Why 5G Sucks ⚠️
Table of Contents
Like, just for starters, much faster speeds. These companies figured out that by using smaller, higher frequency radio waves than 4G, called millimeter waves, they could send signals that carried much more energy. So much more energy, in fact, that while the max speed of 4G was around 100 megabits per second, 5G can go not five times faster or 10 times faster, but 200 times faster at 20 gigabits per second.
But as well as speed, these companies also promised us more potential users. Because these higher frequency bandwidths also have more capacity, it would apparently take 100 times more data traffic for a 5G signal to get overloaded. Whereas with 4G, it was already getting to a stage where in packed cities, people are having to share their speed with each other. And this wasn't just about more smartphone users being able to watch cat videos at any one time. The idea of 100 times more capacity was to support the internet of things. And even smart cities where every single electronic device, your cars, your washing machines, your toothbrushes, can be always connected with their own separate 5G connection. And then the final key pillar was zero latency. 'Cause internet speed is not just download speed and upload speed, it's also the response time taken between a user request, like you clicking a webpage link, and then that action being taken, like that webpage starting to load up. These tech companies were so confident in this new 5G tech, they promised latency rates of 100 times less than 4G, down from about 90 milliseconds to literally less than one. Which if actually achieved, would have been a game changer. Because for the first time ever, it would allow internet-based activities to effectively happen in real time. Like if you were at a sports event and you open up your camera, you could have the stats of each player hover above their heads as they move around, instantly updating every time they made a pass or had a shot at goal. Or, you know, the metaverse. If we're actually moving towards completely virtual interactions, then for that to feel real, there needs to be no delay at all. Not to mention anything that requires high-precision movements, like being able to control a medical robot from the other side of the world, coordinate hundreds of drones to fly in formation, or self-driving cars that need to be able to respond to their environments, or brake in a split second. It's the idea that you can do things over the internet with no more lag than if you were to do those same things physically in person. This is the world that these companies promised that 5G would bring. So why does it suck so much? Why is it that I'm currently paying 50% more than I used to, 30 UK pounds a month versus 20 for my 5G contract? Why is it that some 5G contracts are now going all the way up to 120 pounds a month, which is just extraordinary? Why is it that even in the US, which is one of the best places for 5G in the world, an average user was spending less than 1% of their time actually connected to a 5G millimeter wave network in 2021? And then why is it that when I call up my provider to ask more about it, they just tell me that I'm doing a great thing by being 5G ready? Not seeming to understand how dumb that is given that 5G isn't ready. Am I doing a great thing by being 5G ready?
- Um, yeah, sure.
- Well, 5G had a problem right from the very moment it was announced, the marketing. The way that it was sold to us. See, unlike every generation before it, 4G, 3G, 2G, where the kinds of apps we were using and the way that we wanted to communicate with each other had almost required another step in networking to achieve, we didn't really need 5G. Obviously, tech companies wanted something new to be able to brand their devices with, a killer new exciting feature to be able to market, but for the first time with 4G, the consumer didn't really have any pain points that needed fixing. We can already consume the content we want to in a quality that looks crisp on our small phone displays. So what these companies effectively had to do if they wanted people to be interested in 5G was to shoot for the moon. To be so ambitious, to make claims so bold, to promise people a new world without really having any clue on how they were gonna deliver on it. But even with these great promises, they still fail to get people excited because I think they also picked the wrong things to focus on. If you'd asked an average 4G user what they wanted from 5G, most would have probably just said that the key thing I want is a more reliable connection. Just literally maximum 4G speeds that never drop.
But instead, what we're actually getting is a medium to slow connection 99.5% of the time, and then some ludicrously fast speeds 0.5% of the time. Speeds so fast that the average person would have no possible use case for them, which is why 5G companies have had to kind of invent them. They've come up with just swathes of these wild hypothetical scenarios that we will be able to achieve with this millimeter wave 5G, which don't get me wrong, are really impressive and cool and one day maybe even practical too, but just disconnected from the reality of what people want right now. Companies would talk about how 5G opens the door to immersive virtual reality anywhere, but if you want to use VR, you're probably not going to be doing it in the street for safety reasons, if not social reasons. And if you're enjoying this video, then a sub to the channel would be.
They talked about smart cities with drones for surveillance, which again, is fascinating from a tech perspective, but it's probably not the way into the hearts of the masses. Or how doctors could operate on patients while sitting on the other side of the world. I mean, I don't know about you, but I would quite like my doctor to be sitting in the room while operating on me. My point is, there very well may be a day where these are legitimate things that we want to be able to do, but the mistake was to drastically overestimate how quickly they would arrive. So right from the very beginning, 5G was already in a bad way. The tech companies had not just over-promised what they could do, but even while doing that, failed to get people excited. And then politics made things a whole lot worse.
There were three main end-to-end 5G suppliers in the world, Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei. These were the companies building the actual infrastructure of 5G. Things like the massive antenna that would actually be blasting out the signal. But then Huawei got banned by the US after being accused of spying. Now, whether that's actually true or not, no one seems to have a concrete answer. One thing's for sure, that this was bad news for 5G. 'Cause it wasn't just that progress slowed or even stopped at this point, but also that everything Huawei had already built was getting actively stripped out by not just the United States, but also the countries allied with them. Like no joke, engineers were piece by piece removing all of Huawei's 5G components from their systems. Which, when paired with the growing anti-5G movement, who added fuel to the fire by, well, literally burning down some of the few remaining 5G towers for fears that they were about to give them cancer, it meant that for a period of time, 5G was actually going backwards. But the single most fundamental problem with 5G is none of these things. It's the major oversight that occurred with regards to range. In the race to become as fast as possible, to achieve these potential future scenarios that no one was really asking for, 5G uses radio waves that are so high frequency and therefore so small, they barely travel. And they get blocked by everything. You could have full millimeter wave connection. You could be getting two gigabits per second download speeds, but step in front of a building, you could have two megabits. And the consequence of this is twofold. It means that it's not just incredibly time consuming and expensive to set 5G up in a city. You basically need some sort of beacon on every street corner, wired up with brand new fiber optic cabling, but also that it just won't ever make sense to bring this tech outside of cities. It won't be worth the price to set up and maintain these 5G stations if each of them is only gonna reach like 30 people. And so realizing this, what these tech companies have done is just broadened what it means to be 5G. So that right now, 5G includes not just that true millimeter wave tech that makes all of those sci-fi possibilities a reality, but also the much less exciting sub-six waves, which are basically created by just tweaking the already existing 4G infrastructure and sending out a signal that is only just marginally faster. Don't get me wrong, the intention makes sense. Like there is not a chance we're going to cover the globe in a true millimeter wave network. But for most of the people that I've talked to about it, the fact that sub-six is being bundled in as part of 5G has made it A, more confusing to understand, but also B, kind of spoiled what it means to actually have a 5G connection. Literally, I went to a 5G area earlier today. I saw the 5G logo pop up on my phone, did a speed test. I got less than five megabits per second. For some perspective, seven megabits per second is the limit of 3G. And so it's got to a point where all that excitement that I initially had about seeing that 5G logo in the corner of my phone is gone. It has practically no bearing on how fast or reliable the internet I get actually is.
And the most unfortunate part of this is that all this confusion and uncertainty and lack of interest makes this a bit of a downward spiral. Given that the vast majority of the appeal of 5G relies on these hypothetical future use cases, like the metaverse, the fact that there's so much hesitation is making the investment in the development of those use cases happen really slowly. You might've seen how badly meta is struggling and cutting back right now on spending. This is why. So 5G kind of sucks right now.
And unless you specifically live in the 0.2% of the planet that actually gets a proper millimeter wave connection, you could save your money and buy a 4G device and stay on a 4G contract. More than likely, 5G will one day be something great, but that doesn't change the fact that by the time it does, most of the devices that you've paid extra for, because they have 5G in their name, will be redundant. To see me unbox every Nintendo home console ever,