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The U.S. is finally catching up on wireless Internet

January 20, 2022, 5:51 PM UTC

After a few years of frustrating delays and a high-profile government spat, higher-speed 5G wireless Internet finally came online for some U.S. customers.

Let this be the last time it takes so long.

AT&T and Verizon flipped on their C-band 5G service in some cities on Wednesday, putting into action their $69 billion investment in the optimized wireless Internet spectrum. The C-band service is expected to provide download speeds several times faster than current 5G service, which barely performed better than 4G LTE. (Reuters offers a great explainer of C-band 5G here.)

AT&T officials said they planned to roll out C-band 5G in eight metro areas Wednesday as part of a gradual introduction to about 70 million customers, while Verizon said it expects about 100 million customers to gain access this month. 

For now, the service will be limited to customers with some newer smartphones and tablets, though software updates are expected to help bring more devices online later this year. The initial batch of eligible phones includes the iPhone 12 and 13 series and the Samsung Galaxy S21 line, plus Google Pixel 6 series phones with AT&T service.

The arrival of C-band 5G marks a major milestone for the U.S.’ wireless Internet infrastructure, which has lagged well behind other highly developed nations. While the U.S. leads the globe in 5G availability, the speed of that service has been relatively poor, according to a report from Speedtest by Ookla, which tracks Internet quality across the globe. 

In the third quarter of 2021, the U.S.’ median 5G download speed clocked in at 93.7 megabits per second (Mbps), per Speedtest. 

Many of the U.S.’ industrialized competitors blew past that speed, including South Korea (492.5 Mbps), China (299 Mbps), the UK (184.2 Mbps), and Japan (167.8 Mbps). The U.S. figures to catch up quickly, with The Verge reporting that many Verizon users clocked download speeds ranging from 200 Mbps to 400 Mbps on Wednesday.

The consequences of slower wireless speeds go well beyond spotty commercial video streaming and gaming. As the Congressional Research Service noted last year, wireless service will prove vital to the development of self-driving cars, smart homes, high-tech robotics, autonomous farming machinery, and numerous military capabilities.

To date, the U.S.’ comparatively slow rollout of 5G hasn’t enormously hampered the nation’s technological standing—though it has paid a bit of a diplomatic price. Look no further than the political capital spent by President Donald Trump’s administration on hobbling Huawei’s effort to gain a 5G foothold outside of China.

But lessons should be learned from the U.S. falling behind on 5G. The Wall Street Journal laid out many of them in a detailed report last year: a lack of investment in expensive network equipment; a dearth of domestically manufactured parts for equipment; and uncertainty around revenue streams tied to commercial 5G. Solutions likely entail additional government spending in wireless infrastructure—an approach other countries have taken as the U.S. continues to largely rely on open markets.

The U.S. has been fortunate that its slow 5G uptake hasn’t dramatically set the country back on economic and national security fronts. But as the world becomes ever more Internet-connected and new wireless technologies evolve, America might not be so lucky next time.

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Jacob Carpenter


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From the article:

Experts predict the tieup could entice gaming rival Sony to fight back by buying video game creators like Electronic Arts, known for "The Sims" and its popular EA Sports games. France's Ubisoft, which creates well-known action franchises like "Assassin's Creed," is another potential target, according to analysts focused on gaming and technology.

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How Intel squandered the boom in chip demand and lost its semiconductor crown, by Eamon Barrett

The inventor of Sony’s PlayStation has no time for the metaverse or VR headsets, by Takashi Mochizuki, Yuri Furukawa, and Bloomberg

Tom Brady’s Autograph—which helps celebrities launch their own NFTs—just raised $170 million from Silicon Valley, by Yueqi Yang and Bloomberg

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The tech talent gap is a self-inflicted wound, by Julie Elberfeld


Back to the future. Amazon’s counterintuitive dip into the brick-and-mortar business took another step Thursday. The nation’s largest e-commerce company will open a clothing store in a Los Angeles suburb later this year, occupying a retail space about as large as your typical T.J. Maxx, CNBC reported. Amazon plans to outfit the store with high-tech conveniences, such as QR codes attached to items that will show more size and color options. Watch your back, Gap.

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