Verizon and AT&T's C-Band 5G upgrade: Everything you need to know

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If you’ve been paying attention to the spot pitting carriers AT&T and Verizon against the Federal Aviation Administration over security issues involving 5G, you may have heard a word thrown back and forth: C-band.

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It is more than just a catchy designation for a crew of radio airwaves. This extra spectrum can significantly transform your 5G experience, which has been an incremental upgrade for many people – if that – over 4G. C-Band is expected to deliver broader coverage and higher speeds to both AT&T and Verizon 5G customers.

Here’s everything you need to know about C-band and how carriers plan to use it to upgrade their mobile Internet service.

What is C-band, and why should I care?

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G connected to Verizon's C-band test network

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A Samsung Galaxy S21 5G is connected to Verizon’s C-band test network in downtown Los Angeles, which is running speed tests inside an elevator.

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Let us first explain what is C-band. It is a set of radio airwaves operating on the frequency range between 3.7 and 3.98GHz. That frequency is known as the midband spectrum.

While AT&T and Verizon (as well as T-Mobile) have had 5G networks for a few years now, the former two are largely limited to deploying next-generation networks, known as low-band spectrum or high-band millimetre. Known as Wave. ,

Low-band has excellent coverage, but its speeds are often on par with 4G LTE. Most people on AT&T and Verizon are experiencing this type of 5G, which is why the difference has been minimal for many.

Millimeter-wave has excellent performance, but its coverage is often limited to a few cities or only a handful of blocks of an arena, stadium, or airport. But not everyone is going to come to Times Square or Sophie Stadium for that kind of advanced 5G.

With midband spectrum, a carrier can offer 5G that is not only significantly faster but works in more locations.

OK, but how fast are we talking?

Verizon has already said that it expects peak download speeds on C-band to be 1 gigabit per second, or 10 times faster than 4G LTE. This is comparable to the fastest home Internet service, though note the word “peak” as the best condition for connectivity. The performance improvement is so that the carriers spent more than $80 billion — with the bulk of the bidding coming from Verizon and AT&T — to acquire C-band spectrum when the Federal Communications Commission put it up for auction.

Our first look at Verizon’s C-band network

It’s also worth noting that T-Mobile bought C-band for use in late 2023, but it’s not desperate to deploy anywhere it now acquired the vast amount of midband spectrum it acquired in its merger with Sprint. has gone. , T-Mobile’s midband 5G network has already reached 200 million people, with the company previously targeting an average download speed of 400 Mbps.

Verizon and AT&T will use C-band to plug coverage gaps in their 5G networks that fall between millimeter-wave, which provides higher speeds in smaller areas within cities, and lower-band, which provides better range. But 4G is not always faster than LTE. ,

Will I need special equipment to connect to it?

Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro

Pixel 6 Pro, Left and iPhone 13 Pro will get C-band support.

Before you get too excited about these fast speeds to come, know that only a handful of phones have the hardware to connect to C-band. These are Apple’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lines; Samsung’s Galaxy S21 line, Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3; And Google’s Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Verizon has also confirmed that Apple’s 5G iPads (iPad Pro and iPad Mini) will also work with its new service.

Some older phones and devices may get software updates, but exactly which devices and when those updates will be rolled out is still unclear. The new flagship phones sold by Verizon and AT&T in 2022 and beyond are expected to support the new flavor of 5G.

Will I need a special plan?

Depending on your carrier, you may. AT&T is offering C-band, which it will call 5G Plus, with most of its unlimited plans. This includes the Unlimited Starter, Extra and Elite offered today as well A large number of its older unlimited plans from recent years,

Verizon, which will offer C-band under its Ultra Wideband (or UW) branding, will limit access to some of its unlimited options. This includes the Do More, Play More or Get More plans sold today as well as the old Above and Beyond Unlimited options from a few years ago.

If you don’t have any of these plans, you won’t be able to take advantage of a faster network, even if you have a phone that supports it.

When is C-band being rolled out?

Verizon and AT&T both plan to activate their C-band service on Jan. 19 after delays caused by concerns raised by the FAA and airlines.

Verizon crew working on cell tower

A Verizon team works on a cell tower in Orem, Utah, in December 2019 to prepare it for 5G.

What is the issue for the FAA?

Airlines and aviation authorities have argued that the frequencies covered by C-band have the potential to interfere with equipment used in aircraft, arguing that 5G deployment near airports could endanger takeoff and landing operations. can put

Carriers, the FCC and the FAA disagree about whether C-band 5G signals that use the 3.7 to 3.98GHz frequency range can interfere with equipment such as altimeters measuring in the 4.2 to 4.4GHz spectrum. Wireless industry lobbying group CTIA argues that around 40 countries, including Australia, China, France, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, already have 5G deployed on C-band, with no aircraft-related issues.

As recently as planning to roll out C-band on January 5, Verizon and AT&T accepted a final two-week delay so that all parties can take necessary precautions, including exclusion zones that limit C-band service by a few miles. around ban. airport.

So no 5G in airports?

Low-band and mmWave 5G service will still continue around airports, and Verizon will strengthen its non-C-band coverage in those areas as part of its wider 5G rollout efforts this year.

But once C-band service starts going live on January 19th, Verizon and AT&T customers should see widespread 5G service with higher speeds that fall between 4G and mmWave 5G. As the new C-band service will be integrated into existing coverage, however, customers may not even realize that they are connecting to the new frequencies.

Despite launching in January, two weeks later than originally intended, Verizon says Its C-band service will cover 100 million people in the US this month, a target the carrier had originally set for March. The initial rollout will take place in large metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Miami where Verizon already has 5G service, but will expand to other areas throughout the year.

Similarly, AT&T is adding its C-band service to existing mmWave 5G. Customers who see the “5G+” indicator on their phones are connected to one of the high-speed 5G bands. AT&T previously announced that it has planned the cover 70 million to 75 million in the US by the end of 2022 and 200 million by 2023.

And T-Mobile?

Verizon and AT&T still lag behind T-Mobile, which announced in November that 80% of its customers within its 200 million-person 5G coverage can use its midband 5G service (which it calls “ultra capacity”). Huh.

In addition to coverage, career competition will also decrease in pace. T-Mobile says its midband network aims for an average download speed of 400 Mbps. By comparison, our first Verizon C-band test found speeds ranging from 400Mbps to 1.4 gigabits per second just below the 5G emitter. Distance isn’t the only metric, as we still get over 400 Mbps within elevators and about 100 Mbps in underground parking structures. However, the test was heavily controlled using a Verizon phone and a limited area.

Ultimately, C-band will fill a significant gap in Verizon and AT&T’s respective networks, but the January 19 launch day is the start of a wider rollout. We’ll have to see how customers respond to this complementary service, which could deliver on 5G’s promise of bringing higher speeds to consumers beyond major cities – or just another small step in slow network growth after 4G. Is.

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