Verizon Orbic Speed 5G UW Mobile Hotspot Review
Jun 03, 2023
Verizon's fresh 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 5G nationwide coverage. But older phones with a hotspot mode can't take advantage of those mid-band speeds as well as a dedicated hotspot, such as 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 zone. We’re not fans of its bulk or middling battery life, but those issues are worth working around to get the best possible network speeds. Because of its unrivaled network performance (for now), the Orbic Speed 5G UW is an Editors’ Choice award winner.
The Orbic Speed 5G UW isn't pocketable at 4.92 by 3.35 by 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 features a power button, USB-C and Ethernet ports, and a 2.4-inch touch screen.
There's no spot to attach an external antenna, a common restriction on mmWave-compatible devices. As Verizon shifts its focus to C-band, we would like to see a C-band hotspot that trades in the short-range mmWave for better external antenna compatibility, but we aren't getting that tech just yet.
The Orbic Speed works on 4G bands 2/4/5/12/13/48/66 and 5G bands 2/5/48/66/77/78/257/260/261. Those are very Verizon- and US-specific bands—the hotspot won't work well outside the US and Canada or on another carrier's network. We are happy to see support for the new CBRS n48 band, however, which Verizon plans to use to extend its mid-band 5G capabilities.
The hotspot broadcasts Wi-Fi 6 in ways similar to an AX1800 router. Expect basic performance with a real-world cap of about 600Mbps to a 5GHz Wi-Fi-6-compatible device; we roughly 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 set up the Wi-Fi on either 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency bands and there's also a guest network option.
Battery life heavily depends on how you use the hotspot. When we streamed video over low-band 5G, which is basically 4G LTE with a cherry on top, we got 11 hours and 45 minutes of runtime. That test involves several gigs of data, but doesn't require a continuous transmission; video buffers give the hotspot a chance to rest.
Battery life can sap much faster if you strain the device. 20 minutes of heavy work (running speed tests, loading uncached webpages, and using the Ethernet port) over a mmWave connection drained the battery by 7%. Projecting that drain rate out leaves us with a battery life estimate of 4 hours and 45 minutes. We were pleased that the hotspot didn't overheat in this testing scenario (we tried it outside), however.
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 weren't able to test in very weak-signal areas. The hotspot had maybe between 50 and 100 extra feet of mmWave range over the phone, a result I've seen before. But if you're really trying to squeeze range out of a hotspot, you should pick one with an external antenna option.
At a 5G mmWave site, we got speeds of up to 3Gbps on my Galaxy Note 20. The networking technologies and adapters ended up limiting the output from the hotspot, though; with Wi-Fi 6 to a phone, you can't get more than between 550Mbps and 600Mbps per device. That's a Wi-Fi limit, not a Verizon limit. When we hooked up a Lenovo laptop via the Ethernet port and a gigabit-Ethernet adapter, we saw 922Mbps download speeds—once again, this is a limit on the Ethernet port, not the network.
Super-fast networks like mmWave are designed to support lots of 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 up speeds between about 700Mbps and 800Mbps (in total).
The capabilities of the hotspot matched up better with the phone where Verizon's network was slower. With a weak 5G DSS signal, we got around 45Mbps natively on the phone as well as via Wi-Fi from the hotspot. With a strong 4G LTE signal in a stone building, we got slightly faster speeds using Wi-Fi via the hotspot than on the phone.
C-band offers a significant lift on downloads that earlier hotspots can't bring. In a good C-band location in Brooklyn, NY, a 5G DSS connection was 14-40Mbps down, while C-band brought us 211-354Mbps down. There was no improvement in upload speeds, however, which ranged from 14-50Mbps up 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 74Mbps with 5G DSS to 107Mbps with C-band. Considering that C-band can span neighborhoods where millimeter-wave can't, that's a big benefit to have.
One of my concerns about the Orbic Speed 5G UW is that it uses an older Qualcomm modem, the X55. The X55 was the first decent 5G chipset; it showed up 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 hotspots are what Verizon has right now. 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 in a place where you aren't going to get the good 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 much, it gets the job done and, of course, any C-band is better than no C-band.
If you care most about network reception, you may slip down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out whether 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 probably isn't significant. Your intended use case is more important. A phone hotspot is personal. It is designed to get your laptop or other gadgets online. A dedicated mobile hotspot is best for several people in a defined physical space. It's for a vacation home, a conference room, or a work site where people are moving in and out all the time. It may be billed differently than your phone, perhaps to your company. Even in a family context, you don't want your kid's tablet losing its connection when you run out 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 in which using a phone as a hotspot isn't convenient.
The adage about waiting for "Mr. Right" instead of spending some 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 earn our Editors' Choice award. If you don't live in one of the 46 areas that are getting C-band before 2024, wait for a hotspot with a newer modem and, hopefully, compatibility with an external antenna. Until then, the 4G Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L ($99.99) is a much more affordable alternative worth considering.
Despite relying on a last-gen modem, Verizon's Orbic Speed 5G UW hotspot can get up to 30 devices online via the carrier's latest mid-band 5G network.
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