474.51 Mbps. I had never seen a mobile download speed like it before. 5G Ultra Wideband - yes, the controversial 5G C-Band you've been reading about for months - is here.
And it's insane.
Let's back up a bit. I know you've heard of 5G - who hasn't? It's the fifth generation of mobile broadband that follows 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE before it. Unlike those early mobile broadband speeds, 5G was marketed as life-changing. It would permeate society and light up communications not just between phones and towers, but between cars and traffic lights, and cars and other cars.
It would put stationary broadband speeds virtually everywhere. An invisible thread of high-speed connection that would change how almost all technology communicates and how people use it.
Look at me, I have 5G Ultra Wide Band, @Verizon’s brand of 5G C-Band. Holy cow, look at that download speed 🤯 pic.twitter.com/bvzttupUbKJanuary 21, 2022
When 5G finally launched, it was nothing like that. What people failed to mention was that 5G has tremendous limitations. Its variety of bands offer an equal number of speed expectations. It may be more powerful, but 5G is like a big fist with almost zero punching power - it can barely penetrate most walls. Outside, you might find some decent 5G, but as soon as you went indoors, it pretty much disappeared.
I rarely saw pure, high-speed 5G, but I had noticed that, in recent months, the infrastructure grew and my iPhone 13 Pro was on 5G more than it was not.
Still, it wasn't a life-altering experience.
To put the new 5G Ultra Wideband speed in context. The theoretical top speed for 4G LTE is as high as 150 MBPS. I never saw that. 45MBPS was the norm.
5G was supposed to be up to 10 Gbps. Again, never saw anything like that. Shortly after I started using Apple's first 5G iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro, I stumbled on my first 5G signal (I was outdoors in a parking lot). I got 139 Mbps downloads and 27 Mbps uploads. That was faster than anything I'd experienced before, but it was illusory. Most of my 5G experience was far slower or inconsistent.
Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband (AT&T's 5G C-Band is also live now) is an order of magnitude faster and closing in on the realization of that 5G ideal we were promised years before.
As for how I found the 5G Ultrawideband, it was an accident. I was on my morning commute train, literally pulling out of my home station when I unlocked my phone and noticed the "5GUW" symbol at the top of my phone. I remembered that after months of delays, Verizon and AT&T has both finally launched their 5G C-Bands just days before. They did so, by the way after some serious drama.
Ever since the two companies bought the mid-band 5G spectrum for roughly $70B, they've been engaged in a rough and tumble back-and-forth with the US FAA, DOT, and most of the major airlines.
Apparently, this signal was strong enough (look at the speed, they weren't lying) to potentially interfere with airplane operations. The FAA and airlines claimed 5G C-Band messed with their altimeters, which could be a big problem, especially around airports during inclement weather when knowing where the ground is becomes kind of important. After months of negotiations, delays, and recriminations, AT&T and Verizon agreed in November 2021 to lower 5G C-Band towers' power and, this month, delay powering up the towers near airports.
Now it's different
It's funny because up until the moment I experienced 5G C-Band, I only thought about it in the context of this ongoing controversy. Now, however, I see it as something different and potentially life-altering.
At nearly half a gigabit, this is enough bandwidth to do...what? I mean, I think I could support a half dozen laptops and/or at least a pair of 4K streams to screens in one car (maybe more).
My experience was all-too-brief because I was on a moving train. It was happening so fast that I only had time to test download speeds through the Ookla Speedtest's website.
As soon as I hit the giant "Go" on the page, the dial slammed to the right, straining to keep up with the blistering pace of data shooting out of the 5G Ultra Wideband data pipe. It was instantly over 400Mbps and then pushed into 474Mpbs territory. The dial danced to its own kinetic, Salsa rhythm. I briefly wondered if it might crest 500Mbps and if Speedtest was even designed to read that high.
Then it was over.
I needed the app to see uploads and, by the time I installed it, I was back to just 5G, where downloads were reduced to 94Mbps and my uploads were 21.7 Mbps.
Aside from the mind-blowing speed, what's exciting about 5G Ultra Wideband is that it appears that the infrastructure is already largely in place. Verizon simply had to flip the switch.
Look, I'm no Verizon booster. It like almost every other company in the service provider industry, charges too much for mobile broadband, but I can't help but be excited about the potential of 5G Ultra Wideband. It's super-fast, it's here, and it's probably about to change everything.
- These are the very best 5G phones