It was a bit earlier than scheduled, but Verizon switched parts of its 5G network today, debuting in the "select areas" of Minneapolis and Chicago. Every carrier out there like the slice and dice definitions to have the "First 5G" everything, but in terms of using a real, mmWave 5G signal and something approximating a 5G smartphone, Verizon has made the most progress yet in getting a 5G ecosystem up and running.
5G is still in its very early stages, with access in just a few cities and almost zero device support. So it's hard to know what 5G really looks like in the real world. Verizon spokesperson David Weissmann shared the best look yet at 5G on Twitter, where he showed a real-life 5G speed test, running on a smartphone, getting data from a real 5G tower. Specifically Weissmann was out in Minneapolis, pulled out his Verizon ™ Moto Z3 phone with the Moto 5G Mod attached, and loaded the Ookla Speedtest.net app. Behold his speed test:
Thrilled to be in Minneapolis as @verizon 5G UWB makes history!
Speed test here in front of US Bank Stadium
– David Weissmann (@djweissmann) April 3, 2019
Weissmann's speed test ended with a blazing-fast 762Mbps down and 19ms ping (the video does not show upload speeds). Unless you are rocking gigabit fiber at home, this is probably much faster than your home internet connection. Ookla's latest aggregate speed reports have peaked at US mobile download speeds of 27Mbps, while the average fixed broadband download in the United States is at 96Mbps.
Qualcomm's current 5G modem has a theoretically max speed of 5Gbps, but, of course, nothing goes to hit the theoretical maximum. Carriers are happy about the 5G rollouts and upcoming devices, but it's rare to see actual numbers attached to 5G. Weissmann's test is the closest we've seen so far to see what the 5G performance is like, and today's press release from Verizon claims that "early customers in Chicago and Minneapolis should expect typical download speeds of 450Mbps, with peak speeds of almost 1Gbps, and latency less than 30 milliseconds. "
The latency is not great compared to the previous promises of 5G. Verizon's Home 5G Internet has a 4-8ms latency, while for mobile Verizon is only promising about 30ms (and showing 19ms in the speed test). According to testing by OpenSignal, 4G LTE latency is usually around 54-64ms, so while this is a bit of improvement, it's not quite as fast as we expected.
Verizon's ideal conditions
Now for the list of many caveats with this video and with 5G in general. Weissmann's test, which was probably pre-approved by Verizon, is under ideal conditions. First, he is standing basically next to a 5G tower with a clear line of sight on a sunny day. Verizon's 5G equipment is actually visible in the frame of the video-it's all those boxes and antennas glommed onto the post lamp on the left. 5G's real problems come in range and penetration, so if you were indoors-or on the other side of a building, or if there was a tree in the way, or if you were far away from the tower performance would be significantly worse. 5G even has problems with the weather so there is a rainy or foggy day, performance will suffer. 5G is all about building a network in the slice of spectrum we have not yet used for other radio signals yet, and the reason this spectrum is available is because performance characteristics are very challenging.
Second big caveat: there's good chance Weissmann was the only person on Earth using Verizon's 5G network at the time of this speed test. His own tweet refers to the test as "historic," and we've got to guess the user base with 5G Verizon hardware operating the very instant the 5G network went live was approaching "one person." With more people online, the network will be slower.
Third big caveat: 5G hardware. 5G smartphones are going to be awful for the first year, as first-generation 5G modems and antennas take up much more space and power than our refined, well-worn 4G technology. That's going to affect phone design and battery life negatively.
Weissmann's phone-the Moto Z3 with the 5G MotoMod has a good chance of being the "Worst 5G Smartphone of all time." The 5G MotoMod takes an old smartphone, the Moto Z3, and adds 5G compatibility to it through the Motorola's clip-on modular system. Thanks to the state of 5G hardware, though, the 5G MotoMod is almost a whole new smartphone that you're clipping onto the back of your old smartphone. The 5G MotoMod has a full-featured smartphone SoC inside it, the Snapdragon 855. That's along with a 5G modem, its own 2000mAh battery (because 5G needs a lot of power), and a whole heap of 5G antennas. If you could run apps on it, the MotoMod would be way faster than the Snapdragon 835-powered Moto Z3.
Still, for something in a smartphone form factor, the Moto Z3 with the 5G backpack is the best we can do right. now The first fully integrated 5G smartphone should be the 5G version of the Samsung Galaxy S10, which is due this month in South Korea.
Despite all the caveats, this feels like a big step in the wait for 5G. We just need more coverage, more mature 5G hardware, and more 5G smartphones. Even then, the 5G's shaky performance characteristics make us wondering if any of this is really worth it. In perfect conditions, it's pretty fast though!