The 5G Paradox: Speed Versus Coverage

Verizon’s 5G millimeter wave and Sprint’s mid-band networks are faster than current LTE speeds, according to data collected by Ookla’s Speedtest.

Verizon Wireless’ 5G cellular network speeds are astoundingly faster than current LTE offerings and competitor Sprint Corp.’s soon to be the new T-Mobile mid-band networks. The tradeoff, though, is that Sprint provides the better coverage.

Verizon’s network, which is using millimeter-wave spectrum in the 28 GHz band, was 800% faster than LTE with download speeds of 870.43 Mbps, according to data collected by Ookla’s Speedtest. Sprint’s mid-band network, which uses 2.5GHz spectrum, was nearly 300% faster than current LTE, clocking in at an average of 236.09 Mbps.

The analysis compared the performance of the two carriers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, and Providence using Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G smartphones. These use the Snapdragon X50 modem, which is designed to support 5G smartphones, and when paired with a Snapdragon processor can provide multi-mode 4G/5G capability via dual connectivity.

Verizon’s network was able to achieve an average of nearly 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) in most markets, with peak 5G speeds reaching the 2 Gbps threshold in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Providence. For perspective, at 1.3 Gbps, one could download an entire movie on a smartphone in fifteen seconds.

Sprint’s network averages ranged between 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps reaching a peak 5G speed of 724.33 Mbps last month in Chicago.

5G uploads speeds for both carriers also demonstrated marked improvements compared to LTE. Verizon’s millimeter wave was nearly 150% faster than LTE with 50 Mbps compared to Sprint’s which came in at about 80% faster than LTE at 20 Mbps.

When it comes to delivering lighting fast speeds, Verizon’s network is a clear winner. However, propagation continues to be a challenge for millimeter-wave frequency bands, which are limited to outdoor locations in dense urban areas with large capacity requirements.

According to Samsung, which has partnered with Verizon to commercialize 5G fixed wireless in four U.S. cities this year, propagating millimeter-wave 5G outdoors and fixed wireless indoors using CPEs is achievable without compromising speed. However, transitioning from outdoors to indoors remains a significant issue for millimeter-wave.  5G signals that rely on millimeter-wave don’t propagate well through walls, windows, people, water, and water vapor.

And indoors is where more than 80% of cellular data originates and terminates, which means that in a 5G connected world – data will need to get in and out fast and seamlessly if carriers plan to offer customers a true 5G experience.

Sprint’s 5G 2.5 GHz network, which is significantly slower but covers much larger swaths of land, may be better suited for indoor propagation. But while Verizon and others are trying to find ways to make 5G millimeter frequencies perform ubiquitously indoors and out, there’s another problem brewing. 5G millimeter wave smartphones are not performing well in temperatures above 85 degrees, according to numerous reports by users testing smartphones on the new networks.

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal revealed that 5G switched off during the summer heat when testing the Samsung Galaxy S10. The overheating problem is related to Qualcomm’s first-generation 5G modem chipsets and is plaguing numerous carriers.

“On a hot Las Vegas morning, my two Galaxy S10 5G phones kept overheating and dropping to 4G,” statedPCMag Lead Mobile Analyst Sascha Segan. “This behavior is happening with all of the millimeter-wave, first-generation, Qualcomm X50-based phones when temperatures hit or exceed 85 degrees. We saw it with T-Mobile in New York, with Verizon in Providence, and now with AT&T in Las Vegas. It’s happened on Samsung and LG phones, with Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia network hardware.”

Unlike 4G LTE which integrates everything into one chip, 5G chipsets require numerous chips, including one for the 5G millimeter wave modem and one for antenna modules. As a result, current 5G chipsets take up more space and generate more heat than their 4G counterparts. The good news is that better chips are on their way; Qualcomm’s second-generation 5G modem X55 expected out later this year may solve the overheating problem.

But until then, the draw for shelling out upwards of $1,000 for a too hot to handle 5G smartphone which only works well if you are outside or near a cell tower may have some customers cooling off on purchasing new handsets.


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