We'd Boycott 5G if We Knew What's Good for Us

By Gary Cutlack on at

It seems like only yesterday I was annoyed about being stuck on a 2G connection while the rest of the country appeared to be upgrading to 4G. Now it's happening again, only it's 5G the mobile executives are taking about preparing now. And I'm still on the same 2G connection.

Here's how my network Vodafone recently described the 2G connection it currently provides to my underinvested rural coldspot:

That's right, while promoting the holographic calls that are to be made hypothetically possible by its powerful future 5G network, Vodafone chose to describe the 2G link it provides my home and surrounding community as being crappy old 1990s technology.

Now, I have fond memories of the 1990s thanks to the Mega Drive, Saturn, Dreamcast, Babylon 5 and learning to binge drink away social anxiety just in time for the millennium, but I'd rather not be stuck using the decade-before-last's mobile connectivity while the profitable, more densely packed parts of the country can start to think about having their phones work even better than is really necessary thanks to the looming launch of 5G coverage.

The good news for me and a handful of other locals here in this under-loved bit of Scotland is that EE built and activated a 4G mast just over a mile away from my house last year. This was so exciting I took photos of the foundations going in (fig. 1) and kept an eye on its development.

(fig. 1) Visit to the 4G mast foundations.

Here's my child sitting on pieces the mast (fig. 2) after it arrived near the site and before it went up:

(fig. 2) The mast when it arrived.

Oh, the excitement! He pretended he knew what 4G meant and everything, but refused to look in the workman's toilet. The mast is now built and switched on, but due to there being a small hill in the way, though, the burner PAYG EE SIM I bought to check the connection only lets me connect to this mast if I'm standing in the upstairs bedroom window. The 4G signal doesn't reach downstairs, or the garden, or to the bench I sit on, or the bathroom, or anywhere else in the house, so is mostly useless.

The EE mast is a massive metaphor for the tech world of today; it looks impressive, promises much and appeared exciting and empowering on paper, but using it is a pain and it doesn't deliver what the immersive website said it would, so I'm better off pretending it doesn't exist. It's a massive one of those sleep monitoring apps.

Now, to be fair, I do spend quite a lot of time standing in the bedroom window looking out (fig. 3) because it's Scotland and nice to look at, but I don't do it for such a large proportion of the day that I'm prepared to commit to always being stood there whenever a call or SMS comes in. Mainly because the computer I sit at can't be on the bedroom windowsill, and the kettle can't be on the bedroom windowsill, and the fire isn't on the bedroom windowsill. Would that they were.

(fig. 3) Potential windowsill home office and only in-home 4G signal area.

So what to do? Boycotting Vodafone would mean not having a mobile phone that works at all, while switching to EE would mean building a small, one cubic metre home-within-a-home on the bedroom windowsill. Neither greatly practical options.

I could try not having a mobile phone, but I really don't fancy being left alone with my thoughts etc. so would rather keep the interesting modern diversionary rectangle close to hand, as it does stop me thinking about things when it's connected to the Wi-Fi at least.

Fortunately, the networks are making it easy for me to ignore 5G. I'm still so amazed when I go somewhere urban and connect to a 4G or an H+ that I do speed tests in disbelief and reload pages for the sheer fun of it. Even a 3G connection is amazing to me, as it's better than the G or E found hyper-locally and means my phone works in a similar way to the ones in the adverts. As in, it works at all.

Hence I think of 5G the way I think of VR: probably nice if you have it, but in no way essential to life, and something I can safely ignore for the next few years until it goes away and something else comes along.

So there, you mobile network shits, when you connect a few square metres of London to 5G and boast about how it empowers boring football men to watch highlights like never before, spare me the press release. I'm out, slowly trained over the course of a decade never to expect my phone to do anything other than voice calls when outside, and therefore completely inoculated against 5G excitement.

Perhaps tell me when I might be able to get the speed test page to even load on the one mast, from the one network, using 1990s technology, that I can actually connect to when away from Wi-Fi.

That said, my SIM's only eight quid a month, so maybe forget about it altogether. Nothing that happens around here is so urgent it can't wait until I get home to be uploaded.

Main image credit: Lynn Featherstone/Flickr