George Warren reporting


SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – After Verizon Wireless chose Sacramento as one of its first 5G markets, it turned an early 5G Home installation last fall into a media event.

“There are so many different ways 5G is going to change the world over time and it starts right here in Sacramento,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg at the Oct. 1 gathering in the Pocket neighborhood.

That same day the city posted a 5G coverage map on its website suggesting service would be available across a wide area of Sacramento including downtown, midtown, East Sacramento and Natomas.

5G Home promises gigabit speeds– many times faster than wired cable connections, and Verizon is offering its service to existing Verizon customers for just $50 per month, which includes YouTube TV. New customers would pay $70 per month.

But four months after the launch, Verizon’s 5G Home remains out of reach for most Sacramento residents and there’s no reason to believe the coverage will improve anytime soon.

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Under a public-private partnership with the city, Verizon has now finished installing 5G radios on more than 200 streetlights around town. And while that may seem like an impressive number, Verizon’s millimeter wave technology is quite literally line-of-sight. Foliage and even rainfall can interfere with the signal.

Bay Area-based wireless industry analyst Earl Lum spent eight days in Sacramento conducting his own survey and his tests show Verizon’s 5G covers less than 10 percent of the city. Lum said the company would need as many as 4,000 5G sites to provide full coverage.

While Verizon hasn’t published an official 5G coverage map, the company offers a web page (https://www.verizonwireless.com/5g/home/) allowing potential customers to type in their home address to check for availability.

CBS13 randomly searched multiple residential addresses in four neighborhoods supposedly served by 5G and in all but one case received the message “sorry, not yet available,” with an offer to call or email when the situation changes.

It could be a long wait.

There’s no agreement in place for Verizon to install additional 5G sites on city streetlights and Lum says many of them are not tall or strong enough to support 5G radios.

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“I would imagine at a minimum it would take another three years if not three to five years to get some level of reasonable coverage across Sacramento,” Lum said.

Further complicating Verizon’s rush to be “first on 5G” as its service vans proclaim, is the fact that the 5G equipment already installed doesn’t meet industry standards.

In a conference call with financial analysts on Jan. 29, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg confirmed the company would pause its 5G rollout nationwide until updated equipment becomes available using the 5G NR (new radio) standard. Vestberg said he hoped the new equipment would be available in the second half of 2019.

But that doesn’t answer the question of how soon 5G service in Sacramento will expand. Lum, the industry analyst, believes Verizon will first focus on larger cities where the return on investment would be greater.

Lum said there may be a better chance for Sacramento to get wide 5G coverage sooner from T-Mobile and Sprint, which as a combined company would offer service in a much lower frequency spectrum than Verizon’s 28 and 39 GHz bands. T-Mobile claims 5G tests in the 600 MHz range covered 100 square miles with a single tower.

Verizon Wireless did not offer a response for this story.