Verizon’s new C-band network showed up about 20% of the time in our recent Best Mobile Networks tests and generally unlocked speeds at least twice as fast as the rest of the carrier’s nationwide 5G coverage. But older phones with a hotspot mode can’t take advantage of those average speeds plus a dedicated hotspot, like the Orbic Speed 5G UW ($299.99). This device is currently the only one that can handle the carrier’s new 5G network, and that support should make a big difference in network performance if you live in a C-band area. We’re not a fan of its bulk or average battery life, but these issues are worth addressing to get the best possible network speeds. Due to its unparalleled network performance (so far), the Orbic Speed 5G UW is an Editors’ Choice award winner.
Large and (mostly) holds a charge
The Orbic Speed 5G UW isn’t pocketable at 4.92 x 3.35 x 0.87 inches (HWD) and 9.91 ounces. And, despite its large frame, it uses a relatively small (albeit removable) 4,400mAh battery. The exterior includes a power button, USB-C and Ethernet ports, and a 2.4-inch touchscreen.
The battery is removable (Photo: Sascha Segan)
There’s no place to attach an external antenna, a common restriction on mmWave-enabled devices. While Verizon is focusing on C-band, we’d like to see a C-band hotspot that swaps into the short-range mmWave for better external antenna compatibility, but we’re not getting that technology yet.
The Orbic Speed works on 4G 2/4/5/12/13/48/66 and 5G 2/5/48/66/77/78/257/260/261 bands. These are very Verizon and US specific bands – the hotspot will not work well outside of the US and Canada or on another carrier’s network. However, we’re happy to see support for the new n48 CBRS band, which Verizon plans to use to expand its mid-band 5G capabilities.
The access point broadcasts Wi-Fi 6 similar to an AX1800 router. Expect basic performance with a true cap of around 600Mbps to a 5GHz Wi-Fi-6 enabled device; we pretty much confirmed those upper speed limits in testing.
An on-screen menu lets you change some basic Wi-Fi settings and check your data usage. A web interface unlocks MAC and port filtering, port forwarding, VPN pass-through, a DMZ, and device blocking, but no parental controls. You can configure Wi-Fi on either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands and there is also a guest network option.
Battery life is highly dependent on how you use the hotspot. When we streamed video on the 5G low band, which is basically 4G LTE with icing on the cake, we got 11 hours and 45 minutes of runtime. This test involves several GB of data, but does not require continuous transmission; video buffers give the hotspot a chance to rest.
There is an Ethernet port, which is faster than Wi-Fi (Photo: Sascha Segan)
Battery life can drain much faster if you strain the device. 20 minutes of hard work (running speed tests, loading uncached web pages, and using the Ethernet port) on an mmWave connection drained the battery by 7%. Projecting that drain rate leaves us with a battery life estimate of 4 hours and 45 minutes. We were pleased that the access point didn’t overheat in this test scenario (we tried it outdoors).
Indeed, it is fast
We compared the Orbic Speed 5G UW primarily with a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on Verizon’s 4G LTE, 5G DSS, and 5G mmWave networks. Signal strength and range seemed comparable, although we couldn’t test in very weak signal areas. The access point had maybe between 50 and 100 extra feet of mmWave range on the phone, a result I’ve seen before. But if you are really trying to reduce the range of an access point, you should choose one with an external antenna option.
At a 5G mmWave site, we got speeds of up to 3Gbps on my Galaxy Note 20. Networking technologies and adapters ended up limiting AP output, though; with Wi-Fi 6 on a phone, you can’t get more than 550Mbps to 600Mbps per device. It’s a Wi-Fi limit, not a Verizon limit. When we connected a Lenovo laptop through the ethernet port and a gigabit-ethernet adapter, we saw download speeds of 922 Mbps – again, this is a limit on the ethernet port, not the network.
The hotspot is bulky and won’t fit in most pockets (Photo: Sascha Segan)
Super-fast networks like mmWave are designed to support many people at once, and as such the Orbic Speed can handle up to 30 Wi-Fi devices simultaneously. We connected four phones to the hotspot’s Wi-Fi in the mmWave zone and saw them split speeds between around 700Mbps and 800Mbps (in total).
The hotspot’s capabilities matched the phone better where Verizon’s network was slower. With a weak 5G DSS signal, we got around 45 Mbps natively on the phone as well as over Wi-Fi from the hotspot. With a strong 4G LTE signal in a stone building, we got slightly faster speeds using Wi-Fi through the hotspot than on the phone.
C-band offers a significant increase in downloads that earlier hotspots could not provide. In a good C-band location in Brooklyn, NY, a 5G DSS connection was 14-40 Mbps, while C-band dropped us 211-354 Mbps. However, there was no improvement in download speeds, which ranged from 14 to 50 Mbps and were similar on DSS 5G. In a weaker C-band location in Manhattan, we saw a smaller but still noticeable improvement in downloads, from 74 Mbps with 5G DSS to 107 Mbps with C-band. millimeters can’t, that’s a big advantage to have.
I can’t drive X55
One of my concerns with the Orbic Speed 5G UW is that it uses an older Qualcomm modem, the X55. The X55 was the first decent 5G chipset; it appeared in the iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S20 lineups. Since then, the more power-efficient X60 (in the iPhone 13) and the better signal-capturing X65 (in the Samsung Galaxy S22) have hit the market.
X55-based access points are what Verizon currently has. More advanced hotspots exist – AT&T and Dish both have the X65-based Netgear Nighthawk M6 – but if you want or need a hotspot now, you’re stuck with what Verizon offers.
If you’re somewhere where you won’t get the right Verizon 5G until 2024, it’s worth waiting for a device with an X60 or X65 modem. But even though we don’t like the X55 very much, it gets the job done and, of course, any C-band is better than no C-band.
There’s a ‘5G’ at the bottom, in case you forgot (Photo: Sascha Segan)
If you care about network reception the most, you can slip down the rabbit hole trying to figure out if a phone hotspot with an X65 modem (a Galaxy S22) is better than a dedicated hotspot. with an X55 (this one).
In my mind, the difference is probably not significant. Your intended use case is more important. A telephone hotspot is personal. It is designed to put your laptop or other gadgets online. A dedicated mobile hotspot is best suited for multiple people in a defined physical space. This is for a vacation home, conference room, or workplace where people come in and out all the time. It may be billed differently from your phone, perhaps your company. Even in a home setting, you don’t want your kid’s tablet losing its connection when you’re running to the grocery store with your phone in tow. So, to sum up, a dedicated X55-based mobile hotspot beats an X65-based phone for situations where using a phone as a hotspot isn’t practical.
A powerful (but not scalable) 5G access point
The adage about waiting for “Mr. Right” instead of spending time with “Mr. Right Now” applies here. If your area recently got Verizon C-Band, the Orbic Speed 5G UW is Mr. Right Now. This hotspot unlocks significantly better performance than older models at a relatively reasonable price. That’s enough for it to win our Editors’ Choice award. If you don’t live in one of the 46 areas that receive C-band before 2024, expect a hotspot with a newer modem and hopefully external antenna compatibility. Until then, the 4G Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L ($99.99) is a much more affordable alternative to consider.
Verizon Orbic Speed 5G UW Mobile Hotspot
Although it relies on a latest generation modem, Verizon’s Orbic Speed 5G UW hotspot can bring up to 30 devices online via the carrier’s latest mid-range 5G network.
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