The day when 5G actually lives up to the hype appears to be a ways off, yet. Though all the major providers in the US offer 5G coverage maps, the maps themselves come with little to no information about what they actually mean. The T mobile map shows 2 different shades of pink, one for 5G and one for 4G. What exactly 5G “coverage” actually means in said map is left for the viewer to interpret.
Do the 5G areas indicate that there is reliable 5G service there? If so, there should be consistent coverage along Highway 2 from Everett all the way to Monroe, and even on the fringes of town. That seems strange, considering the conspicuous lack of 5G nodes and towers in the area. The range of 5G transmission is really, really short compared to 4G. In some cases, its about the range of Wifi transmissions. So there should be 5G hardware everywhere in coverage areas.
There are 3 main “bands” that are considered 5G: high, mid and low. T-mobile is currently deploying low band, which offers a less dense (and therefore, slower) wave, but one that reaches further and penetrates objects better. Its a significant upgrade to 4G in speed, but a serious step back in range. Which means you need a lot of 5G nodes to keep up consistent coverage.
One could test it, if they were willing to invest some serious dough (~$700 for the cheapest model and well over a grand for a Samsung) to get a T-mobile 5G device, just to satisfy their curiosity. We’d really just prefer that they released a detailed and specific map to let us know whether its a good investment. We can only conclude they haven’t done so because they aren’t actually trying to push 5G sales yet.
The talk about 5G must be mostly hype, to get consumers excited for its eventual roll out. This is backed up the 5G deployment map created by Ookla, a company who does internet testing and analysis on a global scale. The interactive map is updated weekly and shows more exact locations of 5G deployments, rather than displaying vague coverage areas like the maps by AT&T and T-mobile.
The Ookla map shows just how sparse 5G deployment is in WA. Out of 8,624 deployments in the world, 118 are in WA. These are typically 1-3 deployments in larger cities, or a few more where At&T and T-mobile have both begun deployment. There are a few very small and seemingly random areas where there is 5G, like Darrington. Go figure on that one.
Verizon has only one deployment in the entire state, in Spokane. A majority of the 118 in WA are by T-mobile, though AT&T has quite a few, and offers coverage in some areas that T-mobile does not. Interestingly enough, the Ookla map does not show any deployment by any provider along Highway 2, except in Everett. So its unlikely that you’d pick up 5G connectivity in Monroe. But let’s be very clear about the Ookla map: its not necessarily perfect.
If nobody reports a 5G node/tower being in service in the area, it could be missing from the Ookla map. There even appears to be some 5G towers in Monroe. They could be as-of-yet offline, or they could simply be unreported. As it sits right now, this map still seems like the best resource for making sense of 5G deployment.
AT&T’s self-reporting on 5G deployment is even skechier than T-mobile’s. They are currently presenting 3 different types of 5G, and the descriptions of each are tellingly vague. 5G Evolution is merely an upgrade to existing 4G infrastructure, leading to better performance. Whether this is technically next-gen or just enhanced 4G is not a point that AT&T is really nitpicking. They’re perfectly comfortable referring to it as 5G. They’re also comfortable displaying a 5G map that doesn’t indicate whether 5G coverage refers to their 5G Evolution, 5G, or 5G Plus. So we really don’t know what the heck their map means.
The AT&T maps imply some pretty good coverage. You see 5G coloring all along the I5 corridor from Tacoma to Mount Vernon, and widespread coverage in the Bellingham-Ferndale areas. Its also along virtually all of I90 in the state, from Seattle to Spokane and even in the mountains. It even extends along Highway 82, spreading out in both the Yakima Valley and Tri Cities areas.
If these somewhat vague claims could be corroborated by the Ookla map, we might have to something to go on. But for its own part, the Ookla map is a bit vague, too. While it shows the number of “deployments”, and in very specific areas, it doesn’t offer anything about the coverage or the range of said deployment. It could be one lonely node; it could be enough to cover several blocks, and it could be most of the city. It seems unlikely that its miles and miles of coverage sprawling through the country side, knowing the limitations of 5G.
So the 5G hype appears to be largely just promotional posturing at this point. Though it is usable in some areas, the coverage is probably not going to extend very far or be very reliable as you move around. You could probably find some hotbeds where you’d have ridiculously fast download speeds, but you’d have to seek them out. At this stage of the game, it doesn’t appear to be worth investing in 5G, especially in rural areas.