How you can get Verizon's 5G broadband service -- for free

The company is set to launch a large-scale test of 5G as a home broadband replacement service. Here are the details on getting in the field trial.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

Verizon wants to get 5G into homes soon.

Roger Cheng/CNET

Who says 5G is all hype?

Verizon , after all, is set to launch a field trial of the super-fast service in 11 markets across the US this year. It's not full cellular service like 4G LTE, but instead a replacement for home broadband. It's supposed to be 10 times faster than even Google Fiber, which offers internet connections as fast as 1 gigabit per second. So, it'll be more than sufficient to power all your home browsing needs.

And there's actually a chance you could try this service out! Though it's pretty slim: roughly 400 to 500 people will get to take part in the program.

The following is breakdown of the service and how you might be able get access to some cutting-edge speeds.

What is 5G again?

Oh right, you're not a wireless nerd. 5G stands for the fifth-generation of wireless technology and promises to be awesome. Think speeds fast enough to download every episode of "The Simpsons" in half an hour. Beyond that, it's super-responsive, meaning you can do things like remote drive a construction vehicle from another city, and power efficient, so farms can use low-power sensors that run on 5G for 10 years.

Wow, give me some of that!

Not so fast. The full potential of 5G is years away, with the industry still trying to set common ground rules for everyone to follow.

So what's Verizon doing?

While the industry waits for 5G to become a real thing, Verizon is using many of the same principles and technologies to offer a home broadband service. The goal is replace your home cable or DSL modem .

Why should I care about that?

Well, there's the speed. Verizon isn't sure how fast it will go -- it's a test, after all -- but internal trials have shown it go as high as 20 gigabits per second, or 20 times faster than Google Fiber. Also, a wireless connection means no need for a cable repairman to come into your home and drill holes through the walls so they can pull in physical lines (with one exception).

Sweet! So where is this service launching?

There are 11 markets for the field trials: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta; Bernardsville, New Jersey; Brockton, Massachusetts; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Miami; Sacramento; Seattle and Washington, DC.

But wait, I don't live in any of those markets!

Sorry, you're out of luck.

So if I'm in those cities, I'm golden right?

Not necessarily. Verizon is being selective about where it will roll out its service. It's looking to test 5G in as many different conditions as possible, so that may not necessarily be in your neighborhood.

When will Verizon launch its service?

Verizon says it will start rolling out the service by the middle of the year. Adam Koeppe, vice president of network technology planning, said the company would begin issuing mailers to potential customers by the end of March.

How are people chosen?

Koeppe said that mailers would be sent out to people based on where they live and how close they are to the 5G infrastructure. The good news is you don't have to be an existing Verizon landline or wireless customer -- anyone is eligible.

If you get one of these mailers, you'll need to respond to Verizon, after which the company will send a sales team to come and explain the service in person.

Verizon is looking for a cross section of single-family homes, apartment buildings and businesses. So anyone is eligible as long as they're in the right area.

"We want a good mix," Koeppe said.

The company is keeping the numbers limited because suppliers Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung are essentially "hand-making" the first run of prototype 5G modems, Koeppe said.

What does the installation process look like?

Since this is a field test, service technicians will show up to your home or business to set everything up. Koeppe said the 5G modem is larger than your standard cable or DSL box.

Because it's picking up a cellular signal, there may be times when Verizon will have to add an extra antenna outside of the home. So there may be some drilling after all.

And this is free?

Yep. The service will be free throughout the trial, which should run through the duration of the year.

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