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Millimeter wave 5G hasn't had an easy time of it, as a technology. It's been panned for fickle connectivity, extremely limited coverage, and being too thinly-deployed to even meaningfully use (not to mention the absolute nonsense conspiracies some people are spreading about it). It doesn't help that mmWave only has one truly active booster in the United States—Verizon. The company says its existing plans for 5G mmWave deployments around the country haven't changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the current crisis raises a valid question: if we won't be gathering in large groups for the foreseeable future—let alone in stadiums or concert halls—does mobile mmWave even make sense anymore, and did it ever?
Verizon announced a few bits of 5G news today, including its 35th market in San Diego. The most notable change is support for 5G uploads in all those markets starting now. Uploads probably won't be as fast as 5G downloads, but speeds should be noticeably quicker than LTE.
First was T-Mobile in 2018. Then came Sprint last year. Now, Verizon is carrying its first OnePlus phone for sale. The OnePlus 8 5G UW — yep, that's the name Big Red's going with — will be available to buy from April 29 for $800. But unlike any other model of OnePlus 8, this one will be the only one to support millimeter wave 5G.
Even though AT&T was the first in the United States to boast a 5G network, as yet, its millimeter wave service has only been available on to enterprise customers with a Netgear hotspot. But after Sprint put out its wider-reaching next-gen towers and with T-Mobile waiting in the wings, Ma Bell has now decided to allow regular consumers to use a phone on a new, low-band 5G grid in five markets over the next few weeks and ten more by mid-2020.
We're in the early days of 5G in the US with carriers like Verizon scrambling to deploy millimeter wave and Sprint focusing on mid-band networks. Carriers are talking up the blazing speed of 5G, but how fast are we talking here? Speedtest has measured 5G performance in Verizon and Sprint markets to get a better idea, and unsurprisingly, Verizon's 5G is much, much faster.
Amidst news of the Department of Justice's approval of its merger with Sprint, T-Mobile has announced a record second quarter with big gains in both subscribers and revenues. In its earnings call, the carrier tooted its horn about its rapid pace of capital expenditure related to 600MHz and millimeter wave spectrum and painted a couple of insights to its spectrum and MVNO sale to Dish.
The rise of 5G is exciting, but taking full advantage of its potential is going to require carriers to expand their coverage into new parts of the RF spectrum. The FCC has been auctioning off the rights to some of these frequencies and has just completed the process for the 24GHz band while also announcing the winners of its 28GHz band auction. As was expected from the outset, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon were the largest bidders and winners of the processes.
Verizon flipped the switch on its 5G network last week, a few days earlier than it previously promised. This is the first commercial 5G network in the US that you can actually use (AT&T doesn't count), although you'll need the Moto Z3 and the pricey 5G Moto Mod. Carriers will spend the next several months hitting you over the head with 5G marketing, but is it all hype? I had a chance to take Verizon's millimeter wave 5G network for a spin, and it did work better than I expected in some ways. However, it's a long, long way from being a good experience.
AT&T was, by some measures, the first carrier to roll out 5G wireless services in late 2018. However, it still only has a single 5G device, a $500 Netgear hotspot you probably won't be allowed to buy. The carrier is rolling its 5G ghost town in seven more cities today, bringing its total to 19.
The race to 5G is on with every carrier promising big rollouts of next-generation networks in the coming year, but what about the phones? The first wave of consumer 5G devices are likely to be Wi-Fi hotspots, but Motorola thinks it has a way to offer the world's first 5G phone with the recently announced 5G Moto Mod. It's a strange device that will require certain compromises, but it's still probably better than the way we transitioned to 4G. Remember the Thunderbolt? Yeah, that's a low bar, but still.