Assessing the Performance of Early 5G Deployments in California

An inside look at Verizon's early 5G deployments in Sacramento, CA with mmWave.

The shift from 4G to 5G comes with as many challenges as it does opportunities. Despite the obvious evolution in speed and functionality, scarce spectrum and high costs of deploying a hyper-dense network have made it hard to tell how 5G will behave in practice. Fortunately, we now have some interesting data to analyze.

5G comes to California

In parts of Sacramento, where Verizon recently launched in-home 5G service using mmWave, the transition is already underway. This service is for fixed broadband (broadband to the home) as opposed to mobile broadband, which would service mobile devices, and provides a first glimpse into what a fixed 5G deployment will look like.

Although the city announced “planned deployment areas,” public records are unclear on how many 5G sites have been deployed, where they are, and what bandwidth is being archived.

So we surveyed downtown Sacramento using our custom sensor platform and measured both 4G and 5G signals. Here’s what we found:

Verizon 4G eNBs in Downtown Sacramento
Verizon 4G eNBs in Downtown Sacramento
  • Verizon has deployed a dense 4G network in downtown Sacramento.
  • By overlaying 5G measurements on top of 4G site locations, we found that some 5G sites didn’t overlap with the existing 4G sites or permitted locations.
  • We detected five 5G sites deployed at 28 GHz, one co-located with a high frequency 4G site.
Located 5G sites
Located 5G sites

By measuring 4G sites, we were also able to compare network density and estimate coverage areas, providing a visual estimate of how much more 5G infrastructure would be needed to cover the same area as one 4G site.

4G and 5G expected coverage
4G and 5G expected coverage

We can already reveal several insights into the early stages of 5G:

  • Overlap between 4G and 5G coverage will continue for a long time
  • 5G sites continue to lack coverage range and will require substantial infrastructure growth
  • 5G is performing as predicted — but the challenge is adequate deployment

As we continue to track 5G deployments over time, we’ll answer questions like:

  • How will actual 5G performance match expectations?
  • Where are 5G sites more likely to be built?
  • How are other networks being impacted by 5G?
  • Will we be able to see the impact of 5G in performance data?

So keep your eye on 5G. But don’t abandon 4G just yet.

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