Late last week, reports of Verizon’s incredible 5G speeds came in, with phones hitting performance levels you wouldn’t expect from non-fiber broadband. Today, as deeper coverage has become available, it’s become clear just how tenuous those claims are.
PCMag’s Sascha Segan has written an extensive article on his experience wandering around Chicago testing Verizon base stations. Doing this is anything but easy — it requires a midrange Motorola device, an add-on for said Motorola device to enable 5G, and companion hardware for measuring 4G performance on a standard phone. Because the Moto Mod doesn’t display the 5G logo except when it’s actually transferring data, it can be quite difficult to determine whether you’re actually within 5G range. Like other reviewers, Segan reports seeing speeds of up to 600Mbps, compared with a peak speed of 400Mbps on a 4G LTE device, but his report goes into the most detail of any I’ve seen to date.
5G is, in a word, early. Really, really, really early. So early that there’s no point in actually buying into the network just yet, and it isn’t recommended. PCMag’s review notes numerous problems with the current service and notes that “future software updates” will be mentioned as the solution to nearly everything.
Measured 5G latencies were no better than 4G latency, and uploads were slower than expected, coming in at 19Mbps, compared with an average of 42Mbps on the LG V40’s LTE connection. Coverage in Chicago is extremely limited and currently focused on the Loop, West Loop, and parts of Chicago Avenue. This is technically true, but the actual degree of coverage is still very spotty. PCMag expects more towers to be turned on in the imminent future, but they aren’t up and running yet.
I found this graph of range very interesting:
The gray line represents a line-of-sight to the tower and could be considered an absolute best-case solution. The other two lines show the impact of an intervening train trestle (orange line) or the impact of walking between two large stone buildings (yellow line). But here’s where the impact of mmWave technology in 5G really gets nuts. Check out the varying performance within line of site of the same 5G small cell:
Yeah. That’s not really so great. For more data on 5G, including a map of current coverage areas and a more detailed discussion of these results, check Sascha’s story. It’s an excellent deep dive.
For now, these results seem to echo the issues we heard about with Verizon’s fixed wireless broadband deployments. At least for now, 5G isn’t going to be worth it for the vast majority of people. That may change in the next few years, but we wouldn’t sweat trying to be an early adopter here.
Top photo credit: Ryan Whitwam
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