Ssamsung Galaxy S10 5G

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G is one of the first phones available for the next-generation wireless networks just now coming into service.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s one thing for wireless carriers like Verizon and Sprint to show off 5G speeds in this or that city. It’s another to test the same phone on two different networks in the same town to get a taste of how 5G competition is heating up. That’s exactly what I’m doing today in Chicago — testing peak and real-world 5G speeds on the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on both Verizon and Sprint.

Sprint, awaiting government approval on its pending acquisition by T-Mobile, on Thursday turned on its fifth promised 5G city, Chicago. That happens to be one of the two launch markets for larger rival Verizon’s 5G service, which in our early tests yielded impressive speeds, if limited coverage. 

Sprint’s expansion into the Windy City, as the second carrier to offer 5G there, turns Chicago into one of the early battlegrounds for 5G. It also marks an early test of the different approaches taken by the two carriers. For its 5G network, Sprint has focused on using the slower but wider-ranging midband spectrum (often referred to as sub-6GHz). Verizon on the other hand (and AT&T and T-Mobile) have prioritized using super fast but severely limited millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

Where Verizon gets download speeds close to or exceeding 1Gbps on its mmWave 5G network, Sprint’s midband network is a fair bit slower. John Saw, Sprint’s chief technology officer, said that the average download speed the company is seeing is 328Mbps, with a peak of about 800Mbps. As more people get online, the average speed should be around 150Mbps, nearly five times faster than the roughly 30Mbps average download speed of 4G LTE.

Sprint plans to reach roughly 700,000 people immediately across the Chicago area with 5G, a much larger area than the select city blocks that Verizon is focusing on.

All three of Sprint’s first 5G devices — the Galaxy S10 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G and the HTC 5G Hub hotspot — will be available nationwide on July 19.

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Unlimited Premium, Sprint’s priciest version of unlimited (it comes with Amazon Prime, Hulu and Tidal) is required for 5G connectivity. It starts at $80 per month for one line.

Saw said in an interview that four more markets — New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Phoenix — will get 5G in the next “couple of weeks.” Sprint’s 5G network is already in operation in parts of Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City, along with Chicago now.

While Verizon has had some time to roll out its network and work out “day one” kinks, I’m getting the chance to take both networks through their paces in our first head-to-head 5G showdown. Stay tuned to this page throughout the day to see how the two stack up.


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