Verizon Said Its 5G Network Is Huge. Then Reality Hit

A contract crew for Verizon, works on a cell tower to update it to handle the new 5G network in Orem, Utah on December 10, 2019.
A contract crew for Verizon, works on a cell tower to update it to handle the new 5G network in Orem, Utah on December 10, 2019.
Photo: George Frey/AFP (Getty Images)

Last year, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said its millimeter-wave 5G coverage would only be available in select areas instead of nationwide, clarifying that the company would use high-frequency millimeter waves “as far as [they’re] economically sustainable.” But that didn’t stop the company from falsely implying its millimeter-wave 5G coverage was widely available across the U.S. in its advertisements, according to National Advertising Division (NAD).

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The agency released a statement yesterday that recommended Verizon stop running those adds, and the telecom giant has—reluctantly. The NAD requested in its statement that Verizon discontinue claims which communicate “its 5G service is widely available in cities across the country,” and “its service is broadly and readily accessible in cities where it has been launched,” specifically. The agency also asked Verizon to stop telling consumers that the high speeds it advertised in its commercials are what they could typically expect.

The NAD said Verizon “does not dispute that its current 5G service is limited,” and that “Verizon’s 5G coverage is primarily restricted to outdoor locations in certain neighborhoods and varies from block to block.” The NAD statement goes on to note that Verizon agreed to comply with its recommendations, even though the carrier “does not agree with all aspects of NAD’s decision.”

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The NAD guidelines state that carriers should only say they provide nationwide coverage if service is offered in diverse regions—urban, suburban, rural, etc.

The millimeter-wave 5G that Verizon does have available in certain cities operates in a high-band frequency. That means its 5G signal has a short range of only about 1,000 feet, and that signal is easily distorted by physical objects like buildings, windows, and even tree branches. Think of it like the wifi in your house. If you’re using your 5 GHz connection, ever notice how the further away your computer is from your router—or the more walls the signal has to pass through—the weaker and slower your signal gets? The same thing happens with millimeter-wave 5G, only it’s much worse because those waves are operating on frequencies 30 GHz or higher.

To effectively cover an entire metropolitan area, Verizon would need a lot of towers to not only provide a stable wireless connection, but also to provide its customers with the gigabit speeds it’s been advertising. As it stands now, it’s more common for current 5G users to see speeds closer to 300 Mbps, which is what many people already receive from cable broadband ISPs like Spectrum. Sure, 30 GHz waves and higher can transmit information really fast, but if the signal is distorted, there’s not much point to having them.

Verizon isn’t the only company the NAD has deemed guilty of misleading customers, either. The agency has taken issue with AT&T in the past for similarly misleading advertising with its 5G E labeling on phones that don’t even have 5G-capable modems. AT&T only recently decided to (sort of) ditch that branding on some of its products.

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It will take a while for carriers to fully build out the infrastructure needed to deliver the kind of high-speed, low-latency service they’ve promised from the start. The 5G rollout has already been fraught because of conspiracy theories, and some cell towers have been burned down because people believe 5G caused covid-19. We don’t need false advertising on top of that.

Staff Reporter, Reviews at Gizmodo. Formerly PC Gamer, Maximum PC.

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DISCUSSION

Got ‘em by the NADs.