As previously announced, Verizon launched its commercial 5G service in New York City on Thursday in select parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, making it the final major U.S. operator to light up 5G in the city that never sleeps.
In conjunction, Verizon today also rolled out mobile 5G in Panama City, Florida, and Boise, Idaho. FierceWireless was on the scene in New York City a day prior to get a glimpse at network performance ahead of the commercial rollout.
Like its 10 previous 5G cities, Verizon in New York is first focused on delivering service in densely populated public spaces, including landmarks like Madison Square Garden, the Javits Center, and Bryant Park.
“Providing consumers and businesses with 5G isn’t just about geographical reach – it’s about putting 5G in places where it can do the most good for the most people,” wrote Heidi Hemmer, Verizon VP of Technology, in a Wednesday blog post. “By deploying 5G Ultra Wideband in areas and in public spaces where people congregate, speed, coverage and bandwidth should be immediately improved for those with 5G smartphones.”
While the idea is to bring 5G to popular spaces and tourist attractions where more bandwidth and speedy service are needed, it also most certainly ties into the fact that Verizon is using 28 GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. That high-band spectrum can deliver greater capacity and increased speeds, but poor propagation characteristics mean signals have trouble traveling far distances or easily penetrating objects or walls.
Indeed, speed tests performed by Verizon Director of Communications Kevin King on a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G outside One Penn Plaza delivered download speeds right around 880 Mbps, though keep in mind a 5G small cell was installed directly across the street on Madison Square Garden. Earlier in the day King clocked speeds surpassing 1 Gbps, but they never quite hit that mark in the few tests witnessed by FierceWireless.
When moving slightly farther away to an outdoor seating area at One Penn Plaza, surrounded by small trees and with a pole blocking line of sight from the 5G node, speeds did drop, but at just under 200 Mbps were still significantly above LTE speeds.
Decreased speeds from line-of-sight issues will only continue to improve as the carrier adds more small cells, King said. Verizon plans to double the number of 5G small cells it has in New York City by the end of the year, according to King. Verizon has already done that in its Chicago market since launching there in April, which has added density and capacity, as well as extended coverage to a few new neighborhoods.
Speedtest on Verizon's pre-commercial 5G network in Manhattan, out of line of sight from a 5G node. (Bevin Fletcher/FierceWireless)
Verizon’s initial NYC 5G footprint is deployed on sites where the carrier has existing 4G small cells in order to help speed up the process, but as in other cities is actively working with local government for new 5G site approvals. Some operators and others, including tower company Crown Castle, have been vocal about facing challenges and delays from local authorities as they try to deploy new 5G infrastructure.
Coverage vs. speed?
FierceWireless tested Sprint’s 5G network, which uses mid-band 2.5 GHz, in New York City when it launched in late August. The modest tests on both Verizon and Sprint’s network delivered results relatively in line with what each carrier had respectively promised – speed in Verizon’s case, coverage in Sprint’s. Both Verizon and Sprint are using Nokia equipment in NYC.
Comparatively, a 5G signal was easy to find on Sprint’s network in Manhattan and speeds were consistently above 100 Mbps, though our tests didn’t surpass 237 Mbps (others reported even better results). Speeds on Verizon, meanwhile, were nearing gigabit speeds but required standing in specific locations.
While testing out Sprint’s network, FierceWireless roamed relatively freely across multiple city blocks still connected to 5G, around different neighborhoods and did not spot any 5G radios in plain sight. The tests with Verizon were ahead of today's commercial launch and limited to two predetermined areas outside of Madison Square Garden and within view of 5G small cells.
On Sprint’s network it took 25 seconds to download an hour-long episode of the Netflix series Mindhunter, while Verizon’s 5G network downloaded the entire season in roughly under one minute. In the time it took to download one season of Mindhunter over Verizon’s 5G, we couldn’t download even a single episode of the show using a Verizon 4G LTE connection.
According to Opensignal, the average 4G LTE download speed in Manhattan between June and September was 30.5 Mbps.
With Verizon on board in New York City, it means all of the nation’s four largest carriers have live 5G networks in the city, though AT&T is still only offering 5G service to business customers.
Like Verizon, competitors AT&T and T-Mobile are using mmWave spectrum in New York. T-Mobile has notably mocked Verizon’s mmWave-focused 5G strategy, itself promising to deliver nationwide 5G coverage using a mix of low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.
Verizon has largely pushed aside the criticisms and executives have touted dynamic spectrum sharing technology as a way to add coverage down the line.
“A company can't just decide they want to offer 5G and be ready, or suddenly pivot to a millimeter wave strategy and launch effectively months later,” wrote Hemmer. “Deploying the type of 5G network we’ve launched takes years of deliberate planning, testing, and innovating.”
Interestingly, according to new tests of T-Mobile’s 5G network in NYC conducted by Signals Research Group and reported by LightReading, the operator’s LTE network handled 15% of data transmissions over its 5G network.
T-Mobile also previously called out Verizon for not publishing 5G coverage maps but took it up a notch last week with big billboards in New York’s Time Square smearing Verizon.
Verizon, for its part, remains focused on building the 5G network, King said, rather than marketing gimmicks.