So, let’s get this out of the way first. A few short months ago I said there was no such thing as 5G. And there isn’t. I stand behind that. So what are engadget and others talking about when they say AT&T will be testing 5G technology in Austin this year?
Obviously there has to be something after LTE. LTE works really well and it’s going to continue to scale up for the next couple of years. And maybe LTE will be all you ever need, because properly implemented LTE could deliver 100mbps service wirelessly whether you want it at home or through a mobile device. Unless someone invents something new to do with a phone (and they will, I know that) 100mbps is going to be just fine.
But there’s always going to be something new. US cell carriers know that, and they want to be in on the ground floor. The truth is that the US was behind several other countries in LTE development and implementation, and in many ways they still are. Working on the next generation of wireless data is one way that AT&T and Verizon can make up for their past missteps.
So let’s cut through the promotional hype (even though, let’s be honest, I love promotional hype.) What AT&T will be doing this year is testing what it thinks will be the technologies used in 5G. What it hopes will be the next technologies, because the specs aren’t set yet. It’s going to take between 2 and 5 years for those specs to get finalized, during which time LTE is going to get faster and faster. And really, it’s possible some of the 2016 technologies that they’re testing today could even be obsolete by the time the first 5G phones hit market which could be sometime around 2021.
With all of that said, I’m actually pretty jazzed about the idea of 5G when it finally comes around. When you think about it, if you can get internet service that’s as fast as you could possibly need wirelessly, it changes the entire equation for streaming and TV delivery. I imagine a satellite dish with a built-in 5G antenna that provides all your communications services without costly wires buried underground. That could really make a huge change to the speed at which things evolve electronically and certainly it’s going to make it possible for cell carriers to expand their reach much further than they already have. Both AT&T and Verizon currently have to deal with local cities and towns when they lay fiber, and often times there are weird agreements prohibiting multiple phone companies from serving the same area. Bypassing those local governments could mean more choice for everyone and a better, more competitive experience.
So, look. AT&T is certainly going to be testing something out there in Austin. It won’t have any effect on you even if you live there. I think we can all agree they’re only mentioning it to get a headline or two, which they’re doing quite effectively. But everything has to start somewhere, and it seems to me this is a good place to start.