The Wall Street Journal

Testing 5G: Pack Your Tent and Cooler


All of the major U.S. carriers—Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint—are launching 5G signals across the U.S. The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern embarked on a summer 5G testing tour only to learn that 5G is blazing fast... if you're outside, near a cell tower, with some way to keep the phone cool.

Photo Illustration: Adele Morgan

#WSJ #5G

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(bright music)
- Nope, this is not a video about urban camping.
It's about 5G testing, and yes,
why the best 5G experience you can get right now
is on the streets of the biggest U.S. cities,
in a camping tent, with a fan, and a cooler.
I'm dead serious about the cooler.
It's all gonna make sense soon, I promise.
But first, some 5G basic.
5G is the network that comes after 4G, or LTE,
and it's gonna be so fast, it's gonna knock your socks off.
People are crazy hyped about 5G
and all of the innovation it's supposed to bring.
All four of the U.S. carriers,
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile,
have just started rolling out 5G in pockets of the U.S.
To get real 5G, you need a new phone.
The $1,300 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is one of the first,
and it's available on all the carriers.
So, over the last few weeks, I packed up my gear
and embarked on a 5G testing tour.
I hit up four U.S. cities to test all four
of the U.S. carriers' 5G networks with Samsung's new phones.
That's what I'm doing here in Chicago:
testing Sprint and Verizon's network.
Turns out 5G is freaking fast, when you're outdoors,
and you're standing in the right spot,
and it's not too hot out,
and the stars are aligned just right.
Right here in Chicago, I'm getting crazy fast speeds
on Verizon's 5G network,
and got even higher speeds in Denver last week.
On speed tests, I've been getting
around 900 megabits per second.
That's about 25 times as fast as the average LTE download,
an that's at least nine times faster than my home wifi.
In Denver, I got even faster speeds.
In some spots, I hit 1,800 megabits per second.
It was nuts.
I've been able to download a 10 gigabyte file
in two minutes and 40 seconds,
the whole latest season of Stranger Things,
or 2.1 gigabytes: 34 seconds.
On LTE, that can take an hour.
A 2.5 gigabyte game on 5G?
50 seconds!
Right now in the U.S., no matter where you are
or what network you're on, only downloads use 5G,
so if you upload a video or a file,
you'll get 4G speeds.
Once the networks evolve, those uploads will get faster too.
Here in New York City, on T-Mobile's network,
I've been getting closer to 300 to 400 megabits per second,
not as fast in Verizon in Chicago and Denver
or AT&T, which I tested in Atlanta,
but still fast enough to download that 10 gigabyte file
in just under five minutes.
In my tests, AT&T and Verizon tied for the fastest speeds.
I wish I could tell you those speeds are everywhere,
and the coverage is wonderful,
and the world has changed forever.
But no.
Here in Chicago, it's crazy fast,
because there's a Verizon 5G node, or cell, right there.
See that?
That's what broadcasting the signal.
But when I move my tent up the block, say 400 to 600 feet,
I get no 5G signal, only 4G.
Same thing happens with T-Mobile's network
in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
And when I go indoors, I drop right back to 4G.
This is because of the types of 5G
being implemented right now.
The type currently being used by Verizon,
AT&T and T-Mobile is called millimeter wave.
It's very fast but only covers shorter distances
and doesn't penetrate walls, concrete, or other obstacles.
The other type is called mid-band 5G,
and it's being used by Sprint,
which just launched its 5G service here in Chicago.
It's not as fast, but it has much wider coverage
and better signal penetration.
In this spot, I'm getting around 300 megabits per second
on Sprint's network.
I can take my tent anywhere in the city and get coverage.
I can even go inside my hotel lobby.
And while the speeds are not blistering,
it's still pretty decent.
I downloaded the latest season of Stranger Things
in three minutes and 20 seconds.
Yeah, it seems pretty crazy that right now
you have to be outdoors or in a camping tent
to get 5G signal on at least three of the networks.
As the carriers or the networks add more spectrum,
it should improve.
This brings me to the biggest problem of them all:
the heat.
Throughout my testing, the Verizon, AT&T,
and T-Mobile Galaxy 5G phones would get very warm,
due to the hot summer sun
and sometimes one or two download tests,
and the phone would just turn off 5G and go back to 4G.
Yep, bye-bye signal.
This didn't happen with the Sprint version.
At times, I registered the phone
getting over 100 degrees with this laser thermometer.
The tent provided much-needed shade,
and a fan or air conditioning
actually seems to cool down the back.
But a few minutes in the cooler helps the most.
In fact, engineers testing these phones
have told me they use ice as well.
Another solution?
Just use 5G at night.
A Samsung spokeswoman says this thermal management is done,
"by design to minimize energy usage
"and optimize battery performance."
"As 5G technology and the ecosystem evolve,
"it's only going to get better," she added.
We're clearly at the starting line
of this so-called 5G race.
It's very early days, and very not ready for you.
But even just the first taste of the speeds
make me excited about what's to come:
blazing fast connections,
even when you're not roughing it in the wild.
Should have gotten the two-person.

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