5G Need to Know: Sales exploding, performance poor, 0 new apps

147 million subs September 2020, 117 million in China. Yearend likely 230-250 million, including 30-50 million iPhone 12. Decent 5G phones cost US$200-250 in China, with 6.5″ screens and multiple cameras. As China prices move West, 2021 will blow out.

Forget gigabit speeds and 1 ms latency. Mid-band speeds mostly 100-400 Mbps. Low-band typically 50-100 Mbps, the same or less than 4G 50-150 Mbps. Low-band is really 4G + 5G NR software, which adds little. The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Verizon specifies latency of 25-40 ms, including mobile Edge. PCMAG had some tests at 10-15 ms on Verizon, which is what to expect with an Edge Network. Edge will deploy slowly outside of Asia. 4G latency had been 35-60 ms, but it is falling as well.

All major apps run about as well in 4G as in 5G. Telemedicine and IoT are fine in 4G. Tesla and Ford point out autonomous vehicles don’t need 5G or any connection. What would they do out of signal.

One major app coming: surveilling and killing people. US DoD awarded $600M in 5G contracts. Telcos tell me police and surveillance outfits are very interested.

5G Flavors: mmWave is good, low & mid-band closer to 4G

Wireless has been getting better at a ferocious rate since at least 2013. Verizon calculates its cost per bit has been going down 40%-50 every year and expects that to continue. This has been true and is a good thing. “5G” has become a meaningless marketing term; most of the big advances happened in the 4G standard. (Massive MIMO, Carrier aggregation) Wireless keeps getting better, whatever the name or the “G.” 

Millimeter wave does get to ~ 3 times the speed because there’s a lot of empty spectrum up there. It has more capacity, so the carrier can offer much more bandwidth.

No 5G has very low latency today, contrary to many claims. Latency in 4G is 25-60 ms, mostly 40-55 ms in the U.S. The average 4G latency in Singapore is 29 ms. 5G today has little effect on latency.

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Inconvenient Truth: Real 5G Little Better Than Decent 4G

The average 2019 4G download speed across 20,000 PC Mag tests in 30 Canadian cities was over 200 Mbps down. The latency was less than 30 ms. The average in Vancouver was over 300 Mbps.

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The majority of independent tests of 5G outside Asia are slower than 200 Mbps. Verizon reports 5G latency of 30 ms. (I’ve actually seen some Verizon latency tests in the 20-27 ms range, including 4G and 5G.) 20 gigabit speed and 1 ms latency are mostly fantasies outside the lab for years.

Putting it bluntly, the difference between 2019 4G and 2019 5G is insignificant, except for the very few sites with millimetre wave. For the next several years, the improvements in 5G performance will be modest, except where Edge servers are installed.

There are 0 major use cases/applications that need 5G rather than decent 4G that are likely to reach volume for years, with the possible exception of AR/VR to mobile phones or surprisingly rapid development of 5G controlled factories.

All the studies that claim a large economic payoff from 5G based on supposed new uses. If new u implies any claim of major economic advantage is b_______.

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Facts, not Hype

Typical real-world latency is 30 ms, no better than good 4G. Verizon
Edge networks cut latency to 10-20 ms in 4G or 5G

Fiber latency is usually lower. Telus

Low-band “5G” today is no faster than 4G 6 independent tests

Mid-band 5G’s speed is 100-300 Mbps, similar to good 4G in the same spectrum. 6 independent tests

mmWave capacity is typically 3X mid-band but is <5% of 5G

5G NB-IoT is almost the same as 4G, unless 50,000+ local connections.

Wi-Fi is 90+% of IoT, not cellular.

3/4ths of 5G users are in China and Korea.

80% of Korea is covered. Swisscom and Etisalat Abu Dhabi are similar. I know no other countries more than 20% covered. I don’t count low-band at 4G speeds.


Virtual reality makes most people nauseous at 20 ms and some at 10 ms

Connected cars work fine at 4G speeds and latency. Only remote driving needs lower.

Autonomous cars do not require 5G. Ford

Almost all remote surgery will be over fiber, not 5G unless surgeons operate from the beach.


5G does not cost more than 4G. Telco capex is flat to down Verizon, Orange/FT, NTT DOCOMO, AT&T

More than 65% can be covered by 5G from existing cells. (Smart build) Only mmWave needs many small cells.

Factories and industrial Internet almost always work about the same in 4G as in 5G


There is no evidence that faster wireless speeds have a major effect on employment or the economy.
Why would watching more TV improve the economy?

Spectrum usually has minimal effect on deployment although it (modestly) lowers telco costs
Major exception: Big chunks at 2.5 or 3.5 GHz ideal for Massive MIMO 4G or 5G

Competition inspired AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile US to roll out faster.
Inspiring or ordering one carrier to build 5G will normally force others to respond

All these are based on multiple sources. Ask.