Why 5G is Useless for Smartphones and it doesn't Matter if yours doesn't have it

5G is the new hotness in the mobile tech world. Super-fast, ultra low-latency, and hype so big you could drive a train through it. Too bad it’s also full of shit. 5G uses incredibly high frequencies to achieve those high speeds, which also happens to be the cause of its incredibly short range. Testing shows a workable range of a few hundred meters, but these sorts of tests are rarely reflective of performance in the real world, so cut it in half right off the top. With range that bad, every city, town, suburb, and wherever else people like to spend their time will need to be covered in 5G transmitters from edge to edge, top to bottom, in order to make 5G something people can rely on the way that they rely on 4G. Just take a look at this comparison, each circle indicating the signal range of each technology. First, 5G.

 
5g coverage and range - many access points.  Source

5g coverage and range - many access points. Source

 

Next, 4G. notice the larger coverage area. You can rest assured that, wherever you are, you can get a good and strong signal to do whatever you need to do.

 
4G coverage and range - one access point.  source

4G coverage and range - one access point. source

 

While we have been sold on the idea of “lightning speeds and no latency”, in reality, as the owner of a 5G enabled device, you can expect to walk down the street with a smartphone that’s constantly switching from 5G to 4G and back, as you hop from 5G coverage to non-coverage and back again. Gigabit speeds one second, 50 megabits the next. Your experience will likely be good in a major city, where the high population density makes it economical to spend money blanketing the landscape in 5G coverage, but if you live in a smaller town, or even a suburb, don’t get your hopes up. By the way, all that switching between access points, even if you stay within 5G coverage areas the whole time, will cause more battery drain as your smartphone continually searches for the best signal strength. What a time to be alive.

Related: You are wasting your phone’s potential

Not only does the range suck, but if you can’t physically see a 5G access point, you’re going to have a bad time. It turns out that even trees can block 5G signals – not an issue with 4G, mind you. Even if you can see the access point yourself, there are many cases where your smartphone won’t be able to, because even windows can cause problems for a 5G signal! Oh no!

So the problem with 5G is it’s short range and inability to penetrate common objects out in the wild. No problem. Just install more access points. Problem solved. Not so fast! How do you think all those 5G access points connect to the wider network and to the internet? It ain’t magic, buddy, it’s fiber. Yes, this “wireless future” that uninformed morons keep talking about, where we throw cables away and download 8K movies with our smartphones in 3 seconds? Yep, that’s powered by untold kilometers of fiber optic cable, and that shit is not cheap to install when your objective is to cover a major city in millions of tiny circles.

Profits and costs lie at the forefront of all business decisions, and 5G simply won’t be economical to roll out in places that don’t have huge populations with millions of potential users. Remember that you pay your bill every month, at the same price, no matter whether you have excellent coverage or not. If you life in a place without huge population density, do you think any carrier will pay out the ass to ensure that you have constant access to 5G speeds?

Sure, the “market forces will incentivize companies to serve customers well or lose them to competitors that do” argument is a tempting one, but it demands that at least one company wants to do the thing in the first place. The cost-prohibitive nature of 5G rollouts mean that relying on companies to want to beat their competitors to sinking money in losing markets, is a libertarian fantasy, and nothing more.

Hell, even 4G signal, in 2019 with it’s multiple kilometer range isn’t close to being strong or reliable everywhere, so what makes you think that 5G signal, with range much less than even one tenth of 4G, will even be available in most places?

Even the speeds that we’re being shown right now, the supreme selling point of 5G for uninformed people everywhere, aren’t indicative of what consumers will experience when 5G is as mainstream as 4G is today. The gigabit speeds that reporters harp on about are only possible because those reporters are likely the only people using the network at those locations. 5G offers huge bandwidth increases, but that bandwidth isn’t per person, it’s a shared pool. The more people on the network, the less everyone gets – so the whole “speed” selling point might not even be that big after all.

Now, you might say that it’s okay that 5G won’t be available in most places since 4G will be able to take over, and that it’s still a worthwhile upgrade because at least some people will benefit, but what kind of argument is that for 5G? How great does it sound that the most widely-used feature of a new technology is the old technology that steps in when the new one inevitably can’t perform? Doesn’t look good for 5G, does it? What’s the point of 5G if most of the country will only have 4G available to customers? So even though your smartphone has a 5G antenna, you’ll still be on 4G most of the time because they don’t have enough towers? Bravo.

You might also be thinking that 5G is still in its infancy, 4G was also rare at first but now it’s everywhere. Difference there is that, while providers could build one tower to serve a very wide area with 4G (remember the multi-kilometer range), each 5G tower only servers a very small area. It isn’t an early-adopter technical issue, that’s just how it works. If we want more 5G coverage, then providers will need to build more towers. Which, as we already learned, won’t be happening outside of major cities.

So don’t let idiots tell you any differently; whether or not your smartphone is 5G capable makes no difference, except that you won’t be able to go to a big city and brag about the speed with which you can… download a 4K movie? What a joke.