Verizon’s 5G gets points for speed but knocks for coverage

US Bank Stadium
SRG estimates there are close to 100 nodes with two Ericsson radios in downtown Minneapolis, which look similar to what's shown in the picture. (Signals Research Group)

Verizon’s new 5G service in Minneapolis and Chicago appears to be delivering on the speed promises, with users reporting 10 times faster speeds than LTE, but it’s getting knocks for lack of coverage.

As chronicled in its Signals Flash newsletter, Signals Research Group (SRG) clocked 676.6 Mbps average and 909.4 Mbps outside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. But that was just one random test.

“It suggests those kinds of data speeds are possible, but we’re not making any statements about what the typical user experience is going to be,” said Mike Thelander, CEO and founder of SRG, which is based in Independence, Minnesota. A comprehensive benchmark study will come later. 

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SRG chart
Verizon launched its mobile 5G service, called 5G Ultra Wideband, on April 3, just about a week ahead of schedule and a couple of days before South Korea made its commercial 5G debut. In so doing, it said its early 5G customers in Chicago and Minneapolis could expect typical download speeds of 450 Mbps, with peak speeds of nearly 1 Gbps, and latency less than 30 milliseconds. 

 
The Verge on Thursday reported getting speeds between 400 Mbps and 600 Mbps on downloads in Chicago, roughly 10 times faster than an iPhone XS Max, but found coverage to be sparse even at the venues that Verizon identified as having 5G. The upload rates also were slower than expected.

Verizon is using the Non-Standalone (NSA) version of 5G, which is what most operators are using initially for 5G, so LTE is at the core as an anchor. (The Standalone (SA) version of the 5G standard does not require an LTE anchor.) SRG estimates that Verizon has 100 5G nodes with Ericsson radios deployed in downtown Minneapolis and probably more in Chicago because it’s a bigger city.

Thelander explained that the 5G radio is only being used for downlink data traffic; any uploading is going over the LTE network. That’s something that will change. “I think it’s more of a vendor road map type of thing,” he said.

RELATED: Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband pricing scheme is a hint at what’s to come

SRG didn't measure latency in its initial test because it doesn't expect any meaningful differences compared with LTE. The 1-millisecond latency goal that people talk about with 5G is not a reality today because the latency is no better than what one gets with LTE, Thelander said. 3GPP is still working on the next phase of the standard, Release 16, where ultralow-latency values will emerge.

“It’s really not until you get to Release 16 that you get the 5G core network in place and you have mobile edge computing basically bringing that content closer to the edge of the network—that’s where you start to see the really low latency numbers that people talk about with 5G," he said.

SRG noted a few other data points. Verizon is using 28 GHz spectrum and 400 MHz of TDD spectrum in these early markets, not including the LTE anchor carrier, for control channel information.

The test results released Thursday were meant to be a teaser before the firm releases its more conclusive benchmark study, probably at the end of the month. The focus of that study will be on downlink performance, millimeter wave propagation and much more.

While select areas of Chicago and Minneapolis are the first to experience Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband mobility service, Verizon announced plans in February to launch its 5G service in more than 30 U.S. cities in 2019.

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