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T-Mobile and Sprint storefronts in New York in April 2010
T-Mobile and Sprint storefronts in New York in April 2010 (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

The much-ballyhooed 5G wireless technology is so revolutionary, it could transform the U.S. mobile phone industry even before it arrives. But who needs it?

The next-generation tech appears to be one of the major rationales behind the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, the third- and fourth-most-popular mobile phone networks in the United States. Deploying 5G, which calls for a comparatively dense build-out of antennas in urban areas, will be costly and time-consuming, and it’s not entirely clear why the United States needs four copies of this infrastructure.

But telecom analyst Dave Burstein has raised a bigger question: What if 5G isn’t such a big leap after all? With equipment vendors pushing the capabilities of the current technology (known as 4G LTE) above 1 gigabit per second in peak speeds, 5G can seem more evolutionary than revolutionary.

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