Updated July 2: Verizon has expanded 5G service to Denver and Providence, Rhode Island.
5G connectivity for smartphones is finally here, and it’s Verizon that flipped the switch first.
At the beginning of April, Verizon 5G service arrived in a pair of cities, though Big Red plans to expand to other areas throughout the year. (In fact, the beginning of July saw two more cities add 5G coverage.) Verizon is now selling a phone specifically built to take advantage of 5G's faster speeds, after previously offering a phone that required a special accessory to connect to 5G.
Here’s a closer look on the current status of Verizon’s 5G efforts, along with the devices that work on the network, and where the carrier goes from here.
Verizon 5G Cities: Where you can get it first
Verizon beat other carriers to the punch with a commercial 5G that serves smartphones. (AT&T turned on 5G service in 12 cities at the end of 2018, but the only device that could connect to its network was a 5G hotspot. Sprint launched its network in May and T-Mobile pushed out service in half-a-dozen cities at the end of June.) Initial service launched in just two cities — Chicago and Minneapolis — with the April 3 launch happening a week ahead of schedule.
Verizon followed up those two early launches by adding 5G service to Denver on June 27 and Providence, Rhode Island, on July 1.
Though those four cities may have 5G service, it’s not widespread at this point, though Verizon is in the process of building out coverage. In Chicago, for example, Verizon said its 5G coverage is concentrated around the West Loop and the South Loop, typically around tourist attractions like the Willis Tower, Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. Verizon says 5G Ultra Wideband service is also available in its store on the Magnificent Mile as well as throughout the Gold Coast, Old Town and North River. Minneapolis customers will be able to get 5G service in the east and west parts of downtown, including at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Be warned, though, even in locations that have 5G connectivity, coverage can be spotty. When we tested 5G speeds in Chicago in early April, we found we could get a 5G connection on some street corners, while failing to connect from the opposite side of the street. In other instances, we’d get 5G connectivity at one spot, but then return 12 hours later to only be able to connect to LTE despite standing in the same location.
Things improved when we returned to the Windy City in May, though there are still a few catches. You have to be outside to connect to Verizon's 5G network at this point, and you definitely need to be in sight of a 5G node on a lampost or telephone pole. Even then, there are times when you simply won't be able to connect. 5G remains a work in progress.
After Denver and Providence, Verizon says that the next 18 cities getting 5G services this year include Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington DC. All told, Verizon plans to have 5G connectivity in 30 cities by the end of 2019.
Mobile coverage is just part of the story for Verizon. Last October, the company launched home broadband service over 5G in four cities.
How fast will Verizon 5G be?
Much of the hype around 5G is focusing on 1 Gbps download speeds, but Verizon is tamping down on that expectation with this launch. For now, the carrier is promising average speeds of 450 Mbps, with an eye toward that speed increasing as its 5G network develops and improves. (When launching service in Denver, Verizon did show off a picture of a phone breaking the 2 Gbps barrier, though you probably shouldn't expect that kind of speed on a regular basis.)
In our initial testing, Verizon’s fledgling network can breeze past that average when it’s at its best. At a launch event at Verizon's Chicago store on April 3, we saw download speeds reach 641 Mbps. And during our own April testing, we saw speeds near 600 Mbps (though in some cases speeds were closer to 300 Mbps). Things improved further once we got our hands on the Galaxy S10 5G, which Verizon is now selling; testing that phone, we occasionally saw speeds spike above 1 Gbps.
For context, when we tested LTE speeds in Chicago last year, Verizon averaged a download speed of 85.8 Mbps, so even 400 Mbps speeds would be a huge jump.
The problem is that while Verizon’s 5G can deliver fast speeds, the connection isn’t always stable, as noted above. And we also some confounding results during our April tests. We downloaded a 152MB TV show from Netflix in less than a minute over 5G, while the LTE download took more than 13 minutes. But our attempts to download large apps off Google Play resulted in faster times on LTE than they did on 5G. We’re still scratching our heads over that.
Our tests with the Galaxy S10 5G proved more consistent. We could download an entire season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in a little more than 1 minute; it took a regular Galaxy S10 more than 10 minutes to download a single episode over LTE.
At this point, Verizon's mmWave-based 5G network is primarily available outdoors. We had our best results when we were in view of one of Verizon's 5G towers, though not directly underneath it.
Verizon's first 5G phones
Verizon now offers four phones capable of connecting to its 5G network, even if two of them aren't strictly speaking 5G devices on their own.
Those latter phones would be the Moto Z3, which came out in 2018 and features an older Snapdragon 835 chipset, and the new Moto Z4, which runs on a midrange Snapdragon 670 processor. Neither of those chipsets include a 5G modem, but attach a 5G Moto Mod to the back of either phone, and you’ll be to hop onto Verizon’s 5G network. Such connectivity comes at a price though — the Moto Mod costs $349 and that’s on top of the $480 or $499 you’ll pay for the Z3 or Z4, respectively. (Verizon does sell the 5G Moto Mod at a considerable discount as of this writing.)
A true 5G-capable phone has arrived at Verizon in the form of the Galaxy S10 5G. Verizon is the first carrier in the U.S. to offer this phone, which features a 6.7-inch screen and four rear cameras in addition to its 5G-ready modem. (Sprint and AT&T begin selling it this month, though AT&T is restricting sales to corporate customers.) In our review, we found the phone delivers phenomenal 5G speeds where available, but with Verizon's network still in its early stages, it's hard to recommend a $1,300 phone, especially when the Galaxy S10 Plus offers the same great camera and a better battery for $300 less.
And $1,300 is what you'll pay for the 256GB version of the S10 5G at Verizon; upgrade to the 512GB model and you'll pay $1,400. There will also be two different colors available — Crown Silver and Majestic Black.
In mid-June, Verizon added the LG V50 ThinQ, which previously had been a Sprint exclusive. That phone costs $999 at Verizon.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg has also said his company will offer a 5G version of the Galaxy Note when the Galaxy Note 10 ships later this year.
What you’ll pay for Verizon 5G
Verizon customers will need to pay a little extra for 5G service on top of their regular data plan. The carrier is charging $10 a month for unlimited 5G data. That includes unlimited hotspot data over 5G, Verizon tells us — we haven’t been able to test that feature yet — and there will be no restrictions on video streaming.
But that $10 gets added to what you’re already paying for unlimited LTE data, and you're required to have an unlimited plan if you want to add on 5G data. Verizon says you'll need either a Beyond Unlimited or Above Unlimited plan for the Galaxy S10 5G, and those cost $85 and $95 a month, respectively. (When we purchased the Moto Z3 with 5G Moto Mod, we were able to use Verizon's cheapest plan, the $75-a-month Go Unlimited option.) As of this writing, the first three months of 5G coverage will be offered for free, though that's only for a limited time.
Verizon beat its rival carriers to offering 5G mobile connectivity, even if its phone selection is limited and the Verizon 5G network doesn’t always perform as advertised. AT&T figures to challenge Verizon once it starts supporting phones on its 5G network (which has expanded to parts of 19 cities as of this writing). Sprint will follow suit with a launch of its own in May while T-Mobile plans to make its push in the second half of the year.
That gives Verizon a bit of a head start over its rivals. It will be interesting to see if it can maintain its edge as the year goes on.
Image Credits: Tom's Guide