Verizon outsources 5G apps, claims to know what real 5G is

verizon 5G
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg is all about the 5G at his keynote speech at CES 19. Image credit: CES

ITEM: Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg will pay you a million bucks if you can think up something to do with 5G besides wireless home broadband.

At CES 2019 in Las Vegas – where the 5G Hype Machine™ has predictably been in overdrive – Vestberg announced during his keynote that the operator will offer up to $1 million in seed money to developers with ideas for applications that can leverage 5G.

According to the press release accompanying the announcement, developers will be invited to come to Verizon’s 5G labs (three of which are open now, with three more on the way) and basically go nuts. The winning innovators will get funding, training and support from the labs’ technical advisors.

A key theme of Vestberg’s CES presentation – apart from how awesome 5G is – was that 5G’s real potential lies well beyond what 4G can already deliver, Cnet reports:

[…] Vestberg’s point isn’t just that 5G will be faster, but that it has the potential to spur new businesses and ways of doing things. […]

“You limit yourself tremendously even at the Consumer Electronics Show thinking 5G is another smartphone,” Vestberg said in an interview ahead of the keynote. 

More to the point, the $1 million seed fund is a subtle admission on Verizon’s part that whatever apps will make the best use of 5G, Verizon is unlikely to come up with them all by itself.

Which is true – and there’s no shame in saying so. The truth is that most of the apps and services that have driven 4G usage weren’t thought up by telcos, but by industry outsiders like Apple and OTT apps developers. And many of them were apps that no one even imagined when 4G was being developed (ride-hailing, for example).

Or in the cases of apps the industry did foresee, the reality turned out to be different from the vision. Fifteen or 20 years ago, we all knew mobile video would be big, but operators thought it would be delivered via proprietary broadcast TV technologies or sideloading. Turns out the future of mobile video was YouTube, Facebook and Netflix.

Verizon’s Vestberg has evidently reached a similar conclusion, and would rather invest in 5G apps development via outside firms who have a far better idea of what to do with a 5G network than Verizon does.

What is real 5G?

That said, apps developers will have plenty of time to work on that, because in the US there are barely any 5G networks available for their innovative new apps to leverage. Even Verizon’s 5G rollout isn’t proper 5G – it’s a tarted-up home broadband service that doesn’t even use 5G NR, but 5G TF, a proprietary technology designed by Verizon specifically for fixed wireless access.

Verizon plans to eventually replace the 5G TF hardware with 5G NR this year, but in the meantime the operator is not only sticking by its claim that 5G TF is as real a 5G technology as 5G NR, it’s even taking credit for accelerating 5G NR development by developing and deploying 5G TF first.

Which is why it’s a bit disingenuous that during CES, Verizon CTO Kyle Malady decided to start an argument over what is or is not “real” 5G.

In a blog post, Malady called on the wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if actual new 5G technologies are involved:

We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.

Malady didn’t name names, but the post is a pretty obvious dig at AT&T, which has been promoting its latest 4G upgrades as “5G Evolution” – even to the point of changing the “LTE” icon in the corner of select phones to “5G E”.

That’s about as misleading as it gets, although when asked about it onstage at CES, AT&T Communications chief John Donovan essentially laughed it off, reports The Verge:

“Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work,” Donovan said. “And I love the fact that we broke our industry’s narrative two days ago, and they’re frustrated and gonna do what they’re gonna do.”

Which I think means that AT&T is only really calling its 4G network 5G to troll the competition.

In any case, while AT&T’s silly “5G Evolution” campaign appears be an exercise in deceptive mindshare development, Verizon isn’t exactly in a position to lecture anyone on making honest claims about what is or isn’t 5G.

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