5G connectivity for smartphones is finally here, and it’s Verizon that flipped the switch first.
Earlier this month, Big Red started offering 5G service in a pair of cities, though it plans to expand to other areas throughout the year. There’s just one phone capable of connecting to Verizon’s 5G network at the moment — and you’ll need a special accessory to make it work — but another 5G-capable device will be available soon, and Verizon’s got first dibs on offering it.
Here’s a closer look on the current status of Verizon’s 5G efforts, along with the devices that work on the network, and where the carrier goes from here.
Verizon 5G Cities: Where you can get it first
Verizon beat other carriers to the punch with a commercial 5G that serves smartphones. (AT&T turned on 5G service in 12 cities at the end of 2018, but the only device that could connect to its network was a 5G hotspot.) Initial service launched in just two cities — Chicago and Minneapolis — though the April 3 launch happened a week ahead of schedule.
Though Chicago and Minneapolis may have 5G service, it’s not widespread in either city at this point. In Chicago, Verizon said its 5G coverage is concentrated around the West Loop and the South Loop, typically around tourist attractions like the Willis Tower, Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. Verizon says 5G Ultra Wideband service is also available in its store on the Magnificent Mile as well as throughout the Gold Coast, Old Town and North River. Minneapolis customers will be able to get 5G service in the east and west parts of downtown, including at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Be warned, though, even in locations that have 5G connectivity, coverage can be spotty. When we tested 5G speeds in Chicago the weekend after Verizon turned on service, we found we could get a 5G connection on some street corners, while failing to connect from the opposite side of the street. In other instances, we’d get 5G connectivity at one spot, but then return 12 hours later to only be able to connect to LTE despite standing in the same location. Verizon’s 5G network has some growing to do, in other words.
Verizon’s aware of that, though, and is promising to build out its network in Chicago and Minneapolis. It also plans to have 5G connectivity in 30 cities by the end of 2019.
Mobile coverage is just part of the story for Verizon. Last October, the company launched home broadband service over 5G in four cities.
How fast will Verizon’s 5G be?
Much of the hype around 5G is focusing on 1 Gbps download speeds, but Verizon is tamping down on that expectation with this launch. For now, the carrier is promising average speeds of 450 Mbps, with an eye toward that speed increasing as its 5G network develops and improves.
From what we’ve seen, Verizon’s fledgling network can breeze past that average when it’s at its best. At a launch event at Verizon’s Chicago store on April 3, we saw download speeds reach 641 Mbps. And during our own testing, we saw speeds near 600 Mbps (though in some cases speeds were closer to 300 Mbps). For context, when we tested LTE speeds in Chicago last year, Verizon averaged a download speed of 85.8 Mbps, so even 400 Mbps speeds would be a huge jump.
The problem is that while Verizon’s 5G can deliver fast speeds, the connection isn’t always stable, as noted above. And we also some confounding results during our tests. We downloaded a 152MB TV show from Netflix in less than a minute over 5G, while the LTE download took more than 13 minutes. But our attempts to download large apps off Google Play resulted in faster times on LTE than they did on 5G. We’re still scratching our heads over that.
Verizon’s First 5G phones
Verizon already offers a phone capable of connecting to its 5G network, even if that phone isn’t strictly speaking a 5G device on its own.
That would be the Moto Z3, which came out in 2018 and features an older Snapdragon 835 chipset. But attach the newly released 5G Moto Mod to the back of the Z3, and you’ll be to hop onto Verizon’s 5G network. Such connectivity comes at a price though — the Moto Mod costs $349 and that’s on top of the $480 you’ll pay for the Z3.
A true 5G-capable phone is on the way to Verizon in the form of the Galaxy S10 5G. Verizon will be the first carrier in the U.S. to offer this phone, which features a 6.7-inch screen and four rear cameras in addition to its 5G-ready modem.
The Galaxy S10 will reportedly ship on May 16, though neither Verizon nor Samsung have confirmed that date. We also don’t know how much the phone will cost, though it will reportedly be higher than the Galaxy S10 Plus’ $999 asking price.
What you’ll pay for Verizon 5G
Verizon customers will need to pay a little extra for 5G service on top of their regular data plan. The carrier is charging $10 a month for unlimited 5G data. That includes unlimited hotspot data over 5G, Verizon tells us — we haven’t been able to test that feature yet — and there will be no restrictions on video streaming. (Verizon’s lowest cost unlimited LTE data plan restricts videos to 480p resolution, for example.)
But that $10 gets added to what you’re already paying for unlimited LTE data. (Verizon requires you to have an unlimited plan if you want to add on 5G data.) Unlimited plans stat at $75 a month for Go Unlimited plans and range up to $85 and $95 for Verizon’s Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited, respectively. As of this writing, the first three months of 5G coverage will be offered for free.
Verizon beat its rival carriers to offering 5G mobile connectivity, even if its phone selection is limited and the network doesn’t always perform as advertised. AT&T figures to challenge Verizon once it starts supporting phones on its 5G network (which has expanded to parts of 19 cities as of this writing). Sprint will follow suit with a launch of its own in May while T-Mobile plans to make its push in the second half of the year.
That gives Verizon a bit of a head start over its rivals. It will be interesting to see if it can maintain its edge as the year goes on.
Image Credits: Tom’s Guide