AT&T and other mobile carriers are trying to hide detailed 5G maps from the public despite constantly touting the supposed pace and breadth of their 5G rollouts.
With the Federal Communications Commission planning to require carriers to submit more accurate data about broadband deployment, AT&T and the mobile industry’s top lobby group are urging the FCC to exclude 5G from the upgraded data collection.
“There is broad agreement that it is not yet time to require reporting on 5G coverage,” AT&T told the FCC in a filing this week.
As evidence of that “broad agreement,” AT&T cited comments by CTIA—the mobile industry lobby group that represents AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. “[A]s CTIA points out, service standards for 5G are still emerging, precluding reporting of service-level coverage for 5G networks (other than the 5G-NR submissions already required),” AT&T wrote.
That’s a reference to 5G New Radio, the global standard for 5G. CTIA told the FCC in September that it doesn’t object to the 5G-NR requirement because “the 5G-NR standards are technical ones; they do not establish what service level consumers should be able to expect when using 5G.”
But CTIA said requiring more than that would be “premature” because “industry consensus is still emerging around how best to measure the deployment of this still-nascent technology.” Verizon also told the FCC in September that “adoption of standardized parameters is premature” for 5G.
Calling 5G a “still-nascent technology” that can’t properly be measured yet raises the question of why carriers have been telling the FCC and public that 5G is guaranteed to revolutionize modern life and that carriers need regulatory favors to speed its rollout. The mobile industry didn’t think it was “premature” for the US government to preempt local regulation of 5G deployments, an action FCC Chairman Ajit Pai took more than a year ago.
The FCC in October voted to require home Internet providers to submit geospatial maps of where they provide service instead of merely reporting which census blocks they offer service in. The FCC hasn’t yet imposed such extensive requirements on mobile providers, but that’s because it hasn’t finished its investigation into complaints that Verizon and T-Mobile lied about the extent of their 4G coverage. The FCC is seeking public comment on how to incorporate mobile coverage into the new mapping system.
T-Mobile has published maps of its 5G coverage, but an FCC requirement could force carriers to provide more accurate and detailed data than they are willing to share voluntarily.
More AT&T complaints
AT&T’s filing this week complained that “requiring 5G coverage maps in this early stage of 5G deployment could reveal sensitive information about cell site locations and even customer locations, in cases where 5G is being deployed in high-band spectrum for specific enterprise customers.”
AT&T also wants limits on requirements for reporting the speed of non-5G networks. AT&T said that carriers should only have to report two speed tiers: one for everything below 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds, and another tier for everything at or above 5Mbps and 1Mbps.
AT&T claims it will “offer 5G nationwide in the first half of 2020,” but AT&T also misled consumers about 5G availability by renaming a large portion of its 4G network, calling it “5G E.” Verizon has been touting its plan to have 5G in parts of 30 cities by the end of 2019, while T-Mobile has claimed it has a better 5G plan than AT&T or Verizon.
Actually reporting detailed 5G maps would show just how sparse the networks are, even in cities where it’s been rolled out. Early deployments have focused on the millimeter-wave variant of 5G, which is the only type of 5G expected to provide significantly faster speeds than 4G.
This high-frequency spectrum can greatly increase mobile speeds because there’s more of it available. But the higher frequencies are easily blocked, and they don’t travel as far as low-frequency signals. Verizon recently bragged about offering 5G in 13 NFL stadiums, but its 5G network isn’t capable of covering all the seating areas in any one of those stadiums.
Consumers should not expect to get a consistent millimeter-wave 5G signal as they move through a city any time soon, and carriers admit that customers in rural areas may never get millimeter-wave 5G. Outside densely populated areas, Verizon says that 5G will be more like “good 4G.”