Wireless carriers are working hard to talk up 5G (Fifth Generation) wireless as the future of broadband. But don’t be fooled—they are only trying to focus our attention on 5G to try to distract us from their willful failure to invest in a proven ultrafast option for many Americans: fiber to the home, or FTTH.
A recent FCC report on competition found that the future of high-speed broadband for most Americans will be a cable monopoly. Without a plan to promote fiber to the home, that’s not likely to change. In fact, because the 5G upgrade relies on fiber infrastructure, even 5G will be possibly limited to areas that already have FTTH – meaning, they already have a competitive landscape and, therefore, better service. The rest of us get monopolistic slow lanes.
Regulators and policymakers focusing only on 5G wireless are setting us up to fail. Only aggressive promotion of competitive high-speed wireline infrastructure can ensure that the 68 million Americans that currently have access to only one high-speed ISP will have options (and, in turn, the ability to vote with their wallets if service is slow), and that the 19 million Americans with no access at all can leapfrog into the 21st century of broadband access.
So here’s a better idea: ignore the 5G hype and focus instead on why large corporations such as Google, AT&T, and Verizon are content with abandoning fiber to the home.
Let’s break it down.
What Will 5G Do?
Fifth Generation (5G) wireless represents a more efficient way to manage wireless services through “network slicing,” which prevents multiple wireless networks from interfering with each other. Under previous wireless specifications, operators generally competed for the same network resources, but “slices” can operate as their own independent networks without cannibalizing one another. This allows for tailored wireless services for the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, broadband Internet access, and other services that have different needs.
Wireless carriers can deliver 5G services in basically two ways. Moderate speeds with lots of coverage or high-speeds with very limited range (around 1000 feet from the tower). The 5G services most often touted by industry are the limited range high-speed type, which will exist where fiber wireline infrastructure is present.
Ultimately though, all this hype over 5G networks by these large companies has done little to answer fundamental questions in the U.S. broadband market: why are the largest ISPs not aggressively deploying fiber to the home despite its proven track record of profits and success? How is it that the United States, as the FCC has recently acknowledged, starting to slow down on fiber to the home, whereas the rest of the world moving is faster? Fiber to the home is cheap to upgrade to even higher speeds once it is laid, making it an infrastructure investment that will be good for decades to come. And its top speeds are already dwarfing even the loftiest 5G hyped assertions.
However, as long as policymakers and regulators at the state and federal level remain distracted and even willfully promote 5G hype, we will not see any remedy for the high-speed competition problems in America right now. The end result is we will be stuck with slower, more expensive, and not universally accessible high-speed broadband.