How fast is 5G? This speed demo gives us an idea

Motorola, Qualcomm, and Verizon show off a prototype 5G MotoMod for the Moto Z3, demoing how fast it is on 5G wireless.

Mark Hachman Dec 05th 2018

So how fast is 5G, anyway? About as fast as a premium-tier cable modem, according to a live test performed by Qualcomm, Motorola, and Verizon on Tuesday. 

All three companies showed off the technology at the Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, demoing a prototype 5G device on a prototype 5G network. And according to the test, the modem transferred a gigabyte’s worth of data in 17 seconds. That's 0.0588 gigabytes per second, or 58.8 Mbps or 470.4 Mbits/s. That’s pretty damn fast.

Want to see it for yourself? Watch the demo below.

Unfortunately, you have to take this demo with a fairly large grain of salt. And you have to ask some important questions: Who owns the network? What device are you using for downloads? How far is that device from the network antenna? Is there network congestion? All of these factors will affect wireless speeds. While the International Telecommunications Union draft spec calls for 5G to deliver a whopping 20 Gbits/s download speed, such bandwidth will be shared with thousands to millions of devices, all connecting and disconnecting, and that affects performance.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the 1GB file in the demo downloaded in 34 seconds in a subsequent test, as the image at the top of this article indicates. This only reminds us that network download speeds are inconsistent.

The network in the demo used back-end equipment from Ericsson, and tapped into Verizon’s network, which we can assume was tuned for the experience. But the phone itself was interesting: a Moto Z3 with a dedicated 5G MotoMod that snapped into the back of the handset.

While we criticized the 5G MotoMod as gimmicky, it’s the underlying technology that made this 5G experience work. And, yes, it’s kind of crazy—inside the MotoMod (not the phone!) there’s a Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm’s dedicated X50 modem chip, and a 2,000 milliamp-hour battery. It will all ship in early 2019, though Motorola isn't saying exactly when.

We now know that 5G will roll out slowly, though handset manufacturers and Verizon are doing everything they can to push out 5G as quickly as possible. So will you get crazy-fast 58.8 Mbps downloads when 5G finally arrives? Probably not—though you’ll hopefully get a sizeable speed boost nonetheless