You might have heard that 5G is here. Now you can get on your phone and download an entire movie in a couple of seconds, right?
For most consumers, the wait for 5G is kind of like downloading a movie to your phone: something's happening. Just give it a little longer, it’s coming.
But, if you’re in South Korea, downtown Chicago or Minneapolis and you have the right phone, the right plan and maybe a gizmo to help your phone out a bit, — then go watch your movie – it was there a while ago. You have all the promised wonder of gigabit speeds.
The rest of you can read this while your pitiful 4G phone buffers.
What is 5G And Just How Fast Is It?
"5G' refers to the fifth generation of mobile connective technology. And how fast is it? We’re talking at least 20 times, and possibly as much as 100 times faster than the 4G most phones run on now.
Who Has 5G?
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) this week proudly touted its victory in the race to offer mobile 5G, saying its mobile network — limited though it may be to parts of Chicago and Minneapolis — is the first.
"Verizon customers will be the first in the world to have the power of 5G in their hands," Verizon CEO and Chairman Hans Vestberg said.
Readers might recall that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) said back in December that it flipped the switch on 5G in some cities?
Not exactly. It turns out AT&T was making more of a transitional step. AT&T was heavily criticized by its competitors for saying it was rolling out 5G when what AT&T actually was turning on was something it came to call “5G Evolution.”
AT&T and Sprint, along with a fourth large carrier, T-Mobile US Inc. (Nasdaq: TMUS) all plan to have 5G mobile networks in at least some cities this year.
OK, Verizon said it was first, but so do some companies in South Korea.
South Korea will beat the U.S. on this one, in the sense that it became the first to turn on a nationwide 5G mobile network as of Friday. It's doable because, of course, South Korea is much smaller than the United States.
Koreans scrambled to make their network partially available a couple days early after hearing about Verizon's Chicago and Minneapolis plans, and one of the country's big telcos, SK Telecom, claims it was ahead of Verizon by a matter of hours.
All three big South Korean cell service companies — KT and LG Uplus, in addition to SK Telecom — did turn on their 5G speeds on Wednesday for a few customers. Customers who could tap the faster downloads on Wednesday included a K-pop star, an Olympic ice skater and the wife of one of KT's technicians.
“SK Telecom today announced that it has activated 5G services for six celebrities representing Korea as of 11pm April 3, 2019,” SK said in a news release.
What About The Phones?
A practical reason explains why most South Koreans could not access 5G until Friday: that's the day Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. (OTC: SSNLF) released its much-awaited Galaxy S10 5G phone. It's billed as the world's first smartphone with built-in 5G capability.
But the new Galaxy isn't yet available in the United States, and while it is expected in mid-May, there's no official release date yet.
Verizon is telling customers who want to use the Chicago and Minneapolis 5G they can access the super-speed information superhighway if they do some modifying to a Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE: MSI) z3 smartphone. Customers who have the z3 can buy an additional $200 item called a “5G Moto Mod” that clips to the phone to make it 5G-compatible.
Other phone makers, including China's ZTE and Huawei and South Korea's LG Electronics have plans for 5G-capable phones.
Verizon A Winner For Now
Even if you have the Motorola z3 and the Moto Mod and are in Chicago or Minneapolis, you still have to have a Verizon plan — and it has to be unlimited. And you’ll have to pay $10 extra a month on top of that for the 5G speed.
While the number of them is unclear, some early adopters may very well go with Verizon in order to use 5G right away. Verizon's stock spiked Wednesday after its announcement.
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