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Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod speed test was massively misleading

Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod speed test was massively misleading


The speeds are a lie — though maybe a lie of omission

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Motorola wants you to know that it demoed a real Verizon 5G connection on a real 5G phone in Maui that over 330 journalists and analysts were able to see in person. It wants you to know that phone is capable of incredible 5Gbps speeds — enough to apparently download an entire season of your favorite TV show in mere minutes.

So when journalists tried out Motorola’s speed test demo, they naturally did the math. By measuring how long it supposedly took Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod to download a 1GB file in a special Motorola demo app, PCMag and PC World each independently reported speeds of 470Mbps.

But those numbers just aren’t accurate. As The Verge reported yesterday — and confirmed with Motorola — the 5G connection in Maui is running at a comparatively anemic 130 to 140Mbps. The speeds PCMag, PC World, and others thought they saw were physically impossible.

Did Motorola fake the demo? Is there actually any 5G in Maui at all? These are the questions we’re all wondering. When I spoke to Motorola, it assured me that the test was real.

It was just extremely misleading.

According to Doug Michau, Motorola’s head of product operations who is in charge of the Maui demos, we did actually witness a real 5G demo that beamed data over a millimeter wave signal from an Ericsson base station directly to the 4x4 MIMO antennas inside Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod.

Those files weren’t downloaded from the actual internet, but rather an on-site server, which means we’re not seeing real-world performance.

More importantly, the files appear to have been compressed to smaller file sizes when they passed through the network, says Michau. He also notes that compression is a pretty common practice, and generally a plus for end-users because they’re still getting the same result. “What’s meaningful to them is they have that file size on their device,” he says.

But it is meaningful in the context of 5G speeds because downloading one gigabyte of file isn’t the same as simply having the file on your device. With compression, it’s impossible to get any idea of 5G speeds or extrapolate 470Mbps+ speeds from a 140Mbps connection. And that means that the Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit in Maui — the last, best chance for journalists to see what 5G is really capable of before AT&T launches the tech in mere weeks — can’t actually do that job.

“We did not intend to mislead anyone with the demo.”

Motorola says it was unaware that compression might be happening, and it’s still investigating how it could have occurred. The company also claims that the demo wasn’t a speed test, for what that’s worth. “We did not intend to mislead anyone with the demo,” a PR rep says.

So what kind of speeds can we actually expect from Motorola’s 5G mod? The company did some level-setting there, too. Though it’s theoretically capable of 5Gbps speeds, there are so many factors that Motorola’s now advertising a conservative estimate of 300 to 500Mbps. That’s plenty fast, but it’s less than one-tenth of those full theoretical speeds. “We feel that’s something that can be achieved,” says Michau of what “the average user” might see.

Here’s Motorola’s full statement:

As mentioned at the event, the network and demo elements were pre-commercial and set up in the matter of days. The intent of today’s demo was to show off a live 5G connection on Verizon’s 5G network using an actual smartphone, and was not meant to focus on speeds, given the 5G network used was set up temporarily for the event.

That said, and as you saw, we did perform a few file downloads to demonstrate an actual download. As you were told, the 5G network at the event was limited more to 130-140 Mbps. However, in this demo environment there were a lot of factors. Though we did our best to monitor, there is a chance that the files used for the download during demos experienced some compression from the server or other network components, resulting in lower download times in some cases.

Rest assured that what you saw today was a real life, working download over a working 5G mmWave network using a working moto z3 and prototype 5G moto mod. Unfortunately, in temporary environments like these, it’s difficult to showcase speeds accurately and is why our demo was meant to simply show off the connection, not highlight any speeds. When 5G does become available in 2019, we expect to see speeds much higher than anything on display today.

We heard you liked 5G, so here’s a phone for your phone

Misleading demo aside, I do have to say the 5G Moto Mod seems like a neat piece of tech. Motorola has effectively built an entire 5G phone without a screen. It’s got its own Snapdragon 855 processor in addition to Qualcomm’s X50 modem so it can support both faster mmWave and wider-range sub-6Ghz 5G networks. It has its own 2,000mAh battery so it doesn’t drain your phone while sporting a total of 10 antennas to support 4x4 mmWave, 4x4 LTE, and sub-6 5G all at the same time.

“We believe there’s no problem in watching a three-hour 4K streaming video on the device using that 5G mod without running out of battery,” says Michau.

I can’t wait to test that in the real world.

Photography by Sean Hollister / The Verge