Verizon today hit the 60-city milestone it promised for this year with the addition of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Albuquerque, and Durham, NC to its “ultra wideband” millimeter-wave 5G network.
It also said it added Central Texas, Tulsa, upstate New York, and New England to its “nationwide” 5G network, although in our testing, that network has primarily delivered an icon change rather than new speeds or capabilities.
The carrier now claims 61 cities as part of its UWB network, although in my mind it’s stretching that definition by calling Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Raleigh and Durham, and Tampa and St. Petersburg different cities. (They are generally considered parts of the same metro area.)
Fast or Available? Pick One
Verizon’s 5G challenge has become that it has a fast network that’s not very available, and an available network that’s indistinguishable from 4G.
Its UWB system can get speeds of 2Gbps and above; that technology made it our Fastest Mobile Network for 2020. But in our testing, UWB only works a few hundred feet from each panel, and primarily outdoors. That has made it very difficult to blanket cities, even dense parts of cities, with that form of 5G. Verizon has been expanding its coverage month by month, but has to go block by block. Its coverage in New York City, to this day, is extremely limited and spotty, although it launched in September 2019.
Verizon is working with companies that make repeaters, such as Pivotal Commware, to extend the reach of UWB, but those gadgets haven’t reached consumers yet.
Its “nationwide” 5G relies on dynamic spectrum sharing, a form of 5G that applies 5G encoding to unused odds and ends of existing 4G channels. Since it’s not using any channels that are wider than 4G, it’s difficult to see any performance difference from 4G. We’ll do more testing on Verizon DSS later this winter.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a year away. The FCC is currently auctioning a large amount of mid-band airwaves known as the C-Band, which Verizon is bidding for and could cover cities with fast 5G relatively easily. Bidding is currently up to $15 billion and will end sometime next year.
The first C-Band networks may not appear until the end of 2021, though, meaning Verizon will struggle along for another year with what it’s got.