Early test shows the promise and perils of 5G

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5G
The first 5G devices are wicked fast, but not very practical yet.
Photo: Samsung

The first steps of the move from 4G LTE to 5G NR are underway. And tests with one of the first two handsets capable of connecting to Verizon’s version of this faster network show 5G offers amazing speeds but very, very limited range.

Certain parts of downtown Chicago and Minneapolis are the first two places Verizon customers can find the successor to 4G. Only the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G can connect, and so can the clip-on 5G Moto Mod for the Moto Z3 too.

Tests done by Digital Trends in Chicago with the modified version of the S10 showed this handset was able to break through 1 Gbps, under the right conditions. The service regularly scored between 700 Mbps and 1 Gbps on Speedtest.

For comparison, tests done last year showed that Verizon’s 4G service maxed out at 355 Mbps and averaged about 50 Mbps.

But 5G offers extremely limited range

Verizon has chosen to offer 5G over millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies. This enables the fastest connections but very short range, and little penetration into buildings. This means that the carrier, and AT&T too, will have to place network nodes rather close together to offer service.

“Losing line of sight with the node also meant losing 5G service. Walls are the network’s kryptonite,” said Julian Chokkattu of Digital Trends.

There are other drawbacks to the early 5G devices. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is either $1,399.99 or $1,299.99, depending on storage capacity.

5G iPhone on the way

Apple recently made a deal with Qualcomm that’s widely expected to lead to a 5G iPhone in 2020. While that’s behind its rivals, 5G networks are still years away from being ubiquitous. Analyst Gene Munster said recent “We expect it will take until the end of 2022 before 75% of the US population will have 5G service.”

The short range nature of mmWave is a prime reason for the slow rollout of this emerging standard.