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5G Has Been a $100 Billion Whiff So Far

Big telecommunications providers still haven’t persuaded consumers to embrace the faster system.
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Photo Illustration: 731; Photo: Alamy

When Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile introduced the first 5G mobile services in the U.S. three years ago, they promised 10-times faster connection speeds that would unlock a new era of technological advancements. Although no one expected doctors to immediately turn their scalpels over to robots, the telecommunications industry has loudly trumpeted an array of business opportunities such as using augmented reality as a way for online shoppers to try on clothes remotely.

The three big U.S. carriers have spent more than $100 billion on 5G airwaves and network upgrades, but they have little to no revenue or major new businesses to show for it. Moreover, the arrival of the technology has gone largely unnoticed by consumers, and the future fortunes the industry is banking on are far from certain. “There isn’t an immediate payoff,” says Tammy Parker, an analyst with GlobalData Plc.