a 25Mbps connection speed and barely noticed a difference unless it came time to download a sizable file and this was true with three other people mooching off my connection.

speedtest-iphone-5

In the end

Altogether I do appreciate the progression of technology in all things tech. It’s simply cool to think that in the near future we could have such a power in the palm of our hands. No I didn’t get into things like network congestion and that a 5G network would help ease said congestion but I don’t feel that we are anywhere near a dire enough situation yet to warrant taking that next step. Our data hungry needs are starting to plateau a bit which gives all the providers ample time to expand their networks, jettison ancient technologies, and kick off the 5G revolution on a solid foundation of 4G coverage to fall back on. What do you think?

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