What was your first time (connecting to a 5G signal) like?

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When this happened to you for the first time, did the earth move? Was it an experience that you’ll never forget? More importantly, no one can insult your equipment as you are no longer a virgin-a 5G virgin. Oh, didn’t we say that we were writing about consumers’ first time accessing a 5G signal? What else could we be discussing?

The difference between Low-Band, Mid-Band, and mmWave 5G

Most likely, your first experience with a 5G signal was or will be similar to what this writer went through. Coming from a phone that did not support 5G, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, yours truly purchased the Pixel 6 Pro which supports high-band mmWave 5G (for the fastest 5G service potentially as fast as 3Gbps), mid-band 5G (which delivers 5G download speed as fast as 1Gbps, and low-band 5G which allows your phone to run at download speeds as low as 50Mbps and as high as 150Mbps).

Because mmWave signals do not travel that far, it is almost an accident when Verizon users can connect to the carrier’s fastest 5G service. On the other hand, low-band 5G signals travel great distances making them available often. However, to repeat ourselves, low-band 5G signals are not much faster than LTE. But as it turns out, mid-band 5G is easier to find than mmWave 5G and it is faster than low-band with download speeds peaking at 1Gbps.
Verizon used to call its mmWave service 5G UltraWideband service with all of the good features of mmWave 5G such as peak data speeds in the 1Gbps-3Gbps range, and all of the bad features including the impossibility of finding such a signal on your handset. Those able to connect to Verizon’s fastest 5G service would be rewarded with a 5G UW icon on their phone’s status bar.

But earlier this year, Verizon quickly increased the odds that your phone could connect to a faster 5G UW signal. How did Verizon do this? Did it use some new connectivity technology? Not quite. It simply changed the definition of Ultra Wideband service to include both mmWave and C-band networks. Thus, the easier-to-find C-band, which delivers mid-band 5G service faster than low-band but slower than mmWave, makes it more likely that users will get to enjoy 5G download speeds that are faster than what you are seeing now.

Get the Google Pixel 6 Pro and you’ll have support for both mmWave and sub-6 GHz 5G

The first time that this writer saw the 5G icon lit up on the Pixel 6 Pro, it was the low-band version of Verizon’s 5G service that delivered a download data speed of 87.9Mbps. That is certainly faster than LTE, but nowhere near the data speeds that would allow users to download full-length movies in seconds.

Just yesterday, while in the vicinity of Salem Hospital (in Mass.), I noticed that for the first time I was getting the 5G UW icon on the Pixel 6 Pro status bar, Trying to take advantage of the situation, yours truly quickly tapped the Speedtest app and it showed a download data speed of over 200Mbps. The service is zippier to be sure, but nowhere near the 1Gbps that some mid-band users have achieved.

Once carriers can deliver consistently fast 5G download data speeds, the potential of 5G can be met

And once carriers can start delivering1Gbps-3Gbps download data speeds continuously, we could be ready to see the promise of 5G such as the ability to feel safe in a self-driving car. Remote operations can be a normal everyday experience with a West Coast based surgeon able to operate on a patient in an East Coast OR using robots connected to a 5G network.

So while it was a cool experience to connect to Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network, just a few weeks before this incident took place, I almost decided to disable the feature on my Pixel 6 Pro that has the phone constantly on the lookout for a 5G network. This, I figured, would save battery life. But had I done that, I never would have connected to Verizon’s 5G UltraWideband service.

There is a long way to go before 5G can accomplish everything that we expect it to in the near future. In the meantime, those with the right phone at the right time and in the right place can get a glimpse-just a glimpse- of what the future might hold for 5G.

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