It’s 10 a.m. and I’m trudging through the drizzly cold — coffee desperately clutched in hand — to Verizon’s showcase store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, for one reason alone: Garrett’s cheddar and caramel popcorn. Just kidding.
I’m here to test Verizon’s 5G network, which officially launched in Chicago and Minneapolis on Wednesday. I’m going to spend my day seeing how fast Verizon’s mmWave 5G technology is, and how well it works on the Moto Z3, with its 5G Moto Mod attachment, officially Verizon’s first 5G phone.
Verizon jumped the gun by turning on 5G earlier than its April 11 target, a move that underscores its belief that acting quickly and aggressively in 5G will give its network, already the largest in the US, a first-mover advantage. 5G, the next-generation wireless technology, is widely championed as the cure to laggy data connections, slow phone download speeds. 5G is positioned to revolutionize the industry, increase data connections 10 to 100 times the current 4G speeds and enable a host of new uses, like distance surgery and smart traffic lights that talk to one another to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
That’s not exactly the 5G we’re going to see today, nor is it supposed to be. Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T have long talked about an extended roll-out plan, starting in neighborhoods of a few major cities before expanding into parts of other cities — 30 are on Verizon’s roadmap for 2019. Speeds are also expected to be faster than 4G at first, but not insanely fast, gaining in speed as carriers build out their 5G networks over time.
5G phone speeds will give you whiplash
“These crazy speeds you’re going to see right now are going to get markedly better this year,” Mike Haberman, Verizon’s VP of network engineering, told me earlier this morning. “This is just the start.”
By “this,” Haberman is refers to the typical network speeds I should see today using Verizon’s 5G, which the network provider is calling 5G Ultra Wideband. Verizon says to expect “typical speeds of 450 megabits per second, with peak speeds of nearly 1 gigabit per second, and latency less than 30 milliseconds.”
We also need to talk about this Moto Z3 for a minute. It’s a midrange device that is able to channel Verizon’s 5G network through the power of a chunky antenna and the internal modem inside the 5G Moto Mod, which is sold separately. The Z3 is on sale now at $240 (usually $480); the Moto Mod is also on sale now at $200 (usually $350), and you have to have a Z3 on your account to buy it. Verizon 5G service is a $10 premium over the regular plan, but your first three months are free.
Motorola and Verizon have a special (contractual) relationship, but a decade from now when we gaze back on the first crop of 5G phones, the Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod won’t go down in history like Motorola’s achievement for making the first cellular call 46 years ago.
But it will go down as the first actual, real-life glimpse at our inevitable 5G future.
A word on 5G before we begin
5G isn’t just one thing. There are multiple approaches. Sub-6. Millimeter wave (mmWave). AT&T has even been accused of (and sued for) “fake 5G.” With this new world of 5G comes a cosmos of new jargon.
For example, Verizon’s 5G network uses the 28GHz and 39GHz bands for mmWave to bring 1GHz of bandwidth on average nationally. If that doesn’t mean much to you, it might help to get up to date with our 5G primer.
This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates on our 5G tests throughout the day.