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The age of 5G network service is finally here.
Sprint and Verizon—two of the country's four biggest wireless carriers—have officially turned on their (admittedly very small) 5G networks for consumers.
Last month, Sprint flipped the switch on 5G service in its first four markets: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City, Kan. The move came a day before the in-store launch of the LG V50 ThinQ, the first 5G phone compatible with Sprint's network.
The company is now taking preorders for the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which launched earlier this year as a Verizon exclusive.
According to Sprint, the 5G network could cover up to about 3.6 million people in those four markets combined. The company plans to launch service in another five metropolitan areas before the end of June, which should bring the total number of people potentially covered to about 11.5 million.
With its launch, Sprint joined Verizon, which turned on 5G service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis earlier this spring. Verizon's network works with Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G and Motorola's Moto Z3 and Z4, which can be made 5G-compatible with a $200 attachment.
But those all amount to small first steps—with many more to follow. All four of the 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. should get 5G service first.
The carrier's 5G service has officially started in Chicago and Minneapolis, 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. Last month it announced that those cities will include Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn.; Phoenix; Providence, R.I.; 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 fee for an unlimited plan. 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. 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 5G-enabled Motorola Moto Z3 and Z4, along with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G.
Sprint officially rolled out its 5G service in the Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City, Kan., metropolitan areas in May. But like Verizon, the carrier isn't providing coverage citywide, only in select spots.
The carrier says it still expects parts of Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., to get service "in the coming weeks."
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, currently exclusive to Sprint, officially went on sale in May, but only in Sprint's first four 5G markets. The carrier also is currently taking preorders for the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which will officially reach Sprint stores on June 21.
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. But that's only for select businesses and consumers. And because 5G smartphones aren’t commercially available, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the service just yet.
The company plans to roll out service to nine additional cities this year: Chicago; Las Vegas; 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 will start selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on June 17, but only to business customers. It hasn't said exactly 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, expects to have a 5G network in place sometime this year but hasn't said which markets will be covered.
The carrier plans to launch a nationwide network in 2020. And though the company won’t reveal specific pricing, it says that a united T-Mobile and Sprint will not charge extra for 5G service, according to current plans.
Phone options: T-Mobile says only that it will carry multiple 5G devices by the end of this year.
The Galaxy S10 5G originally reached stores as a Verizon exclusive in May. But Sprint started preorders for its version of it on Friday, with the phone expected to reach its stores on June 21. AT&T will start selling the phone to its business customers on June 17.
The S10 5G, which will come in both black and silver, will start at $1,300 for a version with 256GB of storage. Boosting the storage to 512GB will run you $100 more.
Think that's pricey? Buy one through Verizon and you can get $750 off the purchase of a second S10 5G, or a Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, or Note9. But you have to set up at least one new line of service and finance both of the phones through Verizon. The discount comes in the form of monthly bill credits spread over 24 months. Cancel your service early and you lose out on any remaining credits.
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. 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 of that will be powered by a monster 4,500mAh 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, which will cost $1,152 through Sprint, went on sale last month. But, as mentioned before, sales are currently limited to Sprint's first four 5G markets. Later, it will go on sale in the next five cities to get the service.
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.
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 earlier this week, will also work with the "Mod" attachments that make the existing Moto Z3 phone compatible with Verizon's 5G network.
Verizon is currently selling the 5G Mod for $50. It 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 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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