Verizon, Moto introduce Z3 smartphone with 5G clip-on modem

Motorola's new moto z3 smartphone will feature a clip-on 5G moto mod modem that will allow the phone to access Verizon's mobile 5G network. (Motorola)

Verizon's 5G plans clarified a bit this week as it and Motorola introduced the moto z3 and announced the 5G moto mod, a magnetic attachment that will enable the phone to access the carrier's 5G network when it launches next year.

Carriers of course are scrambling to score firsts in the 5G marketing game. Motorola and Verizon seem to have made a clever play with the release of a phone that will be in the marketplace and ready for conversion to 5G when the network is ready. Other vendors, such as Huawei, are of course working on 5G handsets.

Where Motorola's incremental approach will position it—in both timeline and functionality—remains to be seen. Will the add-on approach enable these devices to be the first commercially available 5G handsets? Will z3 owners be more likely to move to 5G because doing so only is an add-on? Does this approach introduce technical limitations compared to integrated devices? Does it change the device's form factor significantly?

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These issues will be played out in the larger context of Verizon's move to 5G. The company says it will provide fixed 5G residential services to Houston, Los Angeles, Sacramento and an unnamed fourth city by the end of this year. The next step is mobile 5G service, which Verizon has promised will launch roughly six months after it launches fixed 5G services later this year.

The announcement of the z3 and—in particular, the promise of being able to use it as a 5G device in the relatively near future—is more evidence that Verizon is looking at the technology as the key to its broadband future. This was clear during the company's second-quarter conference call, which focused heavily on 5G and was something of a passing of the torch. It featured Lowell McAdam and Hans Vestberg, the carrier's outgoing and incoming CEOs, respectively.

Though the haze of marketing is thick in the 5G world, mobile and fixed initiatives seem to be evolving in parallel, Verizon’s earliest commercialization will be on the fixed side, but AT&T has promised to launch mobile 5G in a dozen cities this year. AT&T has hinted that its first 5G device will be a “puck” rather than a phone, so Verizon’s announcement with Motorola for the z3 may allow Verizon to maintain some parity with AT&T on the mobile 5G topic.

Interestingly, Verizon’s 5G efforts span two different standards. The company has been using a specification, 5GTF, that it developed with Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and Cisco. That standard will power the company’s initial fixed wireless efforts. However, Verizon said it will work to transition quickly to the 3GPP's 5G NR (New Radio) standard that was approved last year.

Motorola’s new z3 features TurboPower charging, dual 12-MP depth-sensing cameras that integrate with Google Lens, and a 6-inch almost-borderless 6" Super AMOLED display. It will be available exclusively through Verizon beginning August 16 for $20 over 24 months, the company said.