Minneapolis is at the leading edge of cellphone technology for the first time. Barely. But it is.
Just as tens of thousands of people were descending on Minneapolis for the Final Four last week, the city became one of the first places in the world to have a fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless network. Data travels four to 10 times faster on 5G than on the 4G networks that have been around about a decade.
The network covers a portion of downtown -- including U.S. Bank Stadium, site of the NCAA men's Final Four games -- and part of the Mall of America.
Hardly anyone in the basketball throngs knew it or used it, though. As with any big advance in communications networks, this one requires people to have new phones, few of which are available.
But for months, wireless providers have scrambled to appear to be leaders in 5G, sometimes with sped-up offerings that technically were still 4G.
This past week, a pitched PR battle unfolded between Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, and firms in South Korea.
"There's this whole rush to be first for this and first for that," said Jason Leigh, a telecom industry analyst at IDC, a market research firm.
For Verizon, Minneapolis provided a welcoming environment to quickly install 5G equipment. Because certain types of 5G signals do not travel as far as those in earlier generations, coverage cells are smaller and more equipment has to be installed on rooftops, poles and other high places.
"Minneapolis has been aboard as a city and has been friendly toward the industry in placing small cells," David Weissmann, a Verizon spokesman, said Tuesday.
On light poles around U.S. Bank Stadium, Verizon's 5G equipment is visible as the smaller rectangular antennas above 4G antennas that are longer rectangles.