AT&T Tempers 5G Enthusiasm

by Matt Klassen on September 15, 2015

As Verizon is gearing up its Big Red marketing machine to push its ambitious 5G development and roll-out plan, AT&T has, perhaps not surprisingly, taken a distinctly more tempered approach to the next generation of wireless technology, arguing (as I did recently) that standards need to be developed and 5G truly needs to be defined before the wireless industry starts making promises…particularly making ones it can’t keep.

“We’re not at a point to be making promises or commitments to customers as to what 5G is,” Glenn Lurie, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, said in an interview at the CTIA Wireless industry trade show last week. “We as an industry have been really good at over-promising and under-delivering when it comes to new technology.”

That’s not to say AT&T is not participating in the development of 5G, far from it in fact. Instead, AT&T is simply taking a cautious approach, recognizing that for the last decade or so the wireless industry has over-hyped forthcoming advances, and for the most part the only thing restraining the American wireless consumers from full on revolt has been that they simply haven’t known how disappointing their mobile infrastructure really is.

In contrast to Verizon’s blind ambition, AT&T’s argument is that the technology behind 5G is still very much in its early development stages, meaning there is no common standard, there is no actual definition of “5G,” and there is no agreement on what 5G will look like in the end.

“Let’s make sure that before we start hyping what it’s going to be, that those standards are agreed to,” Lurie said.

As I said regarding Verizon, there really is nothing preventing Big Red from touting its next generation wireless upgrade as 5G technology, but even in these early stages it seems America’s largest wireless company is still miles off from the industry estimates put forth regarding what 5G could achieve.

Now granted there’s nothing to say that 5G tech will actually meet those lofty estimates, but that’s really AT&T’s point here: Don’t set the bar too high, don’t set it too low, as either will only serve to create further frustration and disappointment amongst subscribers.

Of course there’s another side to this story, as we saw exactly this same scenario play out with 4G, as Verizon jumped the gun with development and AT&T urged restraint and patience. “Innovation happens when you’re willing to look at things a little differently than others, and you’re willing to put in the hard work to make your vision a reality,” a Verizon spokesperson said in response.

But in the end, I think reigning in the hype machine is probably the best bet, since again the concept of “5G” is, at this point, virtually meaningless, a nebulous notion that lacks any concise definition. While such confusion may play into Verizon’s marketing scheme, in the end it’s not great for the industry or for consumers.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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