US telcos hope for 5G uptake to accelerate in second half of 2020

via Flickr © PhotoAtelier (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © PhotoAtelier (CC BY 2.0)

  • Looking forward to a "post Covid-19 future"
  • Concerns that consumers have been disappointed by the reality of 5G
  • Some subscribers have found 4G/LTE to be better - and cheaper
  • Lack of handsets is a problem too. Much rides on the success (and cost) of the iPhone 12

As US cities burn, unemployment tops 40 million and the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation, US mobile network operators are trying to drum-up interest in 5G in a post-COVID-19 environment. It's not the easiest thing to do given that consumers have a lot of other and rather more pressing problems to deal with just at the moment as money worries mount, jobs disappear and civic coherence disintegrates.

Nonetheless, telcos are increasingly concerned that 5G is going off the boil and they want to hype the technology and pique consumer interest across the second half of the year, with particularly beady eyes focused on the run-up to the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year present-buying seasons. They also want to piggy-back on the rampant hoo-hah that will surround the long-awaited and apparently somewhat delayed launch of the iPhone 12, Apple's first 5G handset.

Hopes are high that the new device will result in rapid consumer uptake of 5G services, but with money short and debts long there must be a distinct possibility, and perhaps even a probability, that consumers won't be spending big this year and that the economy will be in the doldrums for a long time, even if a vaccine effective against the coronavirus is found.

In a new press release, GlobalData, the London, UK-headquartered data and analytics house, writes that US carriers are hoping that the second half of 2020 will provide the opportunity to sell 5G services as technology and coverage improves. However, even before the pandemic struck uptake of 5G had been patchy. Both consumers and enterprises were wary of spending more on new and expensive 5G devices especially as there was/is little by way of perceived benefits to be gained with 5G that are not already available via established services and applications over 4G/LTE.

Lynnette Luna, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, comments: "5G technology is the revenue opportunity of the next decade, and carriers are in a race to increase their 5G footprints and technical capabilities in time for what they hope will be a big Christmas selling season for 5G with the iPhone 12 on the market."

She adds, "While US operators are seeing demand for core voice, data and collaboration services among consumer and enterprise customers that need to leverage remote communication while social distancing, 5G is such a nascent technology that the addition of a global pandemic is bound to have a dampening effect on the market opportunity. In the consumer market, there is still no 5G iPhone and, in general, carriers are having some trouble explaining to customers why they need to upgrade to 5G."

There's a good reason for that. The early 5G deployments were expensive and bedevilled by patchy coverage, call dropouts, and performance often at nowhere near that promised by the advertising and marketing hype. A lot of early adopters felt they had been conned into paying more for devices which, whilst promising a revolutionary new comms experiences, actually turned in live performances that were worse than 4G yet cost a lot more.

Having been hammered in the first half of the year, the operator emphasis is now on regaining lost ground by ensuring that, during the second half, 5G will be more widely available, 5G technology will be better, and there will be more new genuinely 5G handsets on the market. It is hoped that a combination of changes will strongly differentiate 5G performance from LTE networks. To provide that badly needed differentiation, US telcos are striving to improve data speeds and latency via network improvements such as dynamic spectrum sharing and carrier aggregation.

Lynette Luna explains: “All carriers will push their 5G stories harder toward the end of 2020. While T-Mobile is the only US carrier with a nationwide 5G network today, rivals AT&T and Verizon are expected to significantly expand their networks in time for the market introduction of the iPhone 12." She adds, though, "5G is definitely a work in progress." Which it most certainly is.

5G now available in Anchorage, Alaska. Juneau that? 

Another press release that winged its way into the TelecomTV Editorial Lockdown Loft this week also concerns 5G in the US. It's about T-Mobile, the "only nationwide 5G network" in the US, as mentioned above. The arguments, claims and counter-claims about the reach and scope and technological wonderment of US 5G networks are reminiscent of the arcane and abstruse arguments deployed in medieval ecclesiastical 'debates' about the number of angels can dance on the head of a pin or whether Christ owned a wallet.

These days, though, the losers aren't investigated by the Spanish Inquisition and either forced to recant their beliefs, excommunicated or burned at the stake. Mind you, some might lose a well-paid job if deemed not to have got the marcoms message across strongly enough.

So, here's the latest from T-Mobile. The telco has partnered with GCI, "allowing T-Mobile customers with 5G smartphones to tap into 5G while roaming in Anchorage, Alaska, making T-Mobile the first and only wireless provider to offer 5G coverage in all 50 states! The new partnership also gives GCI customers roaming access to T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network, America’s largest, covering more than one million square miles and nearly 6,000 cities and towns."

Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile said, "The massive nationwide 5G network we’re building and expanding by the day - paired with important partnerships like this - extend our 5G leadership over the competition and deliver meaningful 5G experiences to our customers. Now, our customers with 5G devices can keep 5G service when in Alaska." Presumably, those without 5G devices can't. 

The release continues, "GCI launched Alaska’s first 5G service in Anchorage on April 17, 2020. GCI’s 5G buildout in Anchorage will serve as a model for GCI’s network modernization efforts as the company moves forward to expand the service across Alaska. Future GCI 5G expansion opportunities could include Juneau, Fairbanks and other fiber-served communities." Note the use of the word "could".

OK, it's a story and it keeps T-mobile in the public eye and no doubt 5G will have its uses and users in Anchorage. However, the smell of burning hype can sometimes even overcome the hot pepper and tri-chloroethylene scent of bear spray in the morning.

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