Verizon’s 5G network delivers the fastest speeds of any carrier, and Verizon has kept its 5G rollout schedule on track, with more cities set to join the mix later this year.
But it hasn’t been an unqualified success. As fast as Verizon’s 5G network is, its coverage isn’t that extensive compared to what rival phone carriers can provide. And it’s only now beginning to add more affordable 5G devices to its product lineup.
Here’s a closer look at Verizon 5G — including coverage maps, plans, 5G phones, 5G home internet, hotspot use and more.
Verizon 5G network: How it works
To get its 5G network off the ground, Verizon leaned heavily into millimeter wave (mmWave). While both AT&T and T-Mobile have used mmWave to some extent, their initial 5G efforts have concentrated more on using lower-band spectrum for more extensive coverage.
The different approaches explain the different experience you might have on the carriers’ respective 5G networks. mmWave-based 5G is fast, as we’ll detail below. But it has a hard time going around obstacles or penetrating walls and glass. The sub-6GHz spectrum that makes up the bulk of 5G coverage for AT&T and T-Mobile has a more extensive reach, but speeds are only marginally faster than LTE.
Verizon isn’t going to rely solely on mmWave for its 5G network in the future. It’s going to turn to a technology called dynamic spectrum sharing that will allow the wireless carrier to share spectrum between 4G and 5G, with more demanding tasks like downloads and live streams getting the higher spectrum. “We’re going to have low band, mid band, high band, and we’ll be using use cases to direct the right usage for the right network,” said Nicki Palmer, Verizon’s chief product development officer..
Look for Verizon to make more progress the rest of this year extending its network’s reach. For now, though, when you hop on a Verizon 5G signal, it’s likely using mmWave — or Ultra Wideband, as Verizon’s been calling it.
Verizon 5G coverage map
As of this writing, Verizon offers 5G coverage in 36 cities, including parts of eight of the 10 most populous cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose,. Calif.). Verizon has a complete 5G coverage map on its website.
Just because Verizon has 5G coverage in a particular city, that doesn’t mean the entire city is covered. Rather, Verizon’s 5G coverage is usually concentrated in highly trafficked areas downtown. You also generally need to be within line of sight of a Verizon 5G small cell in order to get 5G coverage — so don’t expect 5G to be everywhere you roam.
In addition to 5G towers in cities, Verizon has also put its 5G cells inside half of NFL stadiums and select NBA and NHL arenas (not that anyone’s spending much time in any of those places during the coronavirus pandemic). The 5G coverage in those venues doesn’t extend all areas — just select sections — but it does illustrate that one of the best uses of mmWave 5G is in specific areas where there are a lot of people looking for cellular coverage.
Verizon 5G speed
Expect fast speeds if you’ve got a 5G-phone tied to Verizon’s network.
Our experience with the Galaxy S20 Ultra earlier this year is illustrative. Using the phone on Verizon’s network, we saw download speeds top 1.4 Gbps; T-Mobile’s performance over 5G was barely faster than its LTE network. And while Verizon’s 5G coverage was initially limited to just download speeds, fast uploads now occur over 5G as well
There’s just one problem with these fast Verizon numbers. To enjoy the 1 Gbps-plus speeds, you need to be in sight of a Verizon 5G tower. That means standing outdoors, and even then performance can be spotty. In some of our tests, we’ve gotten a 5G signal on one street corner, only to revert back to LTE once we crossed the road.
A May 2020 report from OpenSignal reflects our experience with Verizon’s 5G. OpenSignal says that Verizon has the fastest 5G speeds of any carrier with an average download speed of 506.1 Mbps. But it also has the lowest 5G availability — a paltry 0.5% to 19.8% for T-Mobile’s nationwide network.
Verizon 5G phones
Given Verizon’s status as one of the best phone carriers, if there’s a 5G phone available, you’ll likely find it at Big Red. That includes 5G-capable flagships from Samsung, and presumably, when the 5G-ready iPhone 12 models arrive later this year, they’ll land at Verizon, too.
Verizon has even lined up a few exclusives for 5G phones. It’s the only place you can get the Motorola Edge Plus, a $999 flagship phone from Motorola. Verizon also sells phones in the Moto Z series — add the Moto 5G Mod to the back of a Moto Z4 or Moto Z3, and you’ll be able to hop on Verizon’s 5G network as well.
5G phones at Verizon generally cost as much as they do at other carriers, but there are some exceptions. In a few cases, phone makers have to develop special versions of phones to work with Verizon’s mmWave network, and that translates to higher costs. The Samsung Galaxy A71 5G, for example, costs $649 at Verizon — a $50 premium over what other carriers charge. The LG Velvet and OnePlus 8 cost $100 more at Verizon than they do at other carriers.
These are the 5G-capable phones currently available at Verizon.
Verizon 5G plans and costs
Here’s some good news — adding 5G coverage to your Verizon service won’t cost anything extra. That is, if you have the right unlimited data plan.
Three of Verizon’s four unlimited data plans include 5G coverage as an included benefit. So if you want 5G at no extra cost, sign up for a Verizon Play More, Do More or Get More plan. The first two plans each cost $80 a month for a single line of data; Get More is the most expensive plan at $90 a month. There are discounts as you add more lines, so a family of four would pay $180 a month for four lines of Play More, which happens to be the best Verizon phone plan.
There’s one other unlimited data plan available at Verizon — Start Unlimited. It’s the cheapest of Verizon’s current unlimited data options at $70 a month, but it also doesn’t include 5G coverage. To get 5G with a Start Unlimited plan, you’ll need to pay an extra $10 a month. At that point, you’re better off opting for the Play More or Get More plans.
Verizon 5G hotspot
Verizon restricts hotspot speeds on its unlimited data plans to LTE. If you want a 5G hotspot, you’ll need to get a dedicated device. Verizon sells the Inseego 5G MiFi M1000 hotspot, but it’s a pretty pricey proposition. At $650, this 5G hotspot is three times the price of the Jetpack 8800L, another Verizon-compatible hotspot that we happen to consider the best mobile hotspot.
Verizon 5G home internet
Verizon’s 5G efforts extend beyond just wireless coverage. The company currently offers 5G home internet service in six cities; it hopes to hit 10 by year’s end.
You’ll need to check Verizon for 5G home internet availability, but unless you live in specific parts of Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis, Detroit or Sacramento, you’re out of luck until Verizon expands its service. 5G home internet costs $50 a month if you have a qualifying phone plan with Verizon and $70 without; the first three months are free.
Verizon says to expect typical speeds of 300 Mbps with home 5G coverage. Top speeds can reach 940 Mbps.
Verizon 5G: What’s next
Verizon ended 2019 with 31 cities enjoying some 5G coverage. It plans to double that number this year. And if last year is any guide, expect 2020 to have a flurry of cities joining Verizon’s 5G network. It’s not just about adding cities, though. Verizon has said it plans to expand its 5G footprint wherever its network reaches, which means a wider area will be covered by mmWave.
Meanwhile, the reach of 5G networks from AT&T and T-Mobile puts some pressure on Verizon to offer nationwide 5G coverage of its own. That’s going to happen using DSS technology, and the carrier expects to move toward that in the latter half of this year.
Verizon’s laid some of the groundwork to handle the added interest in 5G, but the Verizon 5G network remains a work in progress.