A Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted out the idea for a new tech video: "1 RV. 3 5G smartphones. 15 different gadgets."
The result of that experience: some insane download speeds for streaming video and gaming, promising to change how RVs and camper vans connect. But the promise is just that for now, because in the WSJ test, the RV was literally parked next to a 5G tower.
As 5G coverage expands across the U.S., roughing it in a mobile living room can allow you to binge-watch a show about camping, for example, in case it's drizzling out and you didn't pack raingear.
It was a simple plan. Take an RV, add three 5G smartphones, and see how 15 different gadgets work when connected to the country's new and growing 5G network. The takeaway: while cool, 5G isn't exactly ready to stream your 4K entertainment on a visit to the national parks.
Joanna Stern, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, makes videos that explain new consumer technology in ways new consumers can understand. For her latest adventure (well, actually, "adventure"), she rigged up an RV with more tech than the average dorm room in order to see if a single tethered 5G connection would be enough to get a family through your average evening (read: lots and lots of streaming video) and parked it next to a Verizon 5G small cell tower in Jersey City, New Jersey.
In Stern's limited test, which she called the 5G RV Challenge, things worked insanely well for the most part. With over a dozen gadgets all running off a single tethered Verizon OnePlus 8 smartphone, she was able to run multiple 4K video streams alongside standard video calls, and gaming even worked better than compared to her video game tester's wired home Internet services. Uploading, on the other hand, was a bit slower than her home Wi-Fi, but she pointed out that uploading massive files from a phone isn't exactly as valuable as being able to send out gigabytes per minute the way it can be on your home computer.
The key point here, of course, is that 5G isn't available everywhere just yet, and it's certainly not available in the places where going in an RV makes the most sense. (Check out coverage maps from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.) That's because 5G is still being rolled out, and even beyond that there are two kinds of 5G signals: mmWave and Sub-6. The mmWave signal is the faster of the two, but it has the tremendous drawback that it can't go through walls and really only works within a few hundred feet of a tower. Sub-6 sends its signal further than mmWave, but even so, not everyone can use their smartphone to power their connected #VanLife.
Oh, and that's another thing: new 5G phones are required to take advantage of all of that increased speed, and while Samsung and other Android phone makers now offer 5G phones, Apple hasn't even officially announced any 5G-capable models (the company is expected to later this year).
Eventual 99 Percent Coverage?
So, think of the Journal's experiment as a preview of what will be possible in the not-too-distant future. It's a promise for what we will be able to do, someday. All of the major network carriers are boasting about their 5G plans—T-Mobile, for example, promises to make 5G available to 99 percent of the U.S. population, including rural America, within six years—but they also all have lots of caveats about the current state of 5G affairs.
Still, if you spend any amount of time among the RV class, you'll see plenty of large-screen TVs and various antennas staked into the ground nearby or up on the roof, implying that a remote-living desire for screens and connections is certainly a thing. Of course, if you're camping in an RV out in the wild somewhere, there are those (ahem, guilty) who would say it's best to enjoy the stunning HDR high-resolution images your eyes capture just by looking at nature. No network connection required.
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