Verizon Brings Mobile 5G Service to Houston Metro Area

Verizon Wireless is the second cellular carrier to offer publicly available 5G mobile service in Houston, though its Ultra Wideband product initially is limited to a handful of locations around the city.

by Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle / November 20, 2019

(TNS) — Verizon Wireless on Tuesday became the second cellular carrier to offer publicly available 5G mobile service in Houston, though its Ultra Wideband product initially is limited to handful of locations around the city.

Verizon, the second-largest mobile provider, began selling 5G broadband service as home internet access in Houston in October 2018, but is only now expanding its offering for use with smartphones and mobile hotspots.

The company said the service will be available in limited areas at first: the EaDo area east of downtown; the Uptown area north of The Galleria; Greenway Plaza; the Museum District; and Rice Village. It will also be available in places where people gather en masse, including outside The Galleria and at NRG Stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium and Rice Stadium.

Those are locations where Verizon can erect a large number of the small cell transmitters required for the type of signal it’s using for 5G, known as millimeter wave, or mmWave, said Guillero Salinas, Verizon’s director of network performance for the Houston area.

Sprint was the first carrier to make mobile 5G service publicly available in Houston, turning on its service earlier this year. T-Mobile announced in early November that it would light up its 5G network on Dec. 6 nationally, including here. AT&T has 5G service in Houston, but it is limited by invitation only to “select” business customers.

The next generation of wireless data service, 5G is the successor to the near-ubiquitous 4G LTE. It features dramatically faster speeds as well as lower latency, which is the time it takes for data to be sent to a device that requests it. Its proponents believe it has the potential to create a whole new class of applications, ranging from telemedicine to self-driving vehicles to so-called “smart cities” bristling with real-time sensors.

Millimeter wave’s high-frequencies can’t travel very far, and have a difficult time penetrating solid barriers such as building walls and dense foliage. A demonstration Monday of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband capabilities was conducted out in the open, in a parking lot at the corner of Fairdale and Chimney Rock in southwest Houston.

Speed tests showed downloads of 1.7 gigabits per second, and uploads ranging from 12 megabits per second to over 100 megabits. Salinas also downloaded “Shadow,” a 115-minute movie, from Netflix in about 5 seconds on a 5G-capable Android smartphone. Those dramatic speeds would not be possible inside a building.

Nationally, the 4G LTE standard has an average download speed of 33.88 Mbps, according to Ookla, which makes the popular SpeedTest.net app.

Heidi Hemmer, Verizon’s vice president of network technology, said the company plans to expand its 5G footprint in Houston, and expects to include frequencies that can better penetrate barriers.

“Along with launching new cities, we’ll also be adding nodes in the cities where we’ve already launched,” she said. “We’ll soon be putting maps on our external websites that let you see where 5G is available.”

An initial version of the Houston map is already available.

Hemmer added that 4G customers should also see a boost in speeds as Verizon’s network beefs up to handle 5G capacity.

“In our testing we’ve seen speeds as high as 400 Mbps on 4G,” she said.

Salinas said Verizon is tuning the network for speedy downloads for now, but said the company “has the flexibility” to change that. In instances where faster uploads make more sense, such as at a sporting event where people want to share photos and videos, those speeds can be boosted.

“You go to the Super Bowl to say ‘I was here’ and upload a photo, not to watch the game,” he said.

Houston is one of three U.S. cities getting Verizon’s mobile 5G on Tuesday, along with Boston and Sioux Falls, S.D. Verizon now has mobile 5G in 18 U.S. cities, and expects to have active 5G mobile networks in more than 30 cities before the year is out.

The 5G service requires one of Verizon’s unlimited plans, starting at $35 a month, and requires the use of a smartphone or mobile hotspot capable of working with Verizon’s mmWave frequencies. A fee of $10 extra is charged for Verizon’s lowest-cost plan, Starter Unlimited, but is waived for its other, more costly plans.

Verizon spokesperson Kate Jay said there are seven 5G phones available for the Verizon network, including handsets from Samsung, LG and Motorola.

©2019 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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