News Is 5G Internet Worth It? What Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile offer

There is no doubt that technology has an incredibly positive impact on our lives. However, it’s also important to remember that when it comes to big technology trends, sometimes it makes sense to be a little skeptical.

For example, let’s talk about 5G. After all, didn’t we promise fully self-driving cars with the latest generation of cellular networks, robotic surgery, smart cities, and various other futuristic-sounding applications?

The simple fact is that the telecommunications industry touted what 5G should be able to do in the early days of the technology’s development and deployment now looks almost like a ridiculous example.

Their goal, of course, is to get us all excited about the potential of this once-in-a-decade transition to the next generation of wireless connectivity. Unfortunately, all of these efforts have actually completely distorted perceptions of the possible impact of 5G. But that certainly doesn’t mean 5G is a complete failure.

But in fact, it’s not. The problem is, most of the impact is happening in areas the industry didn’t initially anticipate, and in other places that aren’t as obvious to the average consumer.

5G at home

One of the hottest products so far in the 5G era is what is formally known as fixed wireless access (FWA), but more commonly known as wireless broadband. Basically, this is a wireless replacement for typical wired internet service.

Initially, many people didn’t give it much thought because 5G is primarily associated with our smartphones and other mobile devices. Plus, it’s not the most exciting or groundbreaking application as a replacement for existing technology.

But FWA is quickly becoming a hot topic among consumers across the country because it’s a simpler, easier, and in many cases faster way to connect your home to the internet. Instead of drilling holes in your home to run cables, you can simply stick your wireless router near a window in your home and set it up yourself using a simple smartphone app (assuming the service is available where you live—indeed, you can at operator’s website).

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In fact, T-Mobile has 5G broadband service to more than 2.6 million customers, Verizon has wireless broadband to nearly 1.5 million homes and businesses, and just last week, AT&T officially announced that they are entering the fixed wireless business as well.

To be clear, there are faster options for home internet — especially fiber-based services — but for many people, 5G fixed wireless access will suffice. Plus, it’s often able to cover rural areas that other options can’t easily serve.

PCs and 5G

Another emerging opportunity is 5G-equipped PCs (a topic I wrote about in a previous column). Now that everyone is starting to travel again, but when we are still meeting with Teams, Zoom, Webex, etc. on PCs in various locations, the need and value for these devices has become very clear.

Unfortunately, 5G-equipped PCs still have pricing and availability challenges, but I hope we’ll see major improvements later this year.

One of the most touted features of 5G is expected to revolve around connected devices and sensors. The idea is/is that 5G’s higher speeds and bandwidth compared to 4G will unleash a deluge of cellular-connected devices from AR and VR headsets to cars, home appliances, and more.

In fact, some of these efforts are already happening, but most are niche applications for specific industry verticals, such as manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, etc. Many of these projects are starting to make an impact, but just in different ways that I can easily see.

5G in business

We’re also starting to see more 5G applications on the business side. Many companies are starting to build so-called “private 5G” networks that only employees or work machines can access. In many cases, these are used to supplement or enhance existing Wi-Fi networks, as they can provide important security and performance benefits.

Ironically, when it comes to smartphones – where expectations are highest – we’re arguably seeing the least impact from 5G. For example, as many have noticed, download speeds in many cases are not much different from 4G. But even here, it’s important to note that average download speeds are increasing (in some places, very fast) and it’s almost impossible to find a non-5G phone.

In other words, the effects are real, just a little more subtle than we’d like.

The future of 5G

Looking ahead, while we may not see any real 5G killer apps anytime soon, there is a silver lining. Large U.S. carriers are starting to adopt some important foundational technologies, including something called network slicing. These network-based improvements are expected to create new types of 5G-specific services for businesses and consumers.

Additionally, we’re starting to see wider deployments of new frequencies for cellular networks — especially what’s known as C-band, or mid-band — which should start to enable faster 5G download speeds.

While this might not be as exciting as the sci-fi features touted by the industry, it does offer real-world benefits that we can all appreciate.

Bob O’Donnell is President and Principal Analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and the professional financial community. His clients are big tech companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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