While unveiling its shiny new 5G-enabled iPhones back in October, Apple brought Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg to the stage to declare that Verizon had launched an updated, "nationwide" 5G network that shores up the company’s 5G coverage. Until now, Verizon has largely embraced "high band" or millimeter wave 5G, which provides amazing speeds if you’re near an antenna, but suffers from limited range and the inability to penetrate buildings. As a result, the company has been routinely criticized for comically overstating not only what 5G is capable of, but where 5G is available.
To attack this credibility problem, and drive some hype for the new iPhones, Verizon announced that it was dramatically expanding its 5G network to 200 million more people. To do so, Verizon announced Verizon would be using "dynamic spectrum sharing" (DSS) that helps utilize some existing 4G channels to offer 5G.
Fast forward a few months, and the early reviews of Verizon’s DSS 5G improvements… aren’t so hot. PC Magazine took a closer look at Verizon’s latest upgrade and found that users in many cases would be better off just sticking to 4G:
"If you don’t have any dedicated channels, DSS lets you use the odds and ends of your unused 4G channels for 5G. The 4G and 5G phones compete for the same 4G channel. The only difference is that the 5G ones are running the 5G encoding system on that channel. There are non-speed advantages to DSS — or there will be in the future, once carriers go to standalone 5G systems — but right now, you’re just getting slower performance.
In our most recent tests, we found that DSS 5G is seriously holding back both iPhones and Android phones. We compared a OnePlus 8 using DSS 5G with a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE on 4G, and we then ran tests on an iPhone 12 Pro toggling between 5G and 4G at the same locations. In both cases, DSS 5G turned in worse results than 4G LTE.
Again, eventually 5G will provide faster, more resilient networks. But for right now all it’s creating is a lot of undeserved hype:
And that’s in select areas of New York City (read: best case scenario). Experts suggest that phones in DSS mode are handling carrier aggregation (combining different channels of spectrum) worse than phones in 4G-only mode, resulting in said experts advising that you actually turn 5G off on your shiny new iPhone if you want to improve overall performance. Again, this will improve in time as 5G becomes more fleshed out, but it’s another example of how 5G simply isn’t living up to the absurd hype consumers have been inundated by for the better part of the last three years.
If you only listen to wireless carriers, network hardware, or handset manufacturer PR departments, 5G is an incredible, revolutionary upgrade that changes everything, from cancer treatments to the smart cities of tomorrow. With smartphone innovation flailing and overall sales lagging, they were eager to drive mass upgrades by portraying 5G as something more substantive than it is. 5G is a dull evolution, it’s not a revolution.
U.S. 5G in particular (even of the non DSS variety) continues to be far slower than a long list of overseas networks because we’ve done a poor job making mid-band spectrum available for public use and driving fiber to lower ROI areas (despite billions upon billions in subsidization).
Numerous studies have found that current 5G is in some instances slower than 4G. In a few years as more mid-band spectrum is pushed to market this will steadily improve. But right now, consumers (correctly) don’t really see 5G as worth it, which is a major reason why Verizon had to back off plans to charge a $10 monthly premium just to access it.