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Verizon plans to almost double its mmWave 5G coverage this year

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Verizon has big 5G plans for 2021 after formally launching its next-gen network in October of last year, and close to the top of its list of priorities is expanding coverage of its ultra-fast mmWave coverage. That flavor of 5G is currently restricted to select areas within select cities in the US, and it’s highly dependent on your proximity to a Verizon 5G site due to the inherent technology that powers it.

Marketed under the name 5G Ultra Wideband (5G UW), this variety of 5G is the type with high speeds but poor coverage, meaning Verizon has its work cut out for it expanding network coverage in 2021. But in its earnings report on Tuesday, the company says it plans to nearly double its 5G UW network this year by adding more than 14,000 new “sites.”

 Image: Verizon

Now, it’s kind of ambiguous what a “site” means. Adding a 5G UW site sounds, in theory, like a way to expand the coverage area of the service, or at the very least to improve the connection strength in an existing area of coverage, considering mmWave tech relies on rigging up networks of antennas, power supplies, and other equipment to help boost range and blanket areas that are, right now, only served by slower and farther-reaching standard LTE and low-band 5G.

Some of that equipment is apparently already showing up unannounced on the lawns of Houston residents who don’t really have a say in whether their slice of county-owned yard has to play host to these “ground fixtures” the size of chest cooler. Yet, it’s not clear if Verizon plans to add test sites primarily to improve the range and consistency of the network in existing markets, to bring coverage to new ones entirely, or a mix of both.

That said, Verizon is, in effect, claiming it will double its coverage area to 30,000 sites by the end of the year. The company also says it plans to add 20 cities to its 5G UW coverage list, as well as 20-plus cities for its in-home 5G internet service. Presumably, that will be done through the site expansion to some degree. As of last month, Verizon surpassed its 60-city milestone for its 5G UW network, and earlier this week, it announced that prepaid customers can also begin accessing its 5G UW network, too.

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