This led me to conclude that Verizon’s coverage map was unreliable.
Still, I drove to three other locations in the Marina, Presidio Heights, and South of Market neighborhoods. There I finally found the fabled super-fast 5G – and I was blown away.
Standing in front of a photo specialty store in South of Market, I got 5G speeds of 2,160 megabits per second, which was 2,900 percent faster than 4G. Even if it was a little slower – behind the Safeway parking lot in the Marina district – the 5G iPhone reached a speed of 668 megabits per second, which was 1,052 percent faster than 4G.
However, these were strange places with lightning-fast speeds. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, these areas didn’t have a lot of pedestrian traffic. Network operators said ultra-fast 5G speeds would be great for data-intensive tasks like streaming video, but I didn’t feel like streaming a lot while standing on those street corners.
Why the inconspicuous places? Karen Schulz, a Verizon spokeswoman, said the company had complex engineering jobs in San Francisco. While ultra-fast 5G relies on access to lighting poles, most of the city’s utility infrastructure is underground. Verizon’s progress in deploying 5G has encountered red tape, she said.
When I tested the new iPhones on the Vanilla 5G network, there was hardly any improvement in speed. At its best, vanilla 5G was twice as fast as 4G, or 209 megabits per second compared to 103 megabits on 4G. However, in some locations, 5G was slower than 4G. For example, in one part of the mission district, 5G speeds reached 28 megabits per second, compared to 39 megabits on 4G.
Ms. Schulz said customers should initially expect the 5G Nationwide network to work like 4G, and that performance and coverage would increase over time.
I am not sure if this is good enough. I’ve been reviewing phones for the past 12 years, covering the transition from 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G. I’ve never seen such a confusing and spotty network rollout – 5G is just a mess.