OK, now Boise has 5G cellular service

Sharon Fisher//October 1, 2019

OK, now Boise has 5G cellular service

Sharon Fisher//October 1, 2019

photo of 5g installation
Verizon has been installing 5G transmitters in downtown Boise since earlier this year. Photo by Sharon Fisher

Portions of the Treasure Valley – including unspecified parts of Meridian as well as a number of locations in Boise – now have access to 5G cellphone service through Verizon.

The announcement was expected. Verizon has been installing the small but ubiquitous 5G transmitters in various downtown Boise locations for several months, but hadn’t even included Boise on its list of planned sites.

But on Sept. 26, the company announced the service in Boise, as well as in New York and Panama City, Florida, where the company said it has invested $25 million to help the city recover from Hurricane Michael. With the new cities, that makes Verizon’s 5G service – dubbed Ultra Wideband – available in 13 cities, with 30 expected by the end of the year.

“In Boise, 5G Ultra Wideband service will initially be concentrated in parts of the following neighborhoods: Downtown Boise, West Boise, West End, Meridian, Boise Junction around such landmarks as the Idaho State Capitol, St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, Fort Boise Park, Capital City Event Center and Boise Town Square,” the company said in a press release.

Like 5G access in other cities – where not even an entire football stadium can get it – the service is spotty, and falls over to 4G when it’s not available.

But where it’s available, it’s hella fast.

“Typical download speeds over 5G are 450-700 mbps, but users will see bursts faster than 1 gbps,” said Paul Ulreich, communications manager for the Verizon customer group, in an email message. “That means a Netflix episode, or even a full movie can be downloaded in under 10 seconds!”

The company is likely to continue adding transmitters in the Boise area, said Ulreich, who was in town from Schaumburg, Illinois, to demonstrate the service. He couldn’t provide specifics such as locations or timeframes. For example, while 5G is currently available in at least parts of a number of NFL stadiums, that’s due to a contract Verizon has with the NFL. Ulreich couldn’t say whether 5G might be available on the Boise State University blue football field.

Verizon is also offering the service at fire-sale prices, at least for now. 5G is included on three out of Verizon’s four unlimited plans that offer unlimited data, and it’s $10 a month for the entry-level unlimited plan, Ulreich said.

However, that’s assuming you have one of the scant handful of high-end cellphones that support 5G transmission, which start at around $1,300.

Field-testing Boise’s 5G service

photo of 5G service
When you can pick it up, 5G is wicked fast. Photo courtesy of Paul Ulreich of Verizon

Unlike today’s 4G cellphone service, which features a tall tower every couple of miles, 5G uses smaller transmitters at much shorter wavelengths. That’s what makes it so wicked fast. That also means the signal is more fragile, necessitating many more transmitters.

So how well does 5G in Boise actually work?

8th and Jefferson: The closest transmitter is at 8th and Bannock, in front of the post office. And, sure enough, the 5G phone used by Paul Ulreich, communications manager for the Verizon customer group, picked it up with no problem, demonstrating a download speed of 1.6 gigabits per second (gbps) and an upload speed of 20 megabits per second (mbps).

In comparison, a typical 4G cellphone shows 25.3 mbps download and 13.9 mbps upload.

But as anyone who’s tried to get a cellphone signal during a sold-out Boise State Broncos game knows, access also depends on how many people are using the service at a time. Ulreich said he didn’t know whether anyone was using 5G service from that transmitter besides him.

Mid-block, 8th between Jefferson and State: Uh oh. No 5G connectivity; the phone now displays much more pedestrian speeds. Ulreich blamed the trees – something as small as a leaf can block the 5G waves. Sure enough, on the other side of the trees, the phone picked up 5G service again.

In the City of Trees, this could be a problem.

8th and State: Two blocks away, Ulreich could still pick up 5G signal – on the other side of the trees.

8th and Washington: Three blocks away and there is still a 5G signal – standing in the crosswalk. Even Ulreich seemed impressed by the reach and peered around to make sure there was not another transmitter at the intersection.