All the major US carriers are deploying 5G of some sort right now, and you can expect to be bombarded with ads touting 5G soon. Verizon was the first to roll out a 5G network with phones for consumers, and now it’s admitting that the 5G many people get won’t change the world. According to Verizon Consumer Group CEO Ronan Dunne, 5G networks in rural areas won’t feel much different than 4G LTE.
Verizon and AT&T started their 5G deployments with millimeter wave spectrum. That’s what all the early tests of 5G networks used, which is how phones like the Galaxy S10 5G can reach incredible multi-gigabit speeds. T-Mobile has also started a millimeter-wave rollout, but it has heavily criticized Verizon for its focus on that spectrum. Without lower band frequencies, T-Mobile executives claim, 5G is not a viable technology.
Verizon does plan to use some lower-frequency 5G, but it’s downplaying the importance. Millimeter-wave networks in dense urban areas make 5G feel substantially different than 4G. These signals (20GHz and higher) don’t propagate far, but they pack in a lot of data. On the other hand, frequencies in the lower bands (1GHz and below) travel a long way and through obstacles. Devices will only get a few hundred megabits from low-band signals at most, which is within the realm of what you can do with 4G.
5G is fast right now because no one is using it. As more devices connect, the average speed per user will drop. 5G should resist congestion better than 4G, but there will still be an impact, and Verizon says millimeter wave will handle it better. This part of the spectrum is also less congested, so carriers have larger blocks of frequencies allocated. While Verizon has about 1,000 MHz of millimeter wave spectrum, most rural communities will be making do with a tenth as much in the low-bands.
So, maybe you don’t need to be getting your hopes up for 5G service. It’ll either be very fast and hard to find or barely faster than LTE. Carriers are very excited, though. Verizon’s Dunne talks excitedly about the possibility of creating different 5G “experiences” like a gamer plan or a day trader plan. The carrier will no doubt charge more money for more valuable services, and 5G allows more devices to share the network. Exciting, right?