LOS ANGELES – As I stood outside the entrance to the arena that is home to the Los Angeles Lakers, my phone was showing download speeds worthy of a quick break led by Magic Johnson. My download speeds have hit hundreds of megabytes per second on average, peaking at almost 1.6 gigabytes, enough to finally deliver on 5G’s promises of faster data and lower latency.
Alas, the speeds were not on a real network accessible to anyone. Instead, I was connected to a Verizon test network built on the operator’s C-band spectrum through a test phone provided to me by the company. The idea was to see what C-Band can do for both range and performance once Verizon takes the next step of its growing 5G network.
And what did I see? A damn fast network.
More importantly, I’ve seen how much Verizon’s 5G network has evolved since the carrier first launched the Switch on its first commercial 5G network over two years ago. In 2019, I rushed to Chicago to see one of Verizon’s first 5G facilities built on millimeter wave (mmWave) technology. The speeds were certainly faster than the LTE connections we almost had then, but they were inconsistent and limited to block-to-block range. The test network I experienced this week offers much faster speeds that are spread over a wider area. Think of it as Verizon taking on the challenge posed by T-Mobile, which currently has the most extensive 5G network according to third-party testing companies, while also leading many 5G speed rankings.
Verizon believes that is about to change. By the end of March 2022, it announced it would cover 100 million customers with C-band spectrum after the service launches in the next three months. (Good luck with the carrier saying exactly when.) Over the next two years, that number will rise to 240 million, as Verizon seeks to expand its existing 5G network.
That’s a lofty goal, and if you have a 5G phone that also works with the C-Band spectrum, faster speeds could be in your very near future. Here’s what I experienced in my testing and what Verizon’s efforts will mean for future performance.
How operators are developing 5G
Building a 5G network has forced operators to use different types of wireless spectrum to deliver the kind of performance and availability their customers expect. T-Mobile has had great success so far using low-band spectrum to launch the country’s first 5G network at the end of 2019. T-Mobile’s speeds at the time weren’t as fast as they were. of other operators with 5G. , but it could affect more people. And this has only increased, as the operator can now reach over 300 million people with its current 5G coverage. Best of all, T-Mobile has used the mid-range spectrum acquired during its merger with Sprint to boost speeds – 200 million people can now access the faster Ultra Capacity service.
Verizon took a different approach, starting with mmWave, which offers the fastest speeds. But mmWave’s range is limited and you usually have to be in sight of a tower to take advantage of these fast speeds. Since mmWave signals cannot bypass obstacles such as windows and buildings, it is almost impossible to achieve mmWave speeds indoors unless you put a node there (as Verizon did. with numerous arenas and other high capacity venues). As of this writing, Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service reaches parts of 87 cities, while a slower nationwide network covers around 230 million people.
C-Band offers Verizon a chance to combine greater range with faster speeds. At an FCC auction this spring, Verizon grabbed most of the available C-band spectrum with the aim of using it to extend the reach of its 5G service.
âI couldn’t be happier with the combination we have of low, mid and C-Band spectra,â Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of technology planning at Verizon, told reporters who attended the session. this week’s test in Los Angeles.
Verizon C-Band 5G review
When it comes to testing sites for C-Band, Verizon couldn’t have picked a better location than the LA Live entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles. The site is wedged between the Microsoft Theater and the old Staples Center (now ridiculously named after a cryptocurrency outfit) where the Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Kings play all of their home games. These are the kind of places where crowds meet regularly and outdoor events are the norm – right now there is an ice rink set up for people looking to experience the magic of the holidays. In other words, it’s the kind of large area where many smartphone users are likely to converge, demanding faster upload and download speeds.
Equally important, it’s a stark contrast to the kind of initial mmWave deployments that Verizon was putting in place two years ago to get its 5G network off the ground. Back then, an mmWave node could bring high speeds to a street corner here or an intersection there. Verizon’s C-Band setup in LA live reaches a wide area, and I was able to enjoy those superior download speeds in front of the basketball arena, even with towers across a street. very busy. The setup could probably reach blocks of distance, although I wasn’t able to establish how far the range was in my limited testing time. Suffice it to say, it’s much more extensive than what I’ve experienced with Verizon’s mmWave service.
That said, there are still some inconsistencies with the performance. Standing on the outdoor rink platform, I recorded my slowest speeds on the Verizon test device – a download speed of 289 Mbps as measured by Ookla’s Speedtest app. Walking at around 20 feet those speeds jumped to 611 Mbps, and when I crossed the street to stand near the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar statue, the speeds had increased to 841 Mbps. (The reason for the disparity? One of the Verizon network gurus thought I was standing too close to the structure where the C-Band hub was deployed, so the signal was coming in at a sub-optimal angle for my phone. The fact that the speeds improve the further I moved seemed to support this theory.)
One of the most striking results happened when I ran Speedtest on my personal iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is connected to Verizon’s LTE network. My iPhone reached a maximum download speed of 34.9 Mbps; in the same location, the 5G device Verizon increased the operator’s C-Bad configuration to just over 1 Gbps. If you’ve been hesitant to upgrade to a 5G phone because you just don’t see the performance improvements promised, Verizon’s C-Band is about to change your mind.
Verizon has shown other examples of what all that speed will mean beyond faster downloads. I was able to test out a Snapchat filter where I could mimic the powers of Marvels Dr. Strange by making flaming circles appear or multiplying into a dozen versions of myself. It’s the kind of data-demanding task that only works with the lower latency and faster speeds offered by mmWave-based 5G and now the C-band. (The filter launched earlier this fall exclusively for Pixel. 6.) Likewise, another app gave me a live preview of the Phoenix Suns arena some 375 miles away, in which I could turn the camera around for 360 degree views rendered in real time. . Awesome stuff.
Verizon C-Band 5G: what happens next?
However, not everyone is in love with the C-Band. The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration are concerned that C-band may interfere with the safety systems of some aircraft. Verizon and AT&T – which also acquired the C-Band spectrum at this spring’s auctions – agreed not to launch C-Band this month, although Verizon said it was still on track to reach its target to reach 100 million customers with C-Band 5G coverage by the end of March.
When Verizon flips the switch, there are already phones out there that can immediately take advantage of the fastest speeds. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models are both equipped to work with C-Band, a Verizon executive told me, as are Samsung’s Galaxy S21, Galaxy Z Fold 3, and Galaxy Z Flip 3. this list too, once they arrive in early 2022.
For many smartphone owners, the 5G transition hasn’t been a terrible transformation given the modest data speed gains so far. Technologies like C-Band and T-Mobile’s continued efforts to improve speeds with its own Ultra Capacity 5G figure to change that. And 2022 is already shaping up to be a big year for wireless connectivity.