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Reporters in Chicago tested Verizon’s new 5G network – Here’s the verdict

I wouldn’t be in any rush to upgrade.

verizon 5g speedtest
Image: Sascha Segan / PCMag

5G is starting to roll out in selected cities across the country, but initial impressions were lukewarm at best. Coinciding with the retail release of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G edition, select tech outlets across the country were invited back to Chicago to test the improvements Verizon has made to its 5G network.

Can those early impressions be forgotten? Were the gremlins in the system chased out? And what does millimeter-waves really mean to you as a user? Let’s find out.

Back in April, Verizon switched on the 5G millimeter wave service to some areas of both Chicago and Minneapolis. The tech reporters invited at that time were using Motorola’s Moto Mod for the Play Z3, the only 5G-enabled handset at that time. Speeds were inconsistent, at best, with the best results obtained by standing inside Verizon’s store. Shocking, I know.

Now it’s mid-May, and in the aftermath of Justin Timberlake memes, the first 5G handset with a 5G modem is now out – the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. Apart from the eye-watering $1,400 price tag, it promises equally savory internet speeds. Like, we’re talking blazing fast.

I should say “download speeds,” since Verizon, in its inestimable wisdom, didn’t offer any upload capability for this day of testing. Does that mean the rollout is going to take longer than planned? Who knows. But we’ll find out more download speeds in a second.

Let’s see if the hands-on 5G download speeds measure up to those promised by millimeter wave

Verizon’s George Koroneos, tweeted out a video of him using Speedtest.net on the brand new Galaxy S10 5G, showing a top speed close to 1.1Gbps. That’s impressive. My Gigabit FiOS line maxes out at around 0.95Gbps. Still, considering the source, it could possibly be a cherry-picked location along with a cherry-picked result. Let’s see the results independent tech journalists found in their testing.

Well, CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt tweeted out a Speedtest.net result of 1.34Gbps, so it’s probably safe to say that, at least for some areas in Chicago, those speeds are real. The Verge‘s Chris Welch saw speeds above 0.7Gbps consistently, with over 1Gbps in some areas. Digital Trends was also in Chicago, with Julian Chokkattu posting a 1.35Gbps top speed, although he pointed out that, just like the testing in April, speeds were not consistent as he moved around.

With millimeter wave (the bands of 5G that offers stupidly fast speeds), you get about a block and a half of coverage per node. That’s only in a straight line through the air though –  walls, cars, and even your hand all reduce the range of the speeds. Hold your 5G phone wrong, and it’s not just Apple who has antenna issues.

It’s clear to me that 5G shows promise. It’ll take years for any blanket roll out as we have with 4G LTE. Remember, LTE was introduced to the market here in 2010, and we’re only just seeing speeds and coverage close to the theoretical maximums. With that sort of 10-year timeline, I wouldn’t be in any rush to upgrade.

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