Verizon tests 5G but don’t break out the champagne just yet

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Alex Stockwell

Expectations are rising but 5G is going to be a long haul for the trail-blazing US carrier

5G, the holy grail of ubiquitous, lightning-fast mobile Internet is slowly emerging over the horizon. And Verizon have just announced making the first steps towards this technological landmark in the coming months, but how much of these developments is more hype than actual progress for consumers?

The potential of insanely fast, universal Internet being used to connect everything from our mobiles and devices, to vehicles, VR units and even our Internet enabled appliances is the end game that developers and telecom companies are dreaming of.

Back at CES in January, AT&T announced plans to begin testing fixed residential 5G in Austin, TX at some point in the first half of 2017. Verizon, in the spirit of one-upmanship, countered with an announcement stating that they would begin rolling out trials in homes and offices across 11 cities throughout the next four months.

But, with the ambiguity of what actually constitutes 5G at this stage, plus the fact that the tech might not be quite what these companies would have you believe just yet, is it simply a case of advertising peacocking? Or, is the future of connectivity just around the corner?

So, is anybody sure what 5G is yet?

Firstly, before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth pointing out that, to date, there actually isn’t a universally accepted standard for 5G technologies, as much as these companies would love to suggest otherwise. So, at this stage, it’s not a whole lot more than a marketing buzzword, and these tests are more of a proof of concept rather than a distinct finished product.

To be fair to them, the assumption has always been that a next-generation (read “5G”) service will be not only be much faster than standard LTE, but it will also be far better suited for the upcoming Internet of Things, and, seeing as the FCC has already started the process of including “5G” as an accepted term, you can at least forgive Verizon and AT&T for their enthusiasm.

Because of a lack of a standard for 5G, nobody really knows what speeds to expect. AT&T said it expects to see download speeds of 400Mbps, with improvements after implementation improving to 1Gbps by the end of the year. Verizon, on the other hand, are yet to comment on what speeds the pilot markets can expect when the trials begin.

Verizon did however state in their announcement that they will be working alongside their Technical Forum partners Intel, Samsung, Ericsson and Qualcomm, as well as peers in the telecommunications industry in Canada, Japan, and South Korea to work towards establishing the global standard for 5G.

For a lucky few, 5G testing begins soon – but what’s the catch?

Verizon have chosen the test cities and areas based on their proximity to newly built 5G equipment sites which, apparently, will be updated and evolving throughout the year. And, as exciting as that is, CNET were quick to make it known that the 5G trial in the 11 markets isn’t a truly mobile one.

These 11 markets earmarked for field trials are Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta; Bernardsville, New Jersey; Brockton, Massachusetts; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Miami; Sacramento; Seattle and Washington, DC. Whilst that is bad news for speed-freaks not living in any of these cities, the good news is that anyone is eligible regardless of whether they have a Verizon landline or are an existing wireless customer.

We’ll have to wait even longer for the dream of magical mobile internet as the tests are for homes and offices, and simply replace the need for a DSL, modem and physical wires with a gigabit speed wireless broadband service.

Also, even if you live in one of the suggested trial cities, it’s not clear just how you go about getting involved. Verizon says that the test will take place in thousands of homes and offices close to their 5G equipment sites, and we’ll just have to wait with bated breath as to who gets to be a test driver.

Still, with other companies such as T-Mobile and Sprint having also recently talked about joining in the journey to 5G, this year is going to be a clear indicator as to the future of mobile internet.

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