Why 5G’s Slow Expansion Is Actually a Good Thing

Improvements take time

Key Takeaways

  • The rollout for 5G continues to be a slow-going process.
  • Recent reports show that mmWave 5G—the fastest version of 5G we currently have—is being utilized at an astronomically low rate.
  • While the slower rollout is disappointing for tech lovers eager to get the fastest network coverage, experts say it ultimately lays a stronger foundation for the new mobile network tech.
Closeup on a 5G indicator, network signal, and batter icon on a smart phone.

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Experts say that the rollout for 5G may seem disappointing, but ultimately consumers should view it as a constantly evolving update instead of a replacement for the networks we currently have.

Though it's been a couple of years since the introduction of “5G networks,” carriers still seem to offer limited coverage. Additionally, new reports show that the use of mmWave 5G—the most advanced form of 5G available at the moment—is extremely low.

While it’s easy to look at the current state of 5G and despair, experts say you shouldn’t get too caught up on how things look right now. Instead, you should look at 5G as a way for carriers to push the network you already have to new levels. Yes, it’s taking time, but it could have a stronger foundation underneath it when it finally reaches its potential.

"There are three main factors for the slow rollout of 5G we see right now: technology limitations, field trials, and global standardization," Pratik Jain, a mobile network expert, told Lifewire in an email. "However, the slow rollout is not necessarily a bad thing because it’s allowing what would be difficult if not impossible under a fast rollout. It also allows us to learn, build, and deploy new technologies without disrupting the existing 4G network."

Building On 4G

Where 4G was a complete replacement for 3G and 2G before it, experts say consumers should view 5G differently. "It’s best to consider 5G as more of an upgrade and not as a replacement," Barry Matsumori, the CEO of BridgeComm, told Lifewire in an email. 

"A slower rollout allows more time to address problems that are either not known or cannot be addressed quickly."

Instead of simply uprooting 4G networks and replacing them with 5G, customers can rely on the 4G networks already in place while carriers expand their 5G coverage. This helps ensure nobody ends up running into issues where previously offered service locations no longer have coverage.

Additionally, Matsumori says that a slower rollout for 5G could prove more beneficial to the overall foundation of the service when it reaches a more widespread offering.

Getting It Right the First Time

Expanding but not completely replacing the network is important because it allows carriers to take more time to update their 5G offerings without having to disrupt 4G. But why does this matter?

With the introduction of 5G, mobile network operators have to introduce new technology, which means building new towers or adding parts to older towers. If this isn’t done correctly, it could lead to slow network speeds, inadequate coverage, and other issues that could plague consumers for years to come.

"When you look at how quickly LTE was deployed, it really is amazing we have any 4G networks working at all in some areas. The lack of planning, foresight, and long-term thinking resulted in huge wasted spending that could have been avoided if they'd slowed down rollouts just a little bit," Jain explained.

"If you're going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure (which doesn't even include spectrum costs), you might as well do it right the first time, so you don't need to waste more money fixing your mistakes later," 

Someone holding a smartphone up in a busy city with '5G' displayed on the screen.

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Additionally, Jain says that the low numbers we see with mmWave 5G support make sense because the tech is far more expensive to implement than sub-6GHz (lower frequency) 5G. Jain says that the cost paired with the shorter range that mmWave 5G offers means that operators would need to push out more money for both the tech and the additional towers needed to truly offer widespread coverage.

Ultimately, while a slower rollout for 5G might seem like a mistake to some consumers—especially with networks pushing 5G so heavily on new devices, experts say it’s for the best.

"There are pros and cons for a slow rollout of 5G, but it overall helps the tech in many ways. A slower rollout allows more time to address problems that are either not known or cannot be addressed quickly," Jain said.

"It also allows more time to work on technology issues and for both hardware and software to be built at scale while being tested thoroughly."

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