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My second bout with Verizon's wildly improved 5G network fills me with hope

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

I'm no stranger to Chicago. I make the three-hour drive from my Indianapolis home to the Windy City something like thirty times a year for various concerts and events, and it's where I got to attend my very first press event for the launch of the Moto X back in 2013. So I love that it's one of the two test areas (alongside Minneapolis) for Verizon's budding 5G network.

I stopped by Motorola's headquarters at the Merchandise Mart early last month to try it out, following the launch of the Moto Z3's long-awaited 5G Moto Mod. The speeds I saw while walking around the city were impressive, averaging around 500 Mbps, but the network was clearly not cut out for prime time just yet. Holding a solid connection for more than a few minutes was seemingly impossible, and the slightest obstacle blocking your view of a 5G node yielded dramatically lower results.

With that in mind, I was pretty skeptical when I was offered another opportunity to test Verizon's 5G network just five weeks later, aligning with the release of yet another compatible device, Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G. Thankfully, it turns out five weeks is enough time to completely turn an underwhelming network around.

It's far easier to find and maintain a 5G connection than during my previous visit.

I spent about two hours walking around the River North area of Chicago on an uncharacteristically warm and sunny evening. Before I even started running speed tests, I noticed something different from my last visit; the Galaxy S10 5G wasn't frantically popping in and out of a 5G connection, it was maintaining it whenever I was in range of a node.

That's a huge improvement on its own, aided by the fact that there were quite a few more nodes around the city than before. Moving southwest of the Verizon flagship store on Michigan Avenue, where I was lent an S10 5G for the evening, there were several nodes within walking distance.

Just five minutes down the road, there's a 5G node by the Chick-Fil-A on Pearson and Wabash. Continuing down Grand Avenue, there was a node next to the Binny's by Franklin Street, and another just a block over on Orleans Street.

Sweet, sweet 5G.

Once I started running speed tests, all bets were off. Starting with the node off of Pearson and Wabash, my very first Ookla run yielded a whopping 650 Mbps down — that's better than any test I ran during my last visit with the Moto Z3 just last month, and it was only the beginning. It only took two more tests moving a bit closer to the node to exceed gigabit speeds with a result of 1134 Mbps. That wasn't just a fluke, either; moving to another node on Wells Street between Ohio and Grand, I hit 1498 Mbps down. Wirelessly. On a cell phone.

As remarkable as those speeds are, they're largely dependent on your proximity to the 5G node. Verizon says you'll see the best results standing about 100-300 feet away from a node, and that standing directly underneath it can be just as bad as standing too far away. Sure enough, running a speed test from about 30 feet away gave me much slower results, with one test yielding about 394 Mbps down — what a world where those sorts of speeds can be mentioned as the "slower results."

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If you're wondering about the mere double-digit upload speeds, don't worry. Verizon representatives stated that uploads still aren't enabled over 5G just yet, so those results are from Verizon's LTE network instead.

Now speed tests are impressive, but they don't mean much if real world usage doesn't live up to the high expectations they set. Of course, it's not as simple as "fast speeds = fast everything," and you'll be bottlenecked by the platforms and services you're using.

Netflix and Amazon have both optimized their streaming platforms for Verizon's 5G network, meaning you can download TV shows and movies at blisteringly fast speeds — I downloaded Wine Country, a 105-minute movie, from Netflix in just 20 seconds over 5G, and I saw colleagues download the same movie in even shorter times.

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Remarkable 5G speeds in Chicago.

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Slower speeds when standing close to a node.

On the other hand, the Google Play Store isn't optimized for 5G at the moment, meaning you won't get to reap the full benefits of a gigabit connection when downloading apps. PUBG took closer to three minutes to install — which to be clear, is still impressively fast, but nowhere near as instantaneous as my Netflix test. I'm told that Samsung's Galaxy Store is 5G-ready, though I didn't get the chance to try it out for myself.

There are still some other questions to answer in the coming weeks and months. We haven't seen how 5G speeds will hold up with thousands of people connected as more compatible devices roll out and the network becomes more ubiquitous in the coming years. It's also unclear when uploads over 5G will be enabled, or when 5G will spread beyond Chicago and Minneapolis (beyond the vague "end of the year" promise).

Speed test results.

Just like last time, I have a hard time recommending you go out and buy a 5G-capable phone right away — though if you're so inclined, the S10 5G is available now for a staggering $1300. Even now that Verizon is putting a hold on the premium charge for its new network, jumping the gun this early on is simply limiting your options and shelling out a ton of money for a service you'll only be able to use in busy areas of two cities nationwide for the time being.

But damn, if this isn't the most promising example of 5G we've seen yet. The improvements made in just the last five weeks are staggering, and I can't wait to see how Verizon's network performs in another few months. If you're still not excited for 5G, you're not paying enough attention.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

  • Pretty cool if you are going to download large amounts of data while standing under a traffic light. I'll be impressed when I can get those results while sitting on my couch at 8pm using this service as my home internet. I am perfectly happy with the 20Mbps I currently get on my cell phone and wouldn't have a reason to pay a premium for more. You would be giving them extra money for the ability to take a screenshot of a really high internet speed test. On a phone what are the real world benefits of 5G vs the current LTE?
  • You want a cookie?
  • While 5G is obviously going to be the direction of the future for cell connections, there have been numerous reports and examples that state 5G will make no difference in our daily use of cellphones. And I'm inclined to agree. I use Netflix and such to stream and not download. I also stream all of my music. The current 4GLTE speeds are more than enough to do this - reliably - on my current phone. Additionally, this report makes it seem like the Z3 with the mod is not as fast as the Samsung. However, the author states that there are more 5G nodes and the service has been improved. What did this do to the Moto device? Is it still slow? Design flaw? Or, is it just as fast as the Samsung? What's the point of 5G if you have to be that close to a node to achieve speeds that allow you do things that you normally wouldn't do for the sake of a "cool" screenshot? What will the real application of this technology be?
  • The real application will be bragging rights. Unless the carriers have true unlimited plans, most folks will still do their big downloads at home, and the Google photo uploads will still be over Wi-Fi or 4g if you change the settings. I use my mobile data for streaming or web browsing, which is no problem. I kinda prefer not having to stand in a 200 foot sweet spot anyway, and I like getting signal in the 3rd basement of an 80 year old building with 2 foot thick walls.
  • Wow! Cool! Such a great trade off for messing up our weather forcasting /sarcasim.
  • While i think it is cool to have 5G you won't see it happening in most places for 5 years. I live in the Phoenix area and the metro area is a good 80 miles across, East to West. There are still dead spots in the LTE signals. To cover a metro area this big (Yikes think Dallas!) is one hell of a lot of "Nodes" I will believe it when i see it! I wonder if someday Data service will be split from cell service. Example use VZW for calls and texts and Google Fibre for Data. Just like you can do with cable tv. One company for internet and one for TV
  • If I could RELIABLY use it to connect my home electronics ESPECIALLY 4K on Netflix and game online with it......then thats a winner for me! Thats how I would use it at least since I don't have wifi at home.
  • Meanwhile here in the Panhandle of Florida, I am getting 2.88 mgps. Why do we think they will build 5G out properly when they don't even fully develop their 4G?
  • This is great and all, but how consistent will it be and remain once widespread? I remember the early days of LTE getting 150+ speeds all the time, and now I am lucky ot get 15 consistently. I hope when this is more widespread that it is able to maintain consistent speeds (I do not need 1.5 gig speeds).