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The age of 5G network service is finally here.
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—three of the country’s four biggest wireless carriers—have officially turned on their (admittedly very small) 5G networks for consumers.
Last week, Sprint flipped the switch on 5G service in Chicago, making the Windy City its fifth 5G market. The carrier launched service earlier this year in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City, Kan.
Sprint originally planned to launch service in an additional four metropolitan areas by the end of June but has since changed that projection to “in the coming weeks.” Once that happens, Sprint says its network will potentially cover about 11 million people.
Late last month, T-Mobile launched its first 5G service; covering pockets of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York. And Verizon turned 5G service on in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis earlier this spring, later adding neighborhoods in Denver and Providence, R.I., to the mix.
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are selling versions of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G to go with their networks. Verizon and Sprint also have the LG V50 ThinQ. And Verizon’s network works with Motorola’s Moto Z3 and Z4, which can be made 5G-compatible with a $350 attachment.
But those all amount to small first steps—with many more to follow. All four major telecommunications carriers say they’ll have 5G networks up and running sometime this year, but only in select parts of a few big cities.
According to telecommunications experts, 5G speeds—five times faster than 4G connections at peak performance—will eventually allow users to download a movie in just 5 seconds. They’ll also pave the way for the instantaneous response times required to safely perform robotic surgery and operate self-driving cars that communicate with other vehicles and road infrastructure.
Here’s a look at the broader 5G landscape, including which parts of the U.S. are getting 5G service first.
The carrier’s 5G service has officially started in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Providence, R.I., though it’s currently limited to a few neighborhoods and the areas surrounding flagship Verizon stores.
The company says it plans to roll out 5G service to parts of more than 30 U.S. cities this year. They include include Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn.; Phoenix; San Diego; Salt Lake City; and Washington, D.C.
Additional cities will be announced later in the year.
Accessing the Verizon 5G network will cost $10 per device on top of the fees for its Beyond Unlimited or Above Unlimited plans. Verizon is currently waiving those charges for a limited time.
The 5G service will be unlimited as well, and Verizon says there will be no throttling of data speeds, even when the network gets busy. Carriers, including Verizon, sometimes slow down data speeds to decrease network congestion.
You can also tether your laptop to a 5G-enabled phone for use as a hot spot without paying an extra charge.
Phone options: Verizon carries the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ, along with the Motorola Moto Z3 and Z4.
Sprint officially rolled out its 5G service in the Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City, Kan., metropolitan areas in May. It added Chicago to the mix last week. But like the other carriers, Sprint isn’t providing coverage citywide, only in select spots.
The carrier says it expects parts of Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., to get service next.
Sprint says it will not charge extra for 5G service, but you’re required to sign up for the carrier’s Unlimited Premium plan, which at $85 for one line is the company’s most expensive option.
Phone options: The LG V50 ThinQ went on sale in May, but only in Sprint’s first four 5G markets. The carrier recently added the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, previously a Verizon exclusive, to its lineup. Both phones will be available in Sprint stores nationwide starting July 19.
This carrier has come under fire from other carriers for labeling its high-speed 4G service “5G Evolution,” potentially misleading consumers into thinking it’s genuine 5G.
It rolled out real 5G service in parts of 12 U.S. cities last year: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio; and Waco, Texas. It added Las Vegas to the mix in June. But that’s only for select businesses and consumers.
The company plans to turn service on in eight additional cities this year: Chicago; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; San Diego; San Francisco; and San Jose, Calif. It expects to have a nationwide 5G network in place by early 2020.
Phone options: AT&T started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G earlier this month, but only to business customers. It hasn’t said when it plans to make the phone, along with its 5G service, available to consumers. AT&T also says it’s working with Samsung to make another 5G smartphone available in the second half of this year.
T-Mobile, which plans to merge with Sprint, launched its network in late June in parts of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.
It also says it will have a nationwide network in place in 2020. Assuming its merger with Sprint takes place, it does not plan to charge extra for 5G service.
Phone options: T-Mobile sells the Galaxy S10 5G online and in select stores in its first 5G markets.
The Galaxy S10 5G originally reached stores as a Verizon exclusive in May. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, started selling it in June, but so far AT&T is selling it only to business customers.
The S10 5G, which will come in both black and silver, starts at $1,300 for a version with 256 gigabytes of storage. Boosting the storage to 512GB will cost you $100 more.
Think that’s pricey? Buy one through Verizon and you can get $750 off the purchase of a second Galaxy phone, including the S10 5G, S10, S10+, S10e, and Note9. But at least one of the phones has to represent a new line of service and be set up for one of the company’s unlimited data plans.
Both phones also need to be financed for 24 months, and the discount comes in the form of monthly credits spread over that period. Cancel your Verizon service early and you lose out on any remaining credits.
Don’t need a second phone? Verizon also is offering up to $450 off with the trade-in of certain phones, but you still need to set up a new line of service. You also can get up to $200 off if you trade in a phone and have a line that’s eligible for upgrade.
And Verizon will throw in a $200 prepaid Mastercard if you activate a new line of service and set up an unlimited data plan. But if you cancel your service within six months, Verizon will charge the $200 back to you.
Sprint is offering $250 off an 18-month lease of the S10 5G. It also comes in the form of monthly bill credits. Cancel early and you’re on the hook for the balance.
T-Mobile, the newest carrier to offer the phone, isn’t offering any discounts right now. But it will finance your purchase interest-free. You can put $550 down, then pay $31.25 per month for 24 months.
As for AT&T, it’s selling the phone for $1,000, representing a $300 discount. But as mentioned earlier, you have to be a business customer to buy one.
The S10 5G’s display, measuring 6.7 inches diagonally, is Samsung’s biggest yet. The model has six cameras, including a 3D depth camera, and will be able to create videos in portrait mode. All that will be powered by a monster 4,500-milliamp-hour battery.
A second 5G phone, which will be produced with AT&T, is expected to follow by the end of this year. Separately, the company has also pledged to produce a 5G version of the Galaxy Fold, a phone that opens up into a small tablet. But the launch of the 4G Fold has been indefinitely delayed following media reports of hardware malfunctions. No word yet on when the 5G model will follow.
The LG V50 ThinQ first went on sale for $1,152 through Sprint, but only in the carrier’s first 5G markets. Verizon is also now selling it for $1,000.
Sprint is initially offering half off on an 18-month lease of the phone, which means you would pay $24 per month. Once you hit 18 months, you have the option of paying off the balance or turning in the phone and leasing a new model. Cancel your service early and you have to pay off the phone.
Verizon’s offers of up to $450 off with the trade-in of certain phones, and a $200 prepaid Mastercard that can be spent on whatever you want also apply to purchases of this phone.
Like the V40 ThinQ before it, the V50 has five cameras—two on the front and three on the back. It also boasts a 4,000mAh battery, stereo boom box speaker, and 6.4-inch OLED display.
The Moto Z4, which went on sale through Verizon in June, works with the Mod attachments that make the existing Moto Z3 phone compatible with Verizon’s 5G network. The Mod retails for $350.
You can get the Z4, which retails for $500, from Verizon for $240 if you agree to finance it over 24 months at $10 per month. To get the deal, you also have to purchase a new line of service. If you have an existing line that’s eligible for an upgrade, you can get the phone for up to $200 off.
The Z4 boasts a 6.4-inch OLED display and a 3,600mAh battery, making it considerably bigger and more powerful than the Z3. That phone has a 6-inch display and a 2,000mAh battery.
The Z3 currently sells for $480 at Verizon, but you can get the $10-per-month financing deal (for a total of $240) for this phone, too. Before the 5G launch, the Z3 did well in our testing, but it’s a midpriced phone with midpriced features.
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