In combination with Apple’s 5G iPhone 12 launch, Verizon has announced the immediate availability of its nationwide 5G network.
As US carriers have rolled out their 5G networks, Verizon has taken a much different approach than AT&T and T-Mobile. Until now, Verizon has largely focused on its high-band, mmWave 5G. AT&T and T-Mobile, while deploying mmWave of their own, were quick to roll out nationwide 5G networks using low-band spectrum. AT&T used its 850 MHz spectrum, while T-Mobile used 600 MHz.
While low-band spectrum doesn’t offer nearly the same speed as mmWave, it offers much better coverage and building penetration. In many cases, low-band 5G matches or exceeds 4G LTE’s range and penetration, much of which is in the 700 MHz range. Verizon now joins the other two carriers with a nationwide 5G network using its low-band spectrum.
Unfortunately, unlike T-Mobile and AT&T, Verizon does not have enough low-band spectrum to create a dedicated, nationwide 5G network. Instead, it has to use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to share the same spectrum between its 4G LTE and nationwide 5G networks. In pre-launch tests—the couple of days before the announcement when 5G started showing up on Verizon devices—the new network was actually slower than Verizon’s 4G LTE.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about the 5G being slower than 4G yet,” write Sascha Segan & Steven Winkelman for PCMag. “This is pre-launch and either our devices or the network may not have been fully configured. But I think 5G being the same speed as 4G is more relevant, because DSS 5G is really just a shell game. You get faster speeds when you add spectrum to a carrier’s pool. The power of 5G comes from its ability to use wider channels than 4G—up to 100MHz each where 4G channels max out at 20MHz.
“DSS simply shifts some existing 4G channels to 5G when they aren’t being used by 4G phones. So you’re going to end up with narrow odds and ends of airwaves that don’t expand the carrier’s portfolio any, but let it show a “5G” indicator for marketing purposes.”
It remains to be seen how Verizon’s nationwide 5G network will stack up now that it’s officially launched. If the early tests are to be believed, however, it shows why T-Mobile is widely considered the 5G carrier to beat, especially with its acquisition of spectrum-rich Sprint.