AT&T mobile will be distinctly inferior to Verizon for years. The practical difference will likely be small, but AT&T is gambling people won't choose Verizon. While a handful of hotspots will go mmWave, AT&T's Andrew Fuetsch said mmWave will only be used in hotspots. Most of the "5G" network will be low and mid-band.

      Over strong objections of their technical staff, AT&T has decided not to build millimeter wave 5G widely. Instead, they will use lower spectrum bands with 70% to 90% less capacity. 

      Almost certainly, the United States will now have only one high-performance 5G network; almost everything else will be 4G LTE with a software tweak and a massive publicity campaign. Every engineer building networks knew this was hogwash. MWC in Barcelona was dominated by emperors without clothes. See.

     What seemed like silly semantics and a cheap pr campaign is now proving to have real-world consequences.

AT&T has decided customers will not understand the difference between their 4G-style network and Verizon's true gigabit mmWave. If AT&T was not able to call their relatively slow network "5G," they almost definitely would have built mmWave. 

    The U.S. government is one of the only non-corporate members of the 3GPP standards group. We should have been screaming holy hell early this year when 3GPP decided to call almost all the 4G set to be deployed 5G.

     AT&T had been a pioneer in 5G research when 5G meant mmWave capable of going to 20 gigabits. They offered $2B for the Straight Path 28 GHz spectrum but were outbid by Verizon. Until now, AT&T told us they would build widely in the 39 GHz spectrum they own.

     The cutback by AT&T demonstrates that Ajit Pai also made a severe error allowing Verizon to purchase 800 MHz of Straight Path spectrum. 5G mmWave is designed to work well in 400 MHz and Verizon would have been willing to let the second 400 MHz go to someone else, probably AT&T. 

   Today's 5G gear is designed for 28 GHz; the European 26 GHz is not supported by the new Qualcomm modem, although that will probably be remedied soon. No phone is likely to support AT&T's 39 GHz unless specially ordered.

    The soon to be auctioned 24 GHz is also unsupported. That means it is unlikely to be used for years. Pai will declare it a great victory, but the government would collect ?billions more if the auction were delayed.

     Fortunately, 4G and 4G-like networks will provide enough 

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.