If you listened to Verizon fifth-generation wireless (5G) marketing at any time during the last three years, it went something like this: fifth generation (5G) wireless was going to absolutely transform the world by building the smart cities of tomorrow, revolutionizing medicine, and driving an ocean of innovation.
In reality, US 5G has largely landed with a thud. Studies showing how the US version is notably slower than overseas 5G (and in fact often slower than the 4G networks you’re used to). Actual innovative uses for it are hard to come by, and by and large consumers couldn’t care less.
If you ask consumers what they really want from a wireless network, it’s usually better coverage, and lower prices. So it’s not too surprising that despite all of its marketing hype, Verizon lost 292,000 “postpaid” (month to month, the most profitable customers) subscribers last quarter:
Verizon lost 292,000 consumer postpaid phone subscriptions, the metric used by the industry as an indicator of success. In a Friday press release on its earnings for the quarter, Verizon chalked the loss up to “competitive dynamics.”
But “competitive” dynamics in the U.S. market have eroded slightly since the T-Mobile merger reduced the number of overall competitors from four to three major players. T-Mobile continues to leech subscribers from Verizon in large part because it’s still widely considered the least annoying of the three; it’s all likely to get less competitive as investors pressure all three to compete less on price.
None of this is to say 5G isn’t important. It does provide faster speeds, lower latencies, and more reliable networks. But 5G was always a fairly unsexy evolution, not some amazing revolution. Verizon marketing, desperate to suggest the latter, often utilized claims that 5G would do things like help cure cancer. This ultimately associated the concept of 5G with hype, bluster, and unfulfilled promises.
Some of Verizon’s issues here are technical. Unlike T-Mobile, Verizon initially lacked middle band 5G spectrum, which provides both great range and very good speeds. Its network was initially heavily reliant on higher band millimeter wave spectrum, which offers great speeds, but has terrible range and struggles with things like signal penetration through building walls.
Things will all improve as Verizon and other U.S. wireless carriers acquire and deploy more middle band spectrum, but in the interim all of the overly effervescent 5G marketing did more harm than good.