Regulators Should Sanction Phone Carriers Over 5G Advertising

September 26, 2023

Verizon has spent the past several years pushing 5G in its advertising. In a war for customers with rivals T-Mobile and at&t the major three carriers have promised consumers life changing service if they upgrade to the latest 5G phone plans. Marketing showed mind boggling multi-gigabit speeds while consumers learned they only got this if standing nearly next to a mobile tower. Most consumers experienced 5G as a refreshed LTE upgrade after Verizon launched its 5G nationwide network. With equal or worse performance than LTE, 5G seemed like a dud. Years later consumers are finally seeing a payoff from Verizon’s investment, but only if they pay up.

Why It Matters

Mobile networks have to battle two major challenges: lack of coverage, and network congestion. As a prepaid Verizon wireless customer my phone has been relegated to de-prioritized data on Verizon’s 5G nationwide (LTE spectrum) network. The number of times I had full bars and got no service in Boston was a lot. If a concert venue, sports stadium, or transit hub lacked WiFi I was functionally offline. With 5G ultra-wideband that is no longer the case.

T-Mobile is Better Outside Major Cities

T-Mobile was the first carrier to focus on mid-band 5G that can provide high speeds and support many users over a moderate distance. This advantage makes them a great option for folks that are in their service area. They have more mid-band 5G service in more places than any other carrier. If you live outside a major city it is likely the experience with their network will be better.

👎🏼 To Tricky Phone Plans

Verizon advertises both its 5G nationwide and ultra-sideband as 5G and only in the fine print does it explain that the best prices it offers on its least expensive plans do not include mid or mmWave spectrum 5G. Even looking at this fine print, I doubt most consumers, myself included, can understand and appreciate the difference in real world experience until trying both.

Time for Regulators to Step-In

While many, if not most, consumers are buying a post-paid phone plan that includes all of 5G, many bargain oriented consumers are using MVNO (mobile virtual network operators) or prepaid plans that have data prioritized below the rest of the mobile network users. The least expensive plans do not include access to 5G c-band or mm-wave that provide the experience that mobile networks advertise. Yet they are able to sell and advertise these plans as 5G because the LTE network is technically 5G, even if it does not provide the same experience. The difference is disclosed, but not explained or well understood, even by some of the most sophisticated consumers.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.