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Over the past few months, we’ve already been hearing several reports that Verizon’s nationwide 5G network isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but now it looks like the carrier is about to add insult to injury by forcing customers who want actually usable 5G speeds to pay for a premium plan.
Right now, Verizon offers two distinct flavours of 5G service. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a major urban centre, you might be able to take advantage of Verizon’s mmWave “Ultra Wideband” 5G (not to be confused with the technology powered by Apple’s U1 chip). If this is you, then you could find your iPhone 12 reaching mind-blowing speeds of up to 4Gbps. Whether you need those kinds of speeds or not is another matter, but we won’t judge you for enjoying them — if you can get them, that is.
For everyone else, however, you’re pretty much stuck on Verizon’s sub-6GHz 5G coverage, which uses a technology called dynamic spectrum sharing, or DSS, which basically means that the 5G service is depending on leftover scraps of the frequencies used by existing 4G LTE towers.
In practical terms, this means that many Verizon 5G users are actually better off staying with 4G LTE by turning off 5G entirely. In most cases, you’ll get at least the same speeds while saving battery life, but in a really ironic twist, you might even find yourself getting better performance on 4G.
By comparison, T-Mobile has built out a true “standalone” 5G network across the country, and the benefits of this are apparent — T-Mobile’s network runs circles not only around Verizon’s, but also AT&T’s, which also relies on DSS at this point.
Better 5G Will Come at a Price
To be fair, Verizon is working to improve this, having just dropped a record-breaking $45 billion on more 5G spectrum, but now it looks like the carrier is going to expect something from its customers to help it recoup those costs.
In a presentation to investors shared by The Verge, Verizon has revealed that the new C-band frequencies aren’t going to be available to just anyone. Instead, The Verge notes, they’ll be limited to those customers on “premium” unlimited plans. Verizon confirmed this policy to both The Verge and CNET.
In other words, if you’re on a plan with a data cap, or even on the basic Start Unlimited plan, you’re going to be stuck on the slower, low-band 5G — the one that’s actually slower than 4G LTE.
This is how Verizon already treats its mmWave 5G service — customers don’t get access to this ultra-fast network unless they’re on the higher-tier plans. However, that doesn’t seem nearly as unreasonable when dealing with the difference between speeds in the 100-200Mbps range and those that easily peak above 1Gbps.
On the other hand, it seems far less reasonable for Verizon to force customers onto higher plans to access usable 5G bandwidths at all. In fact, it’s almost disingenuous of the company to even pretend that current 5G speeds really represent 5G. To be fair, It’s not nearly as bad as the “5G E” stunt that AT&T pulled a couple of years ago, since technically speaking, at least it’s delivering true 5G — it’s just doing so at speeds that are depressingly slower.
That said, the $45 billion that Verizon has spent on the C-band spectrum needed to improve its nationwide 5G network isn’t exactly pocket change, and it’s also just the beginning — the company also told investors that it plans to drop an additional $10 billion over the next three years on C-band deployment. So, it’s understandable that the carrier wants to try to push customers to pay a bit more if they want to access this new technology.
At the end of the day, however, it has to be a pretty big gamble for Verizon, since T-Mobile is already offering faster and better 5G service at lower prices, so telling customers that they’re only going to be forced to pay even more if they want to access “true” 5G speeds could backfire, resulting in a mass exodus to other carriers.