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The first 5G phone

the Moto Z3 with a 5G Mod slapped on the back

Verizon’s activation of its 5G network is far from a wide launch. Officially, the network is only live in Chicago, Illinois, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While Chicago is a sizable city, and Minneapolis isn’t small, the actual availability of 5G in each city is still limited.

For now, only a handful of Chicago wards are covered in the 5G network, and Verizon hasn’t released any coverage map for customers to see.

These are dense areas of Chicago, including Magnificent Mile (specifically the Verizon store), Gold Coast, Old Town, River North, and portions of South Loop and West Loop. Milwaukee’s 5G coverage areas are in Downtown West, Downtown East, Elliot Park, and the Mall of America’s Verizon Store.
Aside from the hands-on in the Magnificent Mile Verizon Store where the launch event took place, we knew getting to experience 5G in the wild might take a bit of work.

We needed both the Moto Z3, the 5G Moto Mod, an unlimited data plan from Verizon, and we had to pay a special $10 5G service fee (at present, the $10 fee is waived) on top of the data plan to access the 5G network. In the end, the hardware cost us $749 at the store (without opting for a contract where there are some discounts), and service will cost about $100 a month.

In the Verizon Store where the launch event took place, there was a 5G node set up at the front. And, with a short distance between the Moto Z3 and the node, with line of sight, the device managed to hit 651Mbps downstream. Compare that to a later test on the 4G network that hit 213Mbps downstream. Meanwhile, upstream data actually only uses 4G, so there’s no speed boost for that.

How does that speed translate into real-world performance?

All the 1080p videos on YouTube started playing promptly as we flicked through one after another. Scrubbing through each video’s runtime caused a momentary pause before playback resumed. However, after switching over to 4G, we didn’t see much of a difference while doing the same thing.
Since most of us don’t use our mobile network just to run speed tests, we jumped right onto the Play Store to download the hefty 1.81GB PUBG Mobile game. On the 5G network, the download took just shy of 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Repeating the download on the 4G network, the download took 6 minutes and 8 seconds.

So, while the 5G network is clearly the faster of the two, it’s not by an order of magnitudeg