Scott Moritz (Bloomberg) -- Verizon Communications Inc., in a tight race with AT&T Inc. and Sprint Corp., has claimed bragging rights as the first U.S. carrier to offer fifth-generation mobile-phone service.
Starting Wednesday, Verizon customers with unlimited data plans in parts of Minneapolis and Chicago can get speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second on a limited number of phones for an extra $10 a month. The initial launch is part of a 30-city goal for 5G service this year.
Carriers are in a rush to sign up early adopters of the next-generation wireless technology. They eventually hope to hook consumers and businesses on a vast trove of new services, including home-TV service, connected appliances and self-driving cars, generating billions in new revenue.
The race has had some awkward moments. Lacking actual 5G phones, Verizon is only able to offer the service to customers who own a Motorola Z3 handset and pay $50 extra for a snap-on 5G module. Similarly, AT&T’s first 5G service was to hot-spot devices called pucks. And to confuse the issue, AT&T is calling its upgraded 4G service “5G E.” That claim was challenged in court by Sprint, which called it fake and deceptive.
Manufacturers including Motorola and Samsung Electronics Co. are expected to deliver more 5G phones later this year. Apple Inc. is sitting out the race this year and is expected to hold off on introducing a 5G iPhone until at least 2020.
The development of 5G has also been framed as a global battle for tech supremacy. President Donald Trump has viewed 5G expansion as a key technology arms race with China.
“Verizon customers will be the first in the world to have the power of 5G in their hands,” Chief Executive Officer Hans Vestberg said in a statement.