Testing Verizon's new 5G network in Chicago

Verizon's new mobile 5G network launched earlier this month in Chicago and Minneapolis, with plans to be in 30 cities by the end of 2019. Jessica Dolcourt, Section Editor for CNET (a sister site of TechRepublic), headed to the Windy City to test out the new network on April 3, 2019. Using a Moto Z3 with the 5G Moto Mod, Dolcourt conducted speed tests in four locations throughout Chicago.

SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Starting with the Verizon store on Michigan Avenue, Dolcourt tested the 5G node, and the results were mixed. She experienced intermittent 5G connectivity, often resorting to switching in and out of Airplane Mode to get the network to connect.

Unable to get a clean comparison test in the store, Dolcourt moved onto round two of testing at the Merchandise Mart, which is also the headquarters for Motorola. Across the street just outside of the Shamrock Club is another 5G node. While the speed tests were better, Dolcourt found that downloading the large PUBG app took six minutes, indicating that the phone was not receiving 5G speeds-the download time was the same as that of the 4G network.

For the third round of testing, Dolcourt utilized the 5G node right outside of the Chicago Art Institute. Standing directly underneath the node, she described the 5G service as "flickering," and even though she received 5G-level speeds during the speed test, the network completely stalled when she tried to download an episode from the Netflix app. Removing the 5G mod, Dolcourt tested the 4G network to see if it fared better but experienced the same issue.

The final test took place a couple blocks away from the famous Chicago Theater. Dolcourt conducted her tests in the same manner, but was unable to connect to the 5G network at all, despite standing directly beneath the node. She made several attempts to connect: Toggling in and out of Airplane Mode four times, removing and reattaching the 5G mod, only to discover that the mod had 0% power, meaning there was no way for her to connect. In this case, the node might not have been the issue, and there is no way to know how it would have performed during testing.

Here's what she said about how the testing went: "Not very well, actually. It was more like a wild goose chase. But remember: This network is only one-day old, so I wasn't expecting this to be amazing speeds with absolutely no problems whatsoever. But it was basically a complete and utter disaster, unfortunately." Dolcourt predicted that even a year from now, 5G phones will not be the norm, as not all cities or areas of cities will have coverage.

SEE: How 5G will transform business (ZDNet/TechRepublic Special report) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

But 4G will still be available and will be built out more alongside 5G development, meaning that 4G should be faster in the future. As Dolcourt observed, even though she did not always receive 5G speeds, 4G speeds were faster than usual during testing. Dolcourt also commented on the design of the Motorola phone and 5G mod, explaining that the typical user will likely not want to use an add-on. It's anticipated that phone makers are working on this issue, and Qualcomm is developing a new chip for the technology.

She stated that thinner, better functioning phones will be available closer to the 2019 holiday season. She also suggested that users will likely want to wait until the technology is tested more; for example, instead of buying a first- or second-wave 5G device, wait one to two years to receive a "more satisfying 5G experience." However, early adopters may have some advantages like faster overall speeds and downloading speeds. Eventually, other network options-like 4G-will fall by the wayside, and 5G will be the only option available.

For more of Jessica Dolcourt's in-depth coverage on 5G, check out her articles on CNET: Verizon's 5G network launch was rocky at best, but it has a plan and Testing Verizon's early 5G speeds was a mess, but I'm still excited about our data future.

Also see