Verizon on Thursday lit up mobile 5G service in parts of Denver, marking the carrier’s third 5G launch city this year.
The carrier will also turn on 5G service in areas of Providence, Rhode Island, on Monday.
The latest two cities follow Verizon’s initial mobile 5G launches in Chicago and Minneapolis earlier this year, all using 28 GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.
The carrier said customers in Denver and Providence can expect average download speeds of 450 Mbps, peak speeds of more than 1.5 Gbps and latency below 30 milliseconds.
As in Verizon’s other 5G launch cities, coverage will be limited to select areas, with devices falling back to the carrier’s 4G LTE network where a 5G signal isn’t available.
So far Verizon offers four 5G-capable phones including the LG V50 ThinQ 5G and Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G. Motorola’s moto z3 and z4 are also available, but require a clip-on 5G moto mod to support 5G service.
Verizon has promised to bring 5G to 30 cities this year including: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, San Diego, Salt Lake City, and Washington, DC.
For its mobile 5G service Verizon has bet big on mmWave spectrum, which is capable of delivering the promised super-fast speeds of 5G, but doesn’t provide for widespread coverage, as signals can only travel short distances.
Speaking at an investor conference this month, Verizon Chief Technology Officer Kyle Malady said that from an engineering perspective he doesn’t feel the carrier is at all vulnerable in its mid-band spectrum position and noted that Verizon is continuously working on how to get more coverage out of its mmWave spectrum.
Analysts at MoffettNathanson on Thursday questioned whether Verizon’s almost exclusive commitment to mmWave spectrum for 5G puts the carrier at risk of losing its edge as network leader in the 5G marketing war over the next few years to rivals AT&T and T-Mobile.
AT&T and T-Mobile each have plans to deliver broad 5G coverage using lower frequency bands, and both also own mmWave spectrum. T-Mobile announced this week that customers in six markets can use the carrier’s 5G network starting Friday. A spokesperson said T-Mobile is using 39 GHz mmWave spectrum in Las Vegas and 28 GHz in other markets.
“Over the past year, it has become clearer than ever that millimeter wave spectrum is best suited for a supporting role in 5G, not a starring one,” MoffettNathanson Senior Analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a Thursday research note.
Moffett noted that without unused mid-band spectrum Verizon will have to re-farm spectrum it already owns to get coverage outside of dense urban areas. Malady previously said increasing coverage could be easily done by converting the carrier’s sub 6 GHz spectrum to 5G over time to make coverage layers.
While Moffett said this represents “a perfectly reasonable” long-term strategy, the analyst thinks it leaves Verizon exposed over the next three to four years.
The near to mid-term lack of unused mid-band spectrum creates a marketing problem for Verizon rather than a long-term network issue, according to Moffett, as AT&T and T-Mobile could be able to tout widespread 5G coverage well ahead of Verizon.
“Over the next few years, Verizon risks losing, if not the reality of 5G, then at least the marketing war,” Moffett wrote.