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Verizon 5G goes live in some of Syracuse, but full coverage could take years, if it happens

City of Syracuse
A 5G small cell facility on a street pole in Syracuse.

The Verizon network has activated its 5G service in some parts of Syracuse, making it the first city in upstate New York with, what’s described as, ultra-fast wireless speed. Anyone with a 5G device on the Verizon network can access the service. 5G Ultra Wideband, as it’s called, is supposed to double download speeds and eventually handle data volumes 100 times larger than today’s 4G service. But it could still take years before the entire city is connected, if it happens.

Last year, city officials talked about how their goal was to bring 5G to all residents. The city's former director of administration, Christine Elliott, at the time, said there were plenty of people in Syracuse that have to go outside to use their cell phone.

But so far, the rollout of the new wireless speed is only affecting some parts of the city’s north side, and even less of the city’s south side. Check out the coverage area. More than 130 permits for small cell facilities have been issued, so far. Verizon has been installing the 5G boxes on poles over the past year. Jen Tifft, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, said the agreement the city has with Verizon is that there would be a city-wide network by the end of their installation. But when that will be, is still unclear.

“Initially, the projections were it might take 5-6 years to complete the system,” Tifft said. “We’re hopeful, based on conversations with them that we’re having, that it might be less than that. But we don’t have an exact time frame as of today.” 

In a statement, David Lamendola, director of government affairs for Verizon, said they expect to serve significant portions of the city with the 5G UW network, but for competitive reasons, can’t talk about their future plans. Read his full statement below.

"We are thrilled about the recent announcement of 5G Ultra Wideband in Syracuse, the first city in upstate with a 5G UW network. Building out the network is a time, labor and capital intensive process that requires the deployment of fiber to each cell site. The network represents our commitment to continued investment in Syracuse. We expect to serve significant portions of the city, but for competitive reasons can't talk about our future build out plans."

Some residents and common councilors have health concerns about 5G technology. See the common council's vote on 5G. Tifft said the city’s agreement with Verizon requires testing be done on the small cell facilities to make sure they’re safe.

“The testing has been requested and we anticipate over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll maybe start to see some test results come in,” Tifft said. “We’re going to be requesting those things on an ongoing basis.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.