We went to Providence, Rhode Island, to see a new kind of 5G buildout and the first true 5G upload speeds. Check out our test results.
Attention Dropboxers, Snapchatters, and TikTokkers! 5G is finally coming for you.
Until now, all of the 5G tests we’ve run have had spectacular download speeds, which is great for movie streaming and app downloading. But uploads have been running on 4G LTE, which means no fresh capabilities for content creators and file sharers.
Verizon’s Samsung infrastructure in Providence, Rhode Island, is the first place we’ve seen where uploads now run on 5G, so we decided to check it out. And well, it looks like 5G will at least double upload speeds. Here are our speeds from 28 tests run with a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G in Providence, compared to other Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint tests.
What’s up with Sprint, you may wonder? Sprint’s TDD LTE system lets the company devote most of its network to downloads rather than uploads. It’s not a technical limitation as much as a conscious choice. It’s doing that on purpose to make more room for downloads.
We also saw a nice boost in peak download speeds. I’m not going to get too much into averages, because various issues throughout our day of testing meant we didn’t test in as many locations with as many different conditions as we usually do. But comparing the Providence results to our Chicago results (with a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G) and our earlier April results (with a Motorola Z3 and earlier base-station firmware) shows how Verizon’s network is coming along.
Verizon’s network in Providence is centered around the city’s college campuses, which is a good solution—Brown University, an Ivy League school, probably has a lot of people with high-end smartphones using them on the college’s manicured greens. I’ve expanded our presumed Verizon Providence coverage map to reflect more of the area in which we saw 5G.
Since we haven’t walked this whole area, I’m not going to conclude that Verizon has licked the millimeter-wave neighborhood coverage issue the way T-Mobile definitely has in Manhattan. There still may be coverage on one street and not the next; we’re going to have to do more studies to figure that out. But it’s a step forward.
Run It Up the Flagpole and See Who Salutes
The 5G buildout in Providence also had a new design we hadn’t seen before: it’s on electrical poles. In Chicago, Verizon’s 5G panels are on light poles. In New York, they’re on the rooftops of relatively low buildings.
Here’s what that looks like. The utility poles tend to be as high or higher than surrounding houses in low-slung Providence, which means they’ll do a good job covering the surrounding area.
I’d also be curious to see whether 5G can be used for indoor internet access in surrounding buildings like this one:
We did some indoor/outdoor tests at a coffee shop and saw about 45 percent signal loss, which is better than the 65-70 percent we saw in April and May, and more like the signal loss we got with T-Mobile in New York. That’s encouraging, especially when you see the numbers: speeds of 1.5Gbps dropped to 828Mbps indoors, which isn’t a bad speed for primary internet access at all.
Verizon CTO Nicki Palmer has said in the past that Verizon intends to offer home internet access where it has mobile 5G, using home modems that will start appearing around the end of this year.
5G: Too Hot to Handle?
We also saw this behavior with the Galaxy S10 5G when we tested it in New York with T-Mobile last week. We didn’t see it with the LG V50 on Sprint. So I think we can knock out a lot of variables here: this isn’t a Verizon, T-Mobile, or Samsung problem. All first-generation, Qualcomm X50-based millimeter-wave phones seem to be overheating when trying to pump their 5G modems hard in extreme weather conditions.
I think the problem has to do with phone makers fitting the X50—an early, discrete modem—into phones that are no bigger than 4G phones. There’s a whole extra gadget in there generating heat, and with the tight tolerances of today’s smartphones, a sunny summer day is causing that gadget to nope right out.
As I’ve been saying in all of these stories: it’s early days. These are basically developer units we’re working with, for people who want to experiment with and develop 5G solutions for the future. I’m thinking right now that we’ll see this overheating situation go away when phones with integrated 5G modems appear next year. We’re sure to hear more about those at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit event in December.
We’re tracking all of the carriers’ 5G developments on our Race to 5G page.