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Emeka Obinnwa

Keeping abreast with events...

Race to 5G: May Update

Verizon Wireless takes a commanding lead in the race to 5G with its early launch of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. But other carriers could catch up next month.
Verizon further opened up its early lead in the Race to 5G this month by launching its second 5G phone, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, on May 16.

That means Verizon now has a “lower cost” 5G option in the $679 Moto Z3 plus Moto Mod, and a “luxury” 5G option in the $1,399 Galaxy, all before any of its rivals put a single 5G phone on the market.

In our scoring system, that means three more points for a new 5G device. Verizon also gets our first-ever points for speed. Ookla tells us that more than 10 Verizon devices had 5G Speedtest results of over 1Gbps this month, triggering our threshold and awarding five points. We know, because we were holding one of those devices: testing Verizon’s 5G in Chicago with the new Galaxy S10 5G, we achieved 1.17Gbps speeds.

AT&T might also be achieving those speeds. But we don’t currently have a way to verify the speeds on AT&T’s hotspots, and we’re only working with independently verified results. That may change when AT&T puts its own Galaxy S10 5G on sale, which we anticipate will happen on June 15.

One Plus 7 5g

(OnePlus 7 Pro 5G)

It’s still really early! If AT&T comes out with two phones and a coverage map, it could be in the lead by the end of next month. And, just a reminder, nobody’s going to have broad 5G coverage until next year at the earliest.

With AT&T and Verizon both relying on high-speed but short-range millimeter-wave technology, neither carrier has any real coverage to speak of yet. Verizon has coverage in the downtowns of Chicago and Minneapolis. While AT&T claims 19 cities, it won’t say where in those cities it has placed its towers.

In the UK, meanwhile, Vodafone lept ahead in the Blighty version of the race to 5G, saying it will launch with four phones in seven major ciites in July. It’s easier for Vodafone to build its 5G network and acquire devices because it’s using mid-band spectrum, which is more globally popular, has better range, and is less finicky than the millimeter-wave spectrum on which our carriers are relying. OnePlus also discussed the 5G version of its new OnePlus 7 Pro smartphone, which is now waiting for carrier EE to launch its 5G network.

Next month, we’re going to see a new competitor hit the charts: Sprint. Sprint will deliver its first two devices on May 31—the LG V50 and the HTC 5G Hub. It will turn on 5G in four cities—Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta—and may get our first ever points for coverage, too.

A little bit about coverage, which is AT&T and Verizon’s biggest challenge: we’re giving a point for every 5 million Americans covered by 5G. That’s going to be a very tough row to hoe for AT&T and Verizon, if they’re relying on millimeter-wave cells with 600-foot radiuses.

But Sprint is using its existing 2.5GHz cell sites, so it can cover much more ground more easily. In February, Sprint said it had plans to cover 7 million people by the end of June. We’ll see in a few weeks.

Updated: May 19, 2019 — 7:20 pm

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