Verizon 5G in LA: Closing in on 2 Gbps speeds

(Image credit: Future)

Verizon flipped the switch on its 5G network in Los Angeles on Monday (Dec. 16), the 19th city to get 5G coverage from Verizon this year. Right after the Verizon 5G service went live, I hit the streets of downtown LA to see just what kind of speeds Big Red’s next-gen network delivers in one of the biggest cities in the U.S.

Downtown LA is one of the few LA neighborhoods to see 5G at launch, in addition to Chinatown, Marina Del Rey and Venice Beach. Service is spotty — you’ll catch a signal outside the Staples Center and LA Live venues downtown, for instance, but not inside either of those places. As with other millimeter wave-based 5G networks, standing directly beneath a Verizon node on a cell tower and holding your 5G phone in the sky nets the strongest signal and fastest speeds, which is just not practical for everyday life.

Verizon 5G speeds: Whoa

Still, the speeds are pretty damn impressive. Using a $1,299 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and standing in a parking lot directly beneath the 5G node, every Ookla Speedtest we ran easily cleared 1 Gbps. At one point, the Note 10 hit 1.85 Gbps. With speeds that fast, we downloaded PUBG Mobile — a massive 1.64GB file — in 38 seconds. We’ve seen gigabit speeds from Verizon’s 5G networks in Chicago and Providence, Rhode Island, but seeing close to 2 Gbps speeds from Verizon’s network in downtown LA is extremely promising.

I compared Verizon’s newly launched mmWave network to Sprint’s midband-based 5G network, which is also up and running in downtown LA. Using a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, I saw download speeds between 200 and 300 Mbps — about eight times slower than Verizon’s 5G network. Downloading PUBG Mobile over Sprint’s 5G took 3 minutes and 30 seconds. 

But I didn’t have to walk to the middle of a parking lot and wave the OnePlus in the sky to get full-strength 5G with Sprint, like I did with a phone on Verizon’s 5G network. Sprint’s 5G network also blankets more of the city, whereas Verizon’s network is limited to parts of four neighborhoods. (The carrier is publishing a full coverage map on Friday, Dec. 20.)

(Image credit: Future)

Bottom line

We’ve pitted Verizon’s 5G network against Sprint’s in Chicago and saw similar results: Sprint’s network saw slower download speeds but a more reliable signal, while Verizon’s 5G is lightning fast but hard to find. T-Mobile just rolled out its nationwide 5G network using low-band 600 MHz spectrum, and delivered speeds even slower (152 Mbps) than Sprint’s in our initial testing.

And that’s how it will continue to be until all of the major carriers can make use of high-, mid- and low-band spectrum simultaneously to build out a robust, reliable, ultra-fast 5G network. To find the fastest speeds, buy a pricey 5G phone, grab a coverage map and prepare to look like a ridiculous person chasing down an elusive signal. The rest of us can wait until next year for 5G to be worth using.

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.