5G: Now You See It, Now You Don't
I was recently at the Community Choice Credit Union Event Center (the former Veteran's Auditorium) in Des Moines for a meeting. After the meeting, I'm standing in the west entry area waiting for a ride and I look out the west facing windows to see what appears to be a small cell antennae on a streetlight pole about 150 feet away. I wonder to myself if that is a 5G cell and, checking my Verizon 5G-capable phone I see the 5G UW indicator on my screen. So I decided to conduct a little field test.
First, I took a speed test with the phone at the window in line-of-sight to the cell antennae. To my delight, I captured the results you see at left.
This was only the second time I'd been in the presence of 5G UW as Verizon calls their millimeter wave version of 5G. The first time was at the Des Moines Airport in January where I recorded an even more impressive 2,278 Mbps download (and much less impressive 36.1 Mbps upload).
As I mentioned, I was standing in the window with clear line-of-sight to the cell antennae to my west. Next I wanted to compare the speed without clear line-of-sight. So I simply took two steps to the south inside the atrium so that a supporting pillar was between me and the antennae. I was not surprised that the performance dropped exponentially just 5 feet away from the first test.
As I mentioned I was not surprised by this result because, like many of you reading this story, I understand how 5G works in the real world. Non-millimeter wave 5G does perform better in many cases than 4G, but it's nowhere near a replacement for a fixed broadband connection. However, the average citizen has no idea that this performance differential exists until they experience it for themselves.
As they have done over and over again, the wireless carriers have done a great job of creating consumer expectations that likely cannot be met, at least until the point where those 5G UW antennas are on every streetlight AND inside structures. A signifcant percentage of the population sees 5G as the savior, bringing gigabit speeds to everyone. Will consumers hold the carriers responsible for the over-promise, under-deliver strategy? That remains to be seen.
Speaking of 5G, we'll be discussing "5G - Fact And Fiction" at the IAMU Spring Broadband Forum on April 7, 2022. It's on the agenda along with other topics such as "Tools of the Trade for FTTP", a discussion the essential tools needed to operate a fiber network; "NOFA Stories" where IAMU members discuss their experience applying for funds under the Iowa Broadband Grant Program; An ACA Connects update with Matt Polka; and "Projecting Future Bandwidth Needs"
In the meantime, if you visit Des Moines or other metro areas, check you phone for that 5G UW symbol on the upper right of your phone's screen. If you see it, run a speed test and marvel at the possibilities for anyone lucky enough to have a window facing an antennae.
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