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Verizon Posts Depressingly Skimpy 5G Coverage Maps…

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Verizon was the first US carrier to make a big push into 5G network technology. Its rival AT&T has had 5G almost as long, but customers still can’t buy 5G devices on AT&T’s network. Verizon, meanwhile, is loading its lineup with as many 5G phones as possible. Now, you can find out exactly where your Verizon 5G phone will work thanks to a new coverage map. Spoiler: the answer is “almost nowhere.”

The global 5G rollout is still in its infancy, but US carriers are in a tough spot. Many of the mid-band frequencies that are perfect for 5G are reserves for government and regulatory functions. So, the first wave of 5G in the US uses millimeter-wave technology. These signals reach into the tens of gigahertz, much higher than LTE. Millimeter-wave can carry a lot of data, which is how Verizon shows off those multi-gigabit speeds on mobile devices. However, they don’t propagate very far, and a wall will stop them dead. 

The 3G and 4G rollouts were far from perfect, but lighting up a city with those networks meant most of the city would get coverage. With 5G, Verizon is basically going street-by-street. Previously, it only provided vague coverage maps that pointed to cities with some 5G coverage. Now, you can look at maps that show which city blocks of the 18 current 5G markets have coverage. 

To check out the maps, simply head to Verizon’s page and click on a city. The zoomed-out view just has red dots in supported neighborhoods, but zoom in and you get more detail. If you scroll around a bit, you may also find some unexpected pockets of 5G. For example, Minneapolis was one of the two launch cities, but Verizon apparently started deploying 5G in the nearby Saint Paul downtown area at some point. You’d only know this if you scroll east in the Minneapolis map. 

These maps really drive home how much infrastructure carriers will need to deploy millimeter-wave on any appreciable scale. We’re talking small-cell 5G radios on every street corner, and that’s just for outdoor coverage. If you want millimeter-wave inside, you’ll need even more antennas. 

Carriers hope to augment their 5G networks with lower-frequency spectrum in the coming years. This won’t be as fast, but it will work over 4G-like distances. However, T-Mobile is the only carrier talking about specifics with its upcoming 600MHz deployment. It also hopes to use Sprint’s 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum for 5G after the merger.

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