Verizon and Samsung's have done much this week to prove to me that just might be able to deliver on the promise of wildly fast downloads. Testing the new phone all over downtown Chicago has largely repaired my faith in 5G, which wavered when I first came to the Windy City six weeks ago to test , an event that was as abysmal as the second time around was enlivening.
This time, download speeds topped 1Gbps, which is insanely fast. More importantly, though, the real-world test results fell in line with the benchmarking tests. Just, wow. Verizon and Samsung still face major challenges in. The , and the network worked only in tightly controlled pockets. But the 5G future we keep hearing about -- the one that promises ludicrously fast downloads, real-time sports and pin-sharp online games -- is on its way.
During this second go, Verizon's 5G network was a completely different animal. The first time, the Speedtest.net showed fast speeds, it took six minutes to download a large file. This week, speeds were consistently more than double those of my internet connection at home, and the same large file downloaded in under two and a half minutes. An almost two-hour Netflix movie downloaded in just more than eight seconds on the Galaxy S10 5G over Verizon's fast new network., it wasn't clear if I was on 5G or not, and the loan unit I used to test the network ran out of battery. Also, while
security cameras and cars and buses that talk to each other on the road to reduce accidents and help keep lanes clear. Carriers that can build out the most robust networks first believe they'll have an advantage over rivals for signing on new subscribers.are hugely important. They represent a profound shift for the industry, promising exponentially faster speeds that'll get you far more than quick downloads. 5G is also credited with being able to bring advanced new AR and camera features to life. And the ultrafast data transfer also paves the way for next-generation capabilities including remote surgery, connected
So what went right for Verizon and Samsung this time, and why? And what does all this mean for you -- should you run out and buy a 5G phone? Hang tight and I'll break it all down.
Galaxy S10 5G data tests broke the 1Gbps barrier
I took a loaner Galaxy S10 5G that Samsung had preloaded with an account and apps like Speedtest.net, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix out into Chicago for testing. Because coverage is limited to specific areas where Verizon has set up its 5G network nodes, we couldn't just go anywhere we wanted.
For example, you can't use 5G signal most places indoors (Verizon's store on Michigan Avenue is one exception). But we did hit seven areas around downtown.
I ran at least two speeds tests at each of these stops, both on the Galaxy S10 5G and on a 4G-only Galaxy S10 Plus, both on Verizon's network and both using the Verizon Speedtest.net server. Speeds consistently ranged from 400Mbps up past 1Gbps, hitting those peaks in four different locations (oftentimes, but not always, more than once).
While download speeds are 5G, upload speeds are still in 4G ranges, which Verizon is well aware of.
"With the state of the software and where it was, we just needed to see very good reliability," Verizon's network VP, Mike Haberman, told journalists on a call ahead of these Galaxy S10 5G tests in Chicago and Minneapolis. "With the NR uplink in the very early version of the software, we weren't seeing that reliability...so it's an evolution," he said, adding that getting download speeds reliable was more important.
"When you think of 5G, you think of the download," Haberman said.
Ultra fast real-world tests blew my mind
Even more impressive and important than these benchmarking speeds are the real-world tests of downloading movies, TV shows and large apps. It's those that really convey what it will be like to live life in 5G. At one fast spot (and with a 4G phone serving as a stopwatch), I downloaded Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (in 4K) from Amazon Prime Video in under 5 minutes. That's roughly 10 hours of footage. The 4G phone took 4 minutes to finish downloading the first episode.
At another location, I downloaded and installed the 1.86GB game PUBG in under 2.5 minutes on 5G. It took just over 3 minutes on 5G, which still demonstrates an advantage since Google Play's servers haven't been optimized for Verizon's 5G network, the carrier said.
Similarly, an almost 2-hour movie (Wine Country) downloaded from Netflix in just over 8 seconds. The second attempt took slightly longer, at 10.4 seconds. After two attempts to download over 4G, I gave up after the progress wheels failed to advance two minutes into the download.
Verizon spokespeople suggested that Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have been optimized for its 5G network in varying degrees, something I've asked for clarity on.
The startling real-world download results are encouraging because it means that in the best-case network scenario, you can achieve lightning fast download speeds (it stormed during our tests, so there was actual lightning). It's clear that Verizon has worked to tune its network. Ahead of today's test, Haberman said to expect improved performance, but not improved coverage, though that's coming as well.
"You'll easily see a doubling of sites in the next month," Haberman said over the phone, while also emphasizing Verizon's commitment to launching 5G in.
The Galaxy S10 5G's battery life held on, but...
At 10 a.m., the Galaxy S10 5G started at 100% battery. By 2 p.m., it was at 53%, and at 3:30 p.m., it had dipped down to 40%. That's a steep decline on a device with a 4,500mAh battery. I think the phone actually did OK considering that I pummeled it nonstop with download requests and kept its 6.7-inch screen on full brightness for five and a half hours.
Verizon says it can do better. "You can expect [the phone's battery life] to be augmented. That's not something Samsung does,
Haberman said, "That's something done on the network."
What makes this Verizon 5G test different than the last
This test with the Galaxy S10 5G gave us much better results than our first test using Motorola's Moto Z3, and there are numerous reasons for that.
- Verizon has had 6 weeks to tune its network
- The Galaxy S10 5G has its own 5G modem ( ), where the Moto Z3 gets 5G data through its magnetic Moto Mod.
- The 5G UWB logo (Ultra-wideband) is smaller and didn't flicker as much, giving a more stable indication of when you're using 5G data (the icon drops back to 4G when you're not using 5G data).
- Verizon set expectations on where to stand and what to expect (e.g., the sweet spot is between 100 and 300 feet away within line of sight of the 5G node).
Despite great results, 5G has a long way to go
5G is an inevitability, but right now we're getting a curated sampler platter. The buffet isn't quite ready. Here are the major issues.
- Network coverage: There's not enough to go around yet and it isn't clear what happens when more people come on board.
- Cost: 5G phones cost hundreds more and you should expect to pay more for a plan (Verizon suspended its $10 monthly surcharge for now).
- 70% signal loss of Verizon's mmWave type of 5G through windows and walls, which means you won't get it indoors if nodes are outside (nearly all will be at the start).
- It will take years to get those next-generation benefits like streaming real-time sports from any angle.
This round of Chicago tests was certainly promising, but it's good to remember that these next-gen "G" rollouts don't happen overnight. This is a reality that affects every one of these fledgling networks.
If money is no object and you're yearning to be ready when 5G comes on board in your area, the S10 5G is a large-screen phone with proven performance (it shares core features with the). The rest of us should see these first phones and networks as a starting point that will become more robust and compelling with time. 5G will be up and coming for years while the carriers and phone-makers work out the kinks. Most of us will have to be patient.
Originally published May 16, 8:46 a.m. PT.