5G Challenges: Why It Isn't Rolling Out Faster

Regulations and cost are major reasons why 5G isn't yet available where you are

If 5G offers faster speeds than 4G, then why is it taking so long for big companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to support 5G services in U.S. cities? Learn about the various challenges of 5G rollout around the world, including regulatory approvals and network construction costs.

Information in this article applies to the 5G mobile networking technology, not 5 GHz. See 5G vs. 5 GHz Wi-Fi for more on their differences.

5G Network Deployment Challenges

Due to the type of signal that some 5G cell towers transmit, their reach is severely limited to devices in proximity. Many networks are operating on 5G radio frequencies called millimeter waves that are capable of carrying lots of data. So, while they support faster connections and smoother streaming, they're often limited to less than one square mile of coverage.

Because of this limited scope, fewer users can access the network from a single cell tower. 5G signals are also more easily blocked by common objects like trees and buildings. This means that many small antennae have to be erected to serve more customers. Deploying such infrastructure across the nation isn’t an easy task, and providers sometimes run into issues with local community regulations.

Some Cities Aren’t on Board With 5G

Municipality regulations might be one of the biggest barriers to a speedy 5G rollout. While some cities are working with telecom providers to install 5G equipment, others have policies and procedures that are proving to be roadblocks. Examples include zoning policies, lengthy permitting processes, high fees, and even aesthetic concerns due to 5G hardware being installed on streetlamps and utility poles.

Testing Is Crucial

Like all developing technologies, rigorous testing must be completed before an actual 5G rollout can take place. Companies won’t release a new product or service until they’re confident that it will work as advertised and provide the best experience for the customer. Most major mobile phone operators around the world have been testing 5G indoors and outdoors for a while now. Some companies are testing 5G in moving vehicles and others via fixed wireless access points.

The Radio Spectrum Needs to Be Purchased

The portions of the radio spectrum that 5G networks operate on aren't just freely available; they have to be licensed to network operators from regulators such as the FCC in the United States. However, before a provider can pay for a section of the spectrum, international authorities have to agree on which parts of the spectrum can be used for mobile communications. This isn't so much a problem anymore as it was in the beginning of the rollout stages, but in some cases, these steps can take many years to complete.

5G Phones Aren’t Yet Mainstream

Some phone carriers, albeit the not-so-popular ones, have yet to release a wide range of 5G phones, and many consumers don't feel the need to buy them yet, since they're unusable where they live or travel. Other people are also concerned about how safe 5G radio waves are, given that it’s a new type of network that operates at different radio frequencies than older networks like 4G and 3G.

It's very possible you do have access to a nearby 5G network and that your phone is compatible with it. If so, but you can't get online, see How to Fix It When a 5G Network Doesn't Show Up for some helpful troubleshooting steps.

5G Roll Out Is Expensive

The deployment of a brand new mobile network isn't cheap. Telecom companies are expected to invest as much as $275 billion into 5G infrastructure before 2025. A mobile network operator has to pay for all the following (and more) during a 5G rollout before it can even reach customers:

  • Spectrum licensing
  • The physical hardware used in the deployment
  • Hiring technicians to install the necessary hardware
  • Testing and retesting of the network
  • Deployment fees demanded by regulators
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