PC Magazine

Our First 5G Tests

Just in time for this issue of the PCMag Digital Edition, we had the opportunity to try out two carriers’ real, live, but very nascent 5G networks. Here’s how our testing went.

VERIZON

It’s very early for Verizon’s 5G network. Probably too early. I spent about six hours testing out Big Red’s brand-new 5G network on day two (April 5) of its launch in Chicago. It’s very small, and not very reliable. But it’s a beginning.

Here’s the basic good news: Across 291 tests, 64 of which were performed on 5G and the rest on 4G, the Moto Z3 phone with its 5G Moto Mod got better average download speeds than an LG V40 being tested on 4G in the same place. I saw 600Mbps peaks on the 5G device at several different cell sites, compared with 400Mbps peaks on the 4G device. That’s a 50 percent improvement already. Hooray! Right?

5G VS. 4G SPEEDS IN CHICAGO

Verizon’s 5G network is a few cell sites running early firmware that lack key features. Software upgrades and further buildouts will turn this network into something you’ll want, but you don’t want it now. Lots of things are missing from this network.

Because the final revision of the 5G standard came out in December, the carriers’ infrastructure providers haven’t yet been able to debug and turn on all the features they’ve been promising. The good news is, a lot of this will come as over-the-air updates.

MODDING UP

As I write this, the only way to get on Verizon’s 5G network is by attaching a $350 Moto Mod accessory to your $480 Moto Z3 phone. The Z3 with its Mod is bulkier than the S10 5G and a less powerful smartphone. But it’s also going to be much cheaper. The price for the Galaxy S10 5G hasn’t yet been announced, but it will be higher than that of the Galaxy S10+, which starts at $999.

The Mod’s secret sauce is the USB 3 pogo pin connector on the back of the phone, which can transfer data at up to 5Gbps, faster than any early-generation 5G network. Motorola wouldn’t confirm that the Mod would work with future phones, but it strongly implied that; the company is also working to make the Mod function with the existing Moto Z2 line.

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