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opinion 5 min read 8 comments

Why do most American consumers not know (or care) about 5G?

A recent poll of more than 5,000 connected consumers in the US found that 59% didn’t know that carriers are actively working on rolling out 5G, and 38.1% are not excited for the next generation of networking technology. Why is that?

We are super excited about 5G here in our editorial office. But the buzz around the next generation of mobile networking seems to be limited to tech enthusiasts and industry insiders. This baffles me, personally, but the stats don’t lie.

In a recent study commissioned by T-Mobile and conducted by HarrisX, found that more than half of American consumers that own a device connected to the Internet didn’t know that 5G was just around the corner. There were some other really interesting findings too.

Of those Americans who are aware of 5G, 64% expect it to be “widely available” before 2020, and they are expecting improvements in reliability, speed and wider coverage. Other areas that consumers are hoping 5G will improve are smart energy grids and real-time translation software.

Americans universally agree that it is critical for the US to invest in technological innovation, which has widespread benefits including job creation, improved emergency services, manufacturing, transport and education. Close to one in three Americans view the US as the global leader in 5G, with 28% undecided and the rest opting for a host of other countries.

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A summary of the expectations for 5G amongst American consumers. / © HarrisX / T-Mobile

Let’s unpack that a little. The first thing that jumps out to me is the idea that 5G will be widely available in the US before 2020, less than a year away. That seems optimistic, to put it lightly, in my view. Sure, some of the first high-band spectrum auctions have already taken place in the US, with UK auctions spanning 2019 and 2020, but it is going to take years before 5G is “widely available”.

The 5G antennas are going up in some cities, but because of the range is significantly lower than 4G/LTE, more antennas are needed to get widespread coverage than the previous generation.

There was also some other, perhaps less revealing conclusions from the HarrisX study. Men are more likely to say they’re aware of 5G than women, but I suspect that male willingness to claim knowledge is not limited to cellular mobile communication...

Interestingly, there was no difference between younger (18-24) and older Americans in terms of awareness of 5G. Those who expect 5G to be difficult to adopt cited reasons such as costs and resistance to change. “Many people don’t adapt to change well, and 5G seems very different from 4G,” said one respondent.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings for me was that, of those aware of 5G, almost a third think that it is already available. As I wrote about recently, AT&T recently rebranded portions of its LTE network as 5G Evolution, adding “5G E” icons to some smartphones, but that is not reaching enough users to account for the 29% of 5G-aware Americans who think the network is already available.

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AT&T's 5G Evolution network, which runs on 4G technology... / © The Verge

Providers, at least in Europe, don't expect 5G on smartphones to play a major role for the normal consumer before 2022, something that only 3% of 5G-aware Americans agree with, with most saying it will come sooner.

Finally, the research provided a breakdown of the US cities that are most excited of 5G. Respondents from Miami were the most excited, followed by Charlotte and Houston. People in Minneapolis are more excited for 5G than those in San Francisco, the home Silicon Valley. Los Angeles is more excited than Philadelphia, but not as excited as New York. Seattle is the city least excited for 5G. I’m going to take all of this regional data with a pinch of salt.

5g awareness us states
How excited is your city for 5G? / © HarrisX / T-Mobile

Why is excitement low for 5G in the US?

One of the possible reasons for the lackluster buzz around 5G in America could be the current networking infrastructure. A different report by RepeaterStore from October 2018, found that almost 20% of American consumers still struggle to get a reliable 4G LTE signal.

HarrisX didn’t address this issue in its report, but it’s an important finding. On the eve of the 5G rollout, 19.7% of consumers reported coverage issues with regular 4G LTE signal at home or at work. The report stated that: “8 years into the roll-out of LTE, it’s clear that a significant portion of consumers still has coverage problems.”

Of course, this is only 20% of respondents to one study, but it makes you wonder. If a fifth of American consumers are still struggling with reliable 4G LTE, can we really blame them for a little skepticism when it comes to 5G?

You can see the full HarrisX report below.

How excited are you for 5G and when are you expecting it to become widely available? Let us know!

8 comments

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  • 5G is only good for equipment makers and telcos, pushing their high priced gear wherever they can. The best thing for them about 5G is that you need A LOT of equipment.


  • I'm good with 4g can bearly get 3g so hence who gives a frack k about 5g


  • Sorin 3 weeks ago Link to comment

    5G is a big step forward, with enormous possibilities but care must be taken when implementing the infrastructure, which is much more complex than 4G or 3G.


  • I, for one, couldn't care less for 5G. All it will do is cause device prices to go through the roof. It's not going to change my life in any significant way, shape, or form. 4G works just fine.


  • 5G? Big whoop! Traffic congestion during "peak" times drops download speeds to 10-20 meg, which is fast enough for 99% of users anyway. Even with the spotify use, email, text, web and what not, I never use more than 9GB anyway.


  • storm 3 weeks ago Link to comment

    I'm of low excitement because I don't saturate the bandwidth I have now. Most servers throttle my connection more than ny carrier. Bandwidth is of low priority. In my neck of the woods increased coverage is still my primary concern in cellular connectivity.

    The price jump for the phone is then a waste. The carrier locking of first generation phones is an annoyance. Price hikes for no better operation... What's to be excited about?