Verizon's Mobile 5G Network Goes Live in 2 Cities at 'Typical' 450Mbit/s Speeds

Verizon said it flipped the switch on its mobile 5G network in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis a week earlier than initially planned. Most importantly, the operator said customers should expect "typical" download speeds of 450 Mbit/s, peak speeds of "nearly" 1 Gbit/s and latency of less than 30 milliseconds.

"5G is a new and rapidly evolving technology and Verizon expects regular improvement in 5G Ultra Wideband speed, latency and overall network performance as Verizon engineers, working with a number of technology partners, continue to upgrade the network," Verizon cautioned in a release, essentially hinting that the operator plans to improve the coverage and performance of the network as time goes on. "Customers can expect to see regular software updates pushed to their devices and see network advancements throughout the rest of the year."

When Verizon initially launched its LTE network almost a decade ago, the operator similarly set initial speed expectations of 5 Mbit/s to 12 Mbit/s.

It's also worth noting that the initial performance metrics that Verizon is touting for its mobile 5G network are nowhere near what the operator promised 5G would provide. In a keynote address at the CES show earlier this year, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said that the eight "currencies" that 5G would "unleash" include peak data rates of 10 Gbit/s and 5 ms of latency.

Verizon also provided a detailed explanation of exactly where its 5G network would be available in both cities. For example, in Chicago Verizon said that "5G coverage is concentrated in areas of the West Loop and the South Loop, around landmarks like Union Station, Willis Tower, The Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and The Chicago Theatre. Customers also have 5G Ultra Wideband service in the Verizon store on The Magnificent Mile and throughout The Gold Coast, Old Town and River North." The operator provided a similarly detailed explanation of its coverage in Minneapolis.

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That Verizon is offering mobile 5G service -- dubbed "5G Ultra Wideband" -- in "parts" of Chicago and Minneapolis doesn't come as a surprise. The operator said it is using its 28GHz and 39GHz millimeter-wave spectrum for the service, which can transmit vast amounts of data but doesn't reach very far. Thus, Verizon will need to install hundreds or perhaps even thousands of small transmitters in each city in order to fully cover the area. That's a much different situation than in 4G, where operators like Verizon use spectrum like 700MHz that travels much further.

Verizon had promised to switch on its mobile 5G network in Chicago and Minneapolis next week, but said it decided to switch on the network a week early. The operator has promised to launch mobile 5G in parts of roughly 30 cities in the first half of this year. Verizon currently only offers one 5G-capable device -- the Moto Z3 for $480, with the 5G-capable Moto Mod attachment -- but has promised to sell additional devices in the future, including the 5G-capable Samsung Galaxy S10. Verizon is charging customers an extra $10 per month to access its 5G network, though the operator is providing the first three months for free.

Verizon has also said that its mobile 5G service is truly unlimited: "5G data usage with the moto mod is unlimited with no data de-prioritization," according to a Verizon representative. That stands in contrast to Verizon's 4G LTE plans that have tiered slower download speeds if the network gets congested. The $75 a month plan slows speeds right away if the network is clogged; $85 buys you 22GB of data before possible congestion data throttling; and $95 a month buys 75GB of data to use before any possible congestion throttling on the network.

Finally, in terms of spectrum, Verizon said that it is using less than half of its millimeter-wave spectrum holdings for its initial launch, which indicates Verizon's initial performance metrics could improve over time as it adds spectrum to the service.

Verizon's mobile 5G efforts stand in contrast to those of AT&T. Although AT&T launched its mobile 5G network in parts of a dozen cities late last year, the offering isn't widely available and can only be accessed by "select" customers. Also, AT&T is offering the curious pricing plan of 15GB for $70 per month -- a plan that doesn't appear to reflect the capabilities that 5G supposedly supports.

AT&T initially said its mobile 5G network supported speeds of 200 Mbit/s to 300 Mbit/s, with peaks of 400 Mbit/s, but just last week the operator said it managed to increase its peak speeds to almost 1 Gbit/s. In an interview with PCMag, a top AT&T representative explained that the operator was able to increase speeds on the service by essentially quadrupling the amount of 39GHz spectrum it was allotting to the offering, from one 100MHz channel to aggregating four 100MHz channels.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

Mike Dano 4/3/2019 | 2:40:29 PM
Update I updated this story to include the fact that Verizon said it is using half of its available millimeter-wave spectrum for this initial launch. 
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