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“Can you hear me?!” shouted the guy in the Verizon advertisement two decades ago.

Back then, we paid by the minute for talk and for each text. Before smartphones, texting was a novelty. You paid prohibitively for roaming if you left your local service area. As the nerd in the ad proclaimed, even basic talk represented a challenge in the olden 3G days.

Four years ago, cellular providers touted 5G service as the second coming. They promised that 5G would do everything but walk your dog. It was vaporware. If you fell for it and bought one of the rare 5G-capable phones, 5G cell signals were as common as cotton farms in Illinois.

This column advised ignoring 5G for at least two years.

Finally, 5G earns your respect. Although T-Mobile/Sprint offered ample 5G for the past couple of years, AT&T and Verizon now offer true and abundant 5G service. The opening of C-band radio spectrum enables this new 5G service.

For years, satellite companies with those big dishes and the military owned most of the C-band radio spectrum. Now, much of that spectrum becomes available to cell providers who bid billions of dollars to offer 5G service.

The FCC, which allocates radio frequency spectrum, and the FAA, which controls aviation, engaged in a tiff over this new bandwidth, since it falls adjacent to the band used by some aircraft radio altimeters. They continue working out the kinks, but it looks like this new cellular bandwidth will debut this month.

Only T-Mobile includes 5G with all of its cell plans. Verizon and AT&T charge extra, depending upon your plan. Also, even recent 5G-enabled phones may not function on all of the new C-band 5G frequencies. Apple admitted only the forthcoming iPhone 14 would make full use of all the new 5G bands.

On a side note, read your cell bill carefully. All providers find ways to sneak in extra charges. In order to benefit from 5G at a reasonable cost, I recently switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, which saved me $120 a year. T-Mobile threw in a free basic standard definition subscription to Netflix. For $5 more monthly, customers can enjoy HD Netflix, so I ordered that. Lo and behold, T-Mobile started billing me $10 more a month. After calling T-Mobile and being told there was a two-hour hold time, I requested a callback.

Four hours later, the gracious and friendly customer-service representative assured me the extra $5 was a one-time service fee and my next bill would return to the agreed-upon amount. The next bill arrived with the additional charge.

Speaking of Netflix, it announced its 11th year of price increases, bumping up the “standard” HD tier by $1.50 a month to $15.49 a month. The basic tier increases by $1 and the 4K tier by $2.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Netflix standard tier was $9.99. Diminishing interest in cable TV and satellite packages, along with the pandemic, propelled demand for online streaming services. Internet streaming TV no longer is much of a bargain. Its main advantage is being able to choose programming a la carte rather than paying for a dozen channels you don’t watch. Incidentally, these price increases were planned before the current inflation spike.

Entering its centennial year, congratulations to WILL-AM, which as WRM at 833 kHz, began regularly transmitting in 1922 after being licensed March 28, 1922.

Most major AM radio stations in the U.S. took to the airwaves in 1922, although a few earlier pioneers broadcast to tiny audiences as early as 1919.

WRM became WILL in 1928, even transmitting for a decade on 890 kHz, the current frequency of Chicago’s WLS radio. Early broadcasting was something of a Wild West, as Congress did not create the FCC until 1934. Currently, the FCC expends most of its efforts regulating satellites, cellphones and, to some extent, the internet.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@volo.net.

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