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Verizon 5G Experience pop-up showcases the network’s speed and power

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I’d heard about 5G. But I didn’t know just how fast it would be until I was watching myself miss free throws in real time.

On Monday, Verizon opened the doors to its 5G Experience pop-up shop in downtown Los Angeles. In the space, visitors tested out Verizon’s 5G Home network. 

Internet service providers say 5G will be hundreds of times faster than 4G, and at least four and a half times faster than wireless broadband. Last year, average download speeds for broadband were around 65 Mbps. Verizon promises its “5G Ultra Wideband” — despite sounding like a pair of maternity pants — will deliver speeds between 300 Mbps and up to 1 GB per second.

Those numbers are exciting. But they’re just numbers. To showcase what that actually means, Verizon filled its pop-up demo with devices that streamed and multi-tasked without a hitch. Now, the “experience” was clearly an optimized version of the network — perfectly constructed to deliver the best possible version of 5G. But if it bears any resemblance to reality, the promise of 5G could be the real deal. 

Verizon launched its first commercial 5G broadband network in October in four cities: Houston, LA, Sacramento and Indianapolis. 

The welcome wagon.

The welcome wagon.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

The entirety of the four Chosen Cities aren’t wired with 5G … yet. For example, my home on the Westside of Los Angeles doesn’t have the option.

We’re not talking about mobile 5G. That may take awhile, though Verizon and Samsung announced Monday they’re unveiling a phone that will be able to connect to 5G in the first half of 2019. 5G-connected enabled iPhones, on the other hand, likely won’t arrive until 2020.

Ready 2 experience.

Ready 2 experience.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

Still, Verizon’s 5G home network might be about to make life for streamers, gamers, and other people who consume a whole lot of content online a lot less annoying.

The pop-up had three experiences to demonstrate what 5G can do. The space was connected to 5G via a node on a telephone pole across the street, which beamed the signal to the receiver in a corner of the room. None of the devices used for the demos were hardwired to the internet.

The 5G "node" is in the middle.

The 5G “node” is in the middle.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

Verizon first showcased the power of 5G to stream a high-quality virtual reality experience. I sat in a circle swivel chair, put a VR headset and headphones on, and was told by a very well-trained employee that I would be taking a trip to the moon.

A VR video promoting the new Neil Armstrong movie, First Man, played. It was a little cheesy, but getting to sit in the spacecraft, and swivel around to see Earth out the window, was affecting. And, most importantly, those millions of dynamic pixels in 3D were all coming through a wireless connection — without any lag.

BRB going to the moon.

BRB going to the moon.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

My WiFi sometimes gets cranky just streaming Hulu shows. The moon VR experience was in a different league in terms of data consumption, and 5G seemed to handle it no problem.

Next, a Verizon employee tried to get me to play Rocket League, which was stressful, since gaming is not something I do. He explained to me that we were playing a graphics-intensive game — one you can normally only play on a PC or game console — on a phone connected to the 5G network. A gaming handset connected to the phone via Bluetooth, and the phone wirelessly broadcast its screen to a high-definition TV above. Two other gamers on TV-connected phones played along, all of us connected to Steam via the 5G network. 

I get it, it's fast.

I get it, it’s fast.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

I got the picture that this was a feature that someone like my partner — who ran an impossibly long ethernet cable through our attic so that he could hard-wire his gaming computer to our router — would definitely appreciate. And no more hearing a swear word plus “I’m lagging out!” from the other room while I watch Netflix.

Finally, I shuffled over to a tiny basketball court, where two employees held basketballs in their hands. I put on a VR headset that had a camera attached to it. The camera livestreamed its feed to the VR headset, without any discernible lag. As an employee talked to me, standing in front of me IRL, I watched his lips move through the livestreamed image of him, perfectly in time to the words I was hearing with my own analog ears. When I watched him hand me the ball through my headset, I knew just where to reach out and grab it.

Please don't make me shoot the hoops.

Please don’t make me shoot the hoops.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

Then came the embarrassing part. The basketball demo was meant to show the livestream’s speed and accuracy. So, ostensibly, I would be able to shoot hoops, just as I would in real life. I held the ball, bent my knees, released, and watched the basketball fly past my eyes into the air … and way to the left of the basket.

I am happy to report that I was just as terrible at shooting hoops in livestreamed VR as I was in real life. But I got the point: livestreaming with 5G was apparently no different to my weak human brain than seeing something with my own eyeballs.

Verizon set up a showcased living room, demonstrating the router and receiver set-up for 5G, which looked a lot like what most people are probably used to. The difference was that the receiver wasn’t hardwired to the internet — only the nodes outside were. 

Despite the literal hoops Verizon made its 5G network jump through, it’s impossible to say for sure whether 5G will be the Prince That Was Promised by the ISPs. The experience lab had a special set of large receivers power the internet in the room; ordinarily, a home would just have one considerably smaller one. Plus, the node the receivers were connecting to was just across the street. That sort of proximity won’t be guaranteed for every home, or device, in the future. Which is all to say that at the “5G experience,” everything was optimized to work perfectly.

However, I have been to enough conferences, concerts, meetings, and public events where WiFi and sometimes even the hardwired internet fails. At the Verizon experience, I didn’t notice any load time for anything — not even the VR moon landing. I kid you not when I say that not a single frame was out of place, including during the gaming showcase and my basketball #fail. So even knowing that this event was staged to show off Verizon’s shiny new toy, I still walked away impressed, and ready to live in the 5G future, where we can do away with that silly concept: patience.

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