Wi-Fi vs. ZigBee and Z-Wave: Which Is Better?

Originally Appearing in how-to-geek.com, October 6, 2019
Author: Josh Hendrickson

For most of the modern smarthome era, ZigBee and Z-Wave have been the dominant communication protocols. But now, Wi-Fi is a strong contender, and more Wi-Fi smart gadgets arrive every day. So, which should you use? The answer is complicated.

Wi-Fi Is Taking Over the World

We’ve written a great deal about Z-Wave and Zigbee, what each protocol does, and why you would pick one over the other. But in the past, Wi-Fi as a total smarthome solution wasn’t a serious consideration. We even warned that Google and Amazon were trying to kill the smarthome hub and covered the difficulties you might encounter with dozens of Wi-Fi devices.

Until recently, if you wanted a smarthome, either Z-wave or ZigBee was your best bet. You picked a protocol and tried to stick with it. And most smart hubs support both, so, when necessary, you could use both in your home. Wi-Fi devices didn’t have much support or centralized hubs to tie all the gadgets together.

But that changed this year—a fact that was evident at CES. It seemed that every smarthome manufacturer touted Google and Alexa integration, and focused on Wi-Fi radios instead of Z-Wave or ZigBee. Now, for every Z-Wave Lock on the market, there’s a Wi-Fi alternative, often from the same manufacturer. But not all things are equal between the protocols.

Z-Wave and ZigBee: The Kings of Local Processing

When you build a smarthome, you have to ask yourself how much you want the cloud involved. All Wi-Fi smarthome gadgets depend on the cloud to work. You need dedicated apps, and the closest you can get to a centralized experience is syncing your devices with Alexa or Google.

But with the right hub, like Hubitat, Homeseer, or OpenHab, you can create a smarthome that doesn’t rely on the cloud. This means that even when the internet is down, you can still control your smarthome. And when you control your smarthome locally, it also works faster. You’ll notice a dramatic difference between the time you send a command and it happens, like turning on the lights.

Z-Wave Has Fewer Congestion Problems

Z-Wave devices in the U.S. are less prone to interference issues than either Wi-Fi or ZigBee. That’s because Z-Wave runs on a different radio frequency—908.42 MHz—while both ZigBee and most Wi-Fi smarthome devices communicate over 2.4 GHz. It’s easy for the 2.4 GHz spectrum to get crowded and suffer issues.

Z-Wave avoids this problem entirely as it only has to contend with itself, even if you add more and more Z-wave devices.

Z-Wave and ZigBee Are Single Points of Failure

Even when you use a cloud-dependent hub, like Wink or SmartThings, Z-Wave and ZigBee products benefit from company clouds involved in the process. Your hub does all the work, so if the company that manufactures your Z-Wave lightbulbs or ZigBee smart locks quits, your devices will keep working.

Wi-Fi devices, on the other hand, depend on multiple clouds. The manufacturer of the gadget provides a cloud and a dedicated app. And if you control your smarthome with Alexa or Google, their cloud is involved, too. But unlike a smarthome hub, Alexa and Google Assistant don’t control Wi-Fi devices directly—the various clouds talk to each other.

This means if either side calls it quits, your device does, too. We saw this recently when Best Buy chose to leave the smarthome business. Insignia branded plugs, lightbulbs, and even a smart freezer all lost their smarthome capabilities. With Wi-Fi, anything in your smarthome can break which, in turn, can lead to everything in your smarthome breaking.

ZigBee and Z-Wave, though, have a giant and singular point of failure: the hub you use to control them. If that fails, either because the company quits or it just breaks, your whole smarthome goes with it.

Wi-Fi Devices Have a Lower Barrier of Entry

Smart hubs can be a challenge to learn how to use. Unfortunately, that’s unavoidable because they’re incredibly powerful and capable of advanced automation. But that’s not necessarily the case with Wi-Fi devices. You can pair them with Alexa or Google Assistant, which are designed to be as user-friendly as possible.

While Google Assistant and Alexa routines aren’t as powerful as some smart hubs, they’re good enough for the average smarthome. When you do need something more complicated, IFTTT and Yonomi work well with Alexa (but not Google, unfortunately).

It’s more likely your family and friends have encountered the Google Assistant or Alexa app than a more esoteric smart hub app. That familiarity gives them a leg up in learning to interact with your smarthome.

Wi-Fi Devices Are Typically Less Expensive

In keeping with the low barrier of entry, Wi-Fi devices often cost less than their Z-Wave and ZigBee counterparts. When you directly compare Wi-Fi plugs with Z-wave Plugs, Wi-Fi Bulbs with ZigBee Bulbs, and Wi-Fi light switches with Z-Wave light switches, you see a noticeable difference in price.

That isn’t to say Z-Wave and ZigBee are always more expensive—Schlage’s Z-Wave lock actually costs less than its Wi-Fi lock. But often, that’s because the Wi-Fi variant is newer—when the Schlage Z-Wave lock was released, it was sold at the price the Wi-Fi lock sells for now.

Building a smarthome doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can add up. If you spread out your purchases over time, it softens the blow. But choosing Wi-Fi due to the lower cost makes sense, too.

Z-Wave and ZigBee Devices Don’t Work with Every Hub

Just because you buy a Z-Wave or ZigBee device and own a smart hub that works with both, it doesn’t mean they’ll work together. That’s why hubs continually release updates for new device compatibility.

But if your hub doesn’t add new devices (like Wink), or is just slow to release updates, you might be out of luck. You can try to program the device as a generic one, but that won’t always work.

With Wi-Fi devices, you don’t have to wait or check to see if it works with your favorite voice assistant. Instead, the effort of compatibility moves from the “hub” (Alexa or Google Assistant) to the device manufacturer.

Manufacturers of Wi-Fi devices can rely on APIs provided by Google and Amazon to make everything work together. That’s less work overall because, at most, they only have to account for two scenarios. Z-Wave and ZigBee hubs are often vastly different, and the amount of work necessary to sync everything together changes from hub to hub.

If you want to ensure the devices you own will always work in your smarthome, Wi-Fi now has a clear advantage, thanks to Google and Alexa.

So, Wi-Fi or Z-Wave and ZigBee?

Whether you should go with Z-wave and ZigBee or Wi-Fi depends on what’s more important to you when it comes to your smarthome experience. If you want everything to work with Google or Alexa and don’t want to add smart hub complications, then Wi-Fi devices are the best option.

But if you want local, cloudless control—and a smarthome you can fine-tune to the most advanced specifications—ZigBee and Z-Wave win.

Once you know what you want in your smarthome, the choice becomes obvious.

How technology is disrupting the real estate industry

Originally Appearing in front blog (frontapp.com)
Author: Vishal Vibhaker

When Marc Andreessen famously said, “Software is eating the world,” that statement included our houses, office buildings, and yards, too.

Technology touches every aspect of the real estate industry today. Buyers can see a birds-eye view of a neighborhood 2,000 miles away through drone footage. You can buy a house online without ever taking out a pen to sign a contract. Searching for new listings is as simple as downloading an app, choosing your location, and awaiting notifications with options.

More than 70 percent of today’s buyers search for homes online, and 85 percent of real estate agents use texting to get work done. Digging to find information on schools, demographics, and crime statistics is a task of the past — now websites and apps make this data accessible, so it’s easier than ever to make informed decisions.

Below are some of the top technologies that are changing the landscape of the real estate industry today and tomorrow.

Top tech trends shaping the future of real estate

Blockchain

Blockchain makes it possible for people and companies to process major transactions without going through intermediaries like credit card companies, banks, or governments.

As you can imagine, real estate almost always counts as a “major transaction”. If blockchain fulfills its promise in real estate, it can bring security, transparency, and efficiency to real estate transactions. Two places blockchain is expected to make the biggest splash? 1) Tokenization and 2) smart contracts.

1) Tokenization in real estate means using cryptocurrency to split assets into tokens that are stored on the blockchain. aXpire COO Matt Markham gives a great explanation of tokenization in real estate on Hacker Noon. It creates two big changes:

Landlords can sell off just a portion of their property and investors to resell their shares on the open market through secondary exchanges.
Individuals from various income levels and locations can have access to investment opportunities that used to be out of reach.

2) Smart contracts bring together transactions completely between the buyer and the seller (or renter and landlord). Buyers can submit their information on an encrypted block directly to the seller, rather than going through a bank, for instance. Removing middlemen, and human interaction in general, can both speed up the transaction and reduce the chance for fraud. Sea Foam Media’s Chloe Diamond details more on smart contracts and blockchain in real estate.

Sharing economy

It’s no secret that remote work is on the rise, and the sharing economy is growing with it. Rather than buying a car, why not lease one (or take a Lyft, GetAround, or a Spin scooter?) Instead of purchasing furniture for your startup office, why not rent some desks for a year before your team outgrows the space?

Since people are less concerned with owning physical goods and properties, a new crop of businesses have sprouted around the real estate industry to facilitate mobile and shared lifestyles:

Modern real estate companies like Zeus enable businesses to rent furnished homes for extended stays — and home owners to lease their spaces to businesses.
Co-working companies like WeWork have made it possible for businesses to not have to sign ten year leases on office space and deal with the hassles that come with that.
Companies like CasaOne enable individuals and businesses to rent furniture on a monthly basis rather than spending full price to buy it and reselling it later.

Artificial intelligence

While Rosie the Robot Maid isn’t buzzing around giving property tours just yet, artificial intelligence is impacting the real estate industry in less obvious ways every day — through machine learning (ML). With ML, computers can learn from data, rather than being programmed to do certain tasks. In real estate, ML is helping influence smarter business decisions through pattern recognition — to determine information such as when a property or neighborhood will become popular.

Speeding up the sales process

Virtual reality

For agents and brokerage companies, virtual reality has the potential to speed up sales cycles by allowing clients to get a better sense of a property and putting agents in touch with buyers further along in the buying cycle.

VR for real estate allows people to try before you buy — without spending time and money traveling to scope out properties. Instead of using high quality photos or 360° video, forward-thinking realtors offer clients 3D virtual property “tours.” Thanks to aerial drone footage and 3D technology, clients can “step into” a space to experience the scale of rooms, climb into showers to make sure the shower head is high enough, and walk out to check out the neighborhood.

In the past, agents had to spend time and money staging a space, but soon that might not be the case. Instead, clients will be able to personalize a room with virtual furniture.

CRM software

Software like Salesforce, PipeDrive, Base, and countless other CRMs for real estate help agents keep track of emails, calls, and the progress you’ve made with your prospects. You can get a clear sense of your pipeline, and quickly identify the areas where you need to take action. Once a deal has been won or lost, you can easily report on results and use that data to forecast revenue.

The rise of mobile

Mobile apps

Ordering food? Catching a ride? People do everything on their phones today, and they expect to browse, buy, and sell real estate from the palm of their hand, too.

With real estate apps like Zillow and Redfin, clients and agents have a centralized platform to browse, buy or sell a property, find an agent, and get notified when a new listing hits the market. Their platforms house data for real estate discovery, property values, mortgages, and more.

Mobile apps are disrupting the renovation space, too. With companies like Thumbtack and Handy, it’s easier than ever to hire a landscaper, painter, plumber, cleaner, or any type of professional contractor to work on your property.

Improving the tenant experience

Internet of things

Properties house loads of data on the way people live. Through the internet of things, technology now lives inside non-technical things like doors, light switches, locks, and more.

Once you have systems and sensors in place, every action a tenant makes becomes a data point that can be used to improve their experience. For example, property managers can gather data to understand:

When do they prefer to have the heating on?
Where are the areas with the highest foot traffic at different times of the day?
Which spaces are used the most?

Real estate management used to require a lot of paperwork, from maintenance requests to insurance documents. Now all this paperwork lives in the cloud, which enables property managers to track trends and improve the way they manage properties. Owners can monitor a premise in real time and control security features remotely. They can send out reports on utility interruptions or control building temperature from afar.

Channels for connecting with clients and tenants

Now there are more options than ever for communicating with clients and tenants, and being available on many channels makes it easier for clients to reach you anytime, anywhere. Agents and property owners are using email in addition to:

SMS texting tools like Twilio
Live website chat tools like Drift and Intercom
Social media messaging through Facebook and Twitter
Client communications tools like Front to manage email and every other channel efficiently in one place

Technology is shaping the real estate industry for the better

PwC’s yearly trend report for real estate suggests, “If people don’t recognize technologies are existing and, moreover, how to integrate them, opportunities are being missed.” From shortening the sales cycle to providing a top-notch tenant experience, technology will continue to transform the way we buy, sell, and search for real estate.

Germans See Economy Hurt by Slow Internet

Originally Appearing in The Wall Street Journal
Author: Sara Germano, August 6, 2019

The country ranks 33rd in the world by one measure of broadband connection speed; ‘too unstable, too slow’

BERLIN—Germany is looking for new ways to power its economy as the traditional growth engines of manufacturing and exports falter. But the country’s outdated internet is acting as a bottleneck.

The sorry state of the online network has become a national joke and an economic liability. Germany ranks 33rd in the world in average monthly fixed broadband connection speeds, and 47th for mobile, according to Speedtest Global Index. By comparison, the U.S. ranks 7th and 37th, respectively.

The slow speeds are hampering the digitization of swaths of industry and the delivery of products and services to consumers, causing pain for German companies such as media conglomerate Bertelsmann SE, whose portfolio includes online video producer RTL Group, music group BMG and a controlling stake in publisher Penguin Random House.

“Our business is about content and reach, and monetizing the reach,” said Chief Executive Thomas Rabe. “And if the reach is reduced by the lack of technical infrastructure, that is, of course, a problem.”

In Germany, for example, gigabyte connections—which handle more than 1,000 megabits per second—are rare. As a result, streaming ultra-high-definition video can be hit-or-miss outside big cities, with the images sometimes appearing choppy.

Playing Catch-Up
Germany’s internet infrastructure is outdated, forcing consumers to deal with download speeds that are far slower than in many other wealthy nations.

Broadband connections that are typically on average half as fast as in the U.S. can also turn a multiplayer video game into an unresponsive ordeal and limit software companies’ ability to offer cloud computing services, especially remote hosting of applications, where lag can be a significant issue.

Germany largely missed the upgrade to fiber broadband that neighboring countries deployed a decade ago, which is making a swift rollout of next-generation 5G mobile internet especially urgent, according to business leaders, economists and politicians.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that the government is committed to improving digital infrastructure over the next decade. “It will be a long time, but we have devoted ourselves to this question,” she said.

In the meantime, the consequences are felt everywhere from the German countryside, where many companies in the highly decentralized economy have their headquarters, to Berlin’s startup scene.

“Almost every one of us has had bad experiences with the internet connection…too unstable, too slow, not available everywhere,” said Thilo Grösch, a spokesman for an insurance startup who has worked at various firms in the capital for seven years. Mr. Grösch said he often had to work from home at a previous job because the office internet wouldn’t function.

Germany’s internet woes are rooted in a range of factors, according to network operators, regulators, business executives, and industry analysts.

Among them are the country’s large geographic area; an evenly spread population; decades of subdued private-sector investment; and strict fiscal rules that discourage government investment in infrastructure.

But one technical factor stands out: the reliance on copper rather than glass fiber to link end users to the fixed-line network.

“The whole problem in Germany is the lack of fiber-to-the-home strategy by Deutsche Telekom and other carriers,” said Guy Peddy, a telecommunications analyst for Macquarie Research.

Telecom giants in France and Portugal were already rolling out all-fiber networks early in the decade, in keeping with a 2010 European Union report that recommended that national carriers invest in fiber.

But Deutsche Telekom, Germany’s dominant operator, took a less costly route in 2012, upgrading its existing copper network through a technology called vectoring. The idea was to improve speed on copper cables to up to 100 megabits per second by cutting down on interference, a relatively inexpensive way to get faster internet to consumers.

At the time, Deutsche Telekom acknowledged that it would eventually have to build a fiber-based network. But Henrik Schmitz, a spokesman for the company, said it needed to rely on vectoring in order to meet a government target of 80% of households having access to download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second by the end of 2018, a target that Telekom says it will hit a year late.

Fiber would have enabled faster speeds but would have been available to just 10-to-20% of households, Mr. Schmitz said.

Many commercial customers say the vectoring approach has left them frustrated. Holger Ehrhardt, a graphic designer and IT consultant for a print media company in the state of Lower Saxony, said the firm decided to invest in its own server because fiber isn’t available and Deutsche Telekom has only been able to connect them with 25-megabit internet. “It must have something to do with the ‘antique’ lines,” he said.

In 2017, the German Federal Network Agency said vectoring wasn’t enough, and that further glass fiber cable investments were needed to hit government targets. That same year, the German ministry for transportation called for gigabit internet—download speeds ten to twenty times faster than those generated through vectoring—to be broadly available by 2025.

Deutsche Telekom responded by pledging to add up to 60,000 kilometers (37,200 miles) of fiber cable per year and to connect 90% of Germany’s surface area with 5G by 2025, offering high-speed data traffic to those places that fiber couldn’t reach in time.

Critics say Germany still isn’t moving fast enough. “It’s too slow,” Hubert Barth, the chief executive of Ernst & Young Germany, said of the gigabit internet initiative. “If you’re really world class in production, having a ranking of, say, [33rd] in working internet does not fit together with that image.”

Wi-Fi 6 is barely here, but Wi-Fi 7 is already on the way

Originally Appearing in https://www.cnet.com/
Author: Stephen Shankland, September 3, 2019

With improvements to Wi-Fi 6 and its successor, Qualcomm is working to boost speeds and overcome congestion on wireless networks.

Wi-Fi 6 is just now arriving in phones, laptops and network equipment. But engineers are already turning their attention to what’ll come next: Wi-Fi 7. With speeds as high as 30 gigabits per second, the next generation of Wi-Fi promises better streaming video, longer range and fewer problems with traffic congestion.

The change will come in a series of steps, beginning with improvements to Wi-Fi 6, that lay the groundwork for the expected arrival of Wi-Fi 7 in 2024.

“I’m excited about delivering a gigabit everywhere in your house, every nook and cranny,” said V.K. Jones, Qualcomm’s vice president of technology. “You’ll be at the point where wireless is faster than wired.”

In a talk and subsequent interview at Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Day in August, Jones shared some details on how Wi-Fi 7 will work. He expects three phases of improvements over today’s Wi-Fi 6, which in technical circles is called 802.11ax.

The first expected improvement will give Wi-Fi 6 more capacity, with new airwaves that US and European governments are likely to open up for radio transmission as soon as next year. Second, an update to Wi-Fi 6 in 2022 should improve its speeds, especially for people uploading data like videos from phones or PCs. Third, and perhaps most interesting, is a collection of Wi-Fi upgrades expected in 2024 and still known only by its technical name of 802.11be.

Nobody’s quite ready to officially call that new version Wi-Fi 7. That includes the Wi-Fi Alliance, the consortium that comes up with the numbers and bestows its Wi-Fi logo on products that pass its certification tests. Heck, its program to certify Wi-Fi 6 products only begins later this year.

Still, you don’t have to be a soothsayer to see this future. The last three Wi-Fi engineering standards — IEEE 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax — have been certified as Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6, respectively. So 802.11be is a strong candidate to receive the Wi-Fi 7 label.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which develops the 802.11 standards that the Wi-Fi Alliance later certifies, is already at work on 802.11be. It’s the IEEE working group that proposed the 30Gbps speed in its project authorization request. For comparison, CNET’s tests so far have shown Wi-Fi 6 delivering a maximum of 1.3Gbps. The working group also seeks to reduce communication delays to improve performance for latency-sensitive activities like gaming.

First Wi-Fi improvement: 6GHz airwaves

The first big change is likely to come from governmental largesse. Today’s Wi-Fi uses two radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The US and Europe, though, are working on releasing a huge new swath at 6GHz.

“This is very juicy real estate,” Jones said of the new spectrum, predicting that it’ll quadruple speeds when you’re at work or watching a game in a stadium.

The only way devices will be allowed to use this frequency band is through Wi-Fi 6 and later versions of the technology. That means older devices won’t gum up the works. “You don’t have all these crap legacy devices hanging around that don’t really know how to share,” said Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Tirias Research.

One problem: Some telecommunications companies already use parts of the 6GHz band in specific locations. Fortunately, network engineers know where those beams run and can work around that with what amounts to a fancy map called the Automated Frequency Coordinator, or AFC.

Convincing the government this system works will be the biggest challenge for opening up the 6GHz band, says Rishi Grover, a senior director at network equipment maker CommScope.

But Jones is confident it’s a solvable problem. “We’re used to dealing with sharing spectrum,” he said. “It’s up to us to convince ourselves and the rest of the world we can protect these incumbents.”

Of course, the 6GHz spectrum will eventually fill up with traffic, too, Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay predicted. “They all talk about 6GHz as the wide open spaces: ‘You can just let your cattle run wild out there.’ The reality is that contention will fill the channel just like every other one over time,” Kay said. “Still, it’ll be nice for a while.”

Phase two: Wi-Fi’s uplink upgrade

In 2022, another change should come to today’s Wi-Fi 6, delivering promised features of 802.11ax. Specifically, expect a triple-whammy acronym, UL MU-MIMO. That stands for uplink multiuser multiple-input multiple-output. Whew!

MIMO, already built into Wi-Fi 4 and 5, takes advantage of the fact that radio transmissions sent from one device to another often take multiple paths, bouncing in different ways off things like walls, furniture and cars. By sending different data over different paths, you can get more out of the existing airwaves.

Wi-Fi 6’s first phase, arriving now, brings the multiuser upgrade, MU-MIMO, which means an access point can beam MIMO data to several devices at once. The second uplink phase will speed devices uploading data to the network.

At Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Day, the company demonstrated UL MU-MIMO with 10 phones livestreaming a woman painting a colorful landscape. The three phones that supported UL MU-MIMO sent an uninterrupted video of her brush strokes, while the video from the other seven phones often paused for seconds at a time.

Phase Three: Wi-Fi’s better beams

That brings us to 802.11be, the Wi-Fi 7 contender likely to arrive in 2024 with another improvement to MIMO.

It’s called coordinated multiuser MIMO, or CMU-MIMO. “It’s very hard to get it to work, and it may not even make it,” Jones said, but if it does, expect another boost to Wi-Fi speed, range and traffic decongestion.

Wi-Fi 6’s MU-MIMO lets network equipment makers build access points with an eight-antenna arrangement, but 802.11be will handle 16. And that opens the door for CMU-MIMO.

The “cooperative” part of CMU-MIMO comes because all those antennas need not necessarily be on a single access point, Jones said. To improve coverage across bigger houses and businesses, the Wi-Fi industry is moving toward mesh networks with multiple access points.

Dividing those antennas among different devices would mean a better ability to send different data in different devices — “spatial resolution,” in network parlance — and thereby increasing the overall network performance, Jones said. You could imagine two access points with eight antennas each, or four access points with four each.

“When they work together they can get more out of the spectrum,” Jones said. “Spectrum is the lifeblood of all wireless systems.”

Other 802.11be changes

Also on tap for 802.11be is the ability to send data on multiple frequencies at the same time.

Today’s networks send data to devices using either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands. 802.11be will be able to use two bands at once and maybe all three, Jones said. That’s like holding three phone conversations at once — hard for a human, but not such a big deal for computers.

Then there’s an upgrade that squeezes more information into a radio signal. It’s called 4096-QAM, an improvement in quadrature amplitude modulation, a signal-handling technology. Wi-Fi 6 uses 1024-QAM. Bigger is better.

But speeding up Wi-Fi by pushing the limits of physics and engineering is tough, and Jones isn’t making any promises about what’ll actually arrive.

“We all have been through this rodeo many times,” Jones said. “We know how hard it is to get this stuff to work.”

5G can’t fix America’s broadband problems

Originally Appearing in The Verge (https://www.theverge.com/)
Author: Karl Bode February 6 2019

Don’t expect the new generation of wireless tech to replace fiber, no matter what AT&T says

Speaking on the company’s earnings call last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he sees fifth-generation wireless (5G) becoming a “fixed broadband replacement product” within the next three to five years, providing consumers with faster speeds than most existing cable and DSL connections.

AT&T’s marketing department insists that the public will see “unforeseen innovation” as these networks come online. Both AT&T and Verizon have spent several years portraying 5G as an almost utopian solution to the slow speeds and sporadic availability of traditional broadband, heralding 5G as an essential cornerstone of the smart cities of tomorrow.

If 5G really could stand in for broadband, it would be filling a serious gap in American internet access. Federal Communications Commission data shows that fiber broadband remains unavailable for the majority of Americans, and there’s virtually no broadband competition at faster speeds. Both Verizon and AT&T have been repeatedly criticized (and occasionally sued) for promising fiber they don’t deliver, something often obscured by the government’s failure to adequately map broadband availability.

But experts say there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the hype surrounding 5G, especially given these same companies’ long history of unfulfilled broadband promises. While 5G will most definitely provide faster, lower-latency networks, it shouldn’t be seen as a magical cure-all for the numerous problems that plague the US broadband sector, they argue.
Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued in government filings that 5G hype overshadows these same companies’ long-standing failures to deploy real fiber broadband to rural and less affluent urban markets (despite billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors), and 5G shouldn’t be seen as synonymous with the fast, reliable fiber connections these same companies should have deployed years ago.

“Absolutely no way is wireless service ever going to be competitive with high-speed wireline services,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the EFF, told The Verge. “The fastest speeds the industry is boasting about for the future of wireless has already been surpassed by fiber to the home years ago.”

Rural carriers have long accused companies like AT&T and Verizon of overstating 4G availability, and researchers have shown that early 5G availability is already being aggressively overstated by carrier marketing departments. History suggests that consumers should believe carrier promises of ubiquitous 5G availability only once they’ve actually seen it.

Meanwhile, most 5G marketing and press coverage tends to omit the biggest reason why 5G isn’t likely to be a perfect replacement for fixed-line broadband: price.


US consumers already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for 4G LTE access, and so far, 5G is no better. AT&T’s initial foray into 5G is not only barely available at $500 for a hot spot and $70 for just 15 gigabytes of usage (plus access fees just to connect to the network), but it’s also certainly no fixed-line replacement, especially as 4K gaming and next-generation game streaming go mainstream.

The shift to 5G also won’t address one of the biggest — but largely overlooked — reasons for high wireless prices in the United States. Large ISPs enjoy a de facto monopoly over the business data services (BDS) market, which adds a huge cost to providing wireless service. This “special access” market connects everything from cell towers to ATMs to the larger internet, and FCC data indicates that in 73 percent of geographical areas, this market is dominated by just one ISP (usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink).

Smaller cellular carriers have complained for years that incumbents use this monopoly power to charge egregious rates to connect their towers to the internet backbone, putting them at a competitive disadvantage and driving up rates for carriers and consumers alike.

Incompas, a trade group representing these smaller carriers, told The Verge that 5G isn’t likely to change this dynamic. “The incumbents have already raised prices on business customers via BDS lines,” the group said, “and allowing them to burn the bridge to broadband would leave millions of customers with higher bills, slower speeds and without a 5G future.”

Other experts argue that your wireless connection may soon come packed with arbitrary restrictions that have never been a problem on wireline connections. The EFF, for example, told The Verge that industry attacks on net neutrality and FCC authority open the door to all manner of aggressive pricing and network restrictions that will not only drive up your monthly bill, but profoundly change the way we use the internet for the worse.

Verizon, for example, already charges its unlimited data customers notably more money just to view content in full HD. Sprint has similarly toyed with charging users additional money to avoid the throttling of games, video, and music. And both AT&T and Verizon have explored using arbitrary usage caps and overage fees to unfairly hamstring streaming competitors.
“If the carriers adopt aggressive zero-rating plans in the 5G market as a means to charge ever higher prices, it will directly stifle the promise of faster wireless service and allow them to engage in anti-competitive practices against alternatives on the Internet,” Falcon said.

None of this is to say that 5G won’t be a generally good thing when it finally arrives at scale, something that’s not expected to happen until 2020 or later.
Early trials have resulted in speeds as high as 1.7 Gbps in the labs, and the virtualization technology accompanying the standard will make wireless networks more resilient and easier to manage. The lower latency 5G provides will make mobile network-reliant technologies simply function better. There’s no debate that 5G is a modest but important evolution.

But if there’s anything to be taken from the telecom industry’s long history of unfulfilled promises, caveats, head fakes, and outright falsehoods, it’s that sector promises should always be taken with several grains of salt. Those waiting for 5G to magically fix the worst aspects of a troubled US broadband sector — particularly, high prices — probably shouldn’t hold their breath.