Despite 5G’s widely acknowledged potential to revolutionize communications with high-speed, low-latency connections, inconsistent performance has continued to mar early launches, and the U.K. just had its first public examples of the phenomenon. BBC reporters attempting to use EE’s just-launched 5G network for live broadcasts have already experienced major hiccups twice today, leading an anchor to cut one broadcast short because “bizarrely, the 5G line isn’t working properly.”
In an early segment, reporter Rory Cellan-Jones offered a sharp, smooth field video that looked indistinguishable from standard broadcast quality, but said that the transmission had been delayed by 15 minutes because the BBC’s “whole system went down” due to the SIM card running out of data. While waving a phone showing a 260Mbps connection speed, the issue was a sign, Cellan-Jones said, of how bandwidth-hungry 5G is, assuming users can get it. He noted that there are parts of the U.K. that haven’t even received 4G service yet, and said that it would likely be three years before 5G is fully available nationally.
A more embarrassing demonstration took place when reporter Sarah Walton’s live broadcast from the streets of London continually broke down in a decidedly 4G-like fashion, complete with visible compression artifacts and largely gray screens. Titling its own clip “The moment 5G fails live on air,” the BBC noted that it “ran into some issues” with the video, which Walton noted may have been running on a 40Mbps connection — one-twentieth of the 800Mbps speed EE said it had seen in its 5G testing. A BBC presenter stopped Walton’s broadcast abruptly, blaming the 5G network for the problem.
While some carriers have pledged to offer unlimited 5G service at prices ranging upwards from $70, others — including EE — have launched services with tiny monthly data allotments that users could blow through in a single day. The EE’s 5G plans start at $41 per month for 10GB of 5G data, while U.S. carrier AT&T is trialing a 15GB plan for $70. Multiple carriers are now predicting that they’ll segment their 5G service prices in the future by speed thresholds and even latency, but for now their challenge appears to be largely in achieving reliable performance at or near their promised “average” 5G data speeds.