After a rough start, Verizon, the top wireless services provider in the US, showed off the blazing speeds that 5G is capable of. Now it's Sprint's turn. In a bid to prove its 5G readiness, the country's fourth-largest network operator turned on its network in areas of Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City. In the coming weeks, Sprint expects to launch service in parts of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. The company claims the roughly 2,180 square miles of coverage makes it the largest 5G network in the country.
Ahead of the May 31 launch of the LG V50 — a unique 5G phone distinguished by its second-screen attachment — Sprint gave CNET the opportunity to try out the phone and its 5G coverage in Dallas. We put the LG V50 through multiple tests in a variety of locations to preview what consumers can expect from the service and whether they should consider buying in yet.
Sprint is the latest to company to hitch its wagon to the excitement over 5G. In perfect conditions, 5G will allow us to download movies to our phones in seconds or stream AR/VR games without lag. Beyond phones, it could revolutionize whole industries, from self-driving cars to remote medical procedures. 5G is still a work in progress, though, and is years away from reaching those levels of speed, coverage or reliability. But like the other wireless carriers, Sprint wants lead the way in giving its customers a next-generation experience.
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Here are what some of my first test looked like:
Test: Downloading apps and games
We used the speedtest.net app to compare 5G speeds on the LG V50 to 4G LTE on the LG G8. Average download speed was 109 megabits per second over six trials, compared to 3.74 megabit per second download on the G8. That's impressive, but not nearly as fast as what we saw on Verizon's 5G network earlier this month. which topped out at one gigabyte per second. Note however that Verizon's millimeter wave-based network is faster but has a shorter range, where as Sprint's mid-band spectrum allows more people on the network at once.
We also timed how long it would take to download PUBG Mobile, a 1.86GB file. The V50 took only three minutes and 31 seconds to download and install the game, whereas, the G8 on 4G LTE had only installed 73MB (3% of the file) of the game in that same period.
Finally, we downloaded the first episode of Blue Planet 2 on Netflix. The 50 minute episode took 49 seconds to fully download on v50. The G8 on 4G LTE wasn't even a quarter of the way through downloading the episode in that same period.
Test: 5G on the go, in a bus
Driving around Dallas in a bus, we looked at Sprint's 5G speeds and consistency. We watched the data speeds of a V50 on screens near our seats. On the left of the screen we watched the download rate, which we've seen top out above 700Mbps so far. Every now and then the rate dips to 4G speeds as the device starts a new cycle during testing, but Sprint claims when users experience a handoff, they will not notice any discernible differences. On the right is our route in green in 5G. When we switch to LTE, the route is supposed to turn black, but so far we haven't seen a switch, which is good because it means the network is reliable.
The speeds aren't quite as fast the 1-gigabit-plus speeds CNET editor Jessica Dolcourt saw in Chicago with Verizon, but it's still respectable. Keep in mind, Verizon is using what's known as millimeter-wave spectrum, or higher frequency radio airwaves that deliver incredible speeds, but has limited range.
5G landscape in the US