AT&T and Verizon this week are expanding their 5G service across much of the U.S., bringing faster internet speeds and more capacity. And despitebetween the telecom companies and airlines that has disrupted flights and delayed the system’s deployment near some airports, the broader rollout is continuing as planned.
Here’s what you should know about the enhanced AT&T-Verizon network.
AT&T and Verizon on Wednesday will switch on a new swath of wireless spectrum that will make 5G service available to more people in more parts of the country.
All three major cell carriers in the U.S. have rolled out, but T-Mobile’s customers have enjoyed the fastest speeds in the most areas, according to industry analyses. Last year, AT&T and Verizon spent nearly $70 billion to buy a portion of wireless spectrum called the C-band, which covers frequencies from 3.7 to 4 gigahertz (GHz).
The C-band, also referred to as the “mid-band,” sits in a sweet spot that allows signals to cover a large geographical area while also allowing fast connections. At higher and lower ends of the spectrum, there is a tradeoff between internet speed and geographic coverage. Higher frequencies offer greater speeds but allow for relatively little geographic coverage, while lower frequencies work across a much wider area but aren’t much faster than existing 4G networks.
A spokesperson for AT&T compared turning on the C-band to expanding a highway. “The highway is already there, and C-band is adding more lanes to the highway,” he said. “You can go faster on a five-lane highway than a two-lane highway.”
How fast is it?
The difference between 5G and 4G is like the difference between downloading three or four movies in three minutes and making that same download in 15 minutes, Peter Rysavy, a longtime telecom industry analyst and president of Rysavy Research, told CBS MoneyWatch.
Aside from faster connections, 5G “has the ability to simultaneously support a large number of users engaged in broadband applications,” he said.
During a sneak peek of Verizon’s C-band network late last year, one analyst registered speeds of over 800 megabits per second (Mbps), and Verizon has advertised even higher speeds during other tests. That makes 5G about 10 times faster than current speeds on 4G LTE networks.
Who will benefit?
Customers of Verizon and AT&T, neither of which have used the C-band to date, will see the biggest difference. Verizon has said it plans to cover 100 million people by the end of March with its 5G service, which the company calls “5G Ultra Wideband.”
AT&T has said that up to 75 million customers will have access to its enhanced 5G service by year-end.
What do AT&T and Verizon customers need to do?
To access 5G on the C-band, consumers must have a 5G-enabled device and a plan that allows 5G access. If you bought your phone sometime in 2021, you’re likely good to go.
“Any device, any smartphone that a person bought in 2021 would have 5G support,” Rysavy said.
The following devices will work with AT&T and Verizon’s 5G networks, according to CNET:
iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lines
Galaxy S21 line, which includes the Galaxy S21 FE 5G
Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3
Galaxy A13 5G
Some older phones will also get software updates to access 5G, although it’s not clear which ones.
AT&T has a list of cities and venues where expanded 5G is available.
AT&T and Verizon customers should make sure their device is running the latest software, but otherwise they don’t need to do anything special to access the upgraded 5G service. An indicator will pop up in the display’s top bar to show when the device is using 5G.
How much will the expanded service cost?
AT&T will offer C-band service, which it’s calling 5G+, with its older unlimited plans (listed here), as well as its Unlimited Starter, Unlimited Extra and Unlimited Elite. Verizon last week updated its plans to make expanded 5G available to all unlimited plans except for the lowest-price tier, 5G Start.
What about flying risks?
On Tuesday, Verizon and AT&T agreed they willaround certain U.S. airports — at least for now — because of concerns from airlines that the signals could interfere with aircraft.
While the move means the 5G expansion initially won’t be as broad as planned, it won’t make access any worse for anyone who currently has 5G, Rysavy said.
“Anything that works today is not going to work any worse tomorrow,” he said.
However, the delay means that near certain airports, users won’t benefit from the upgraded performance.
“Long-term for consumers, this would be a bad thing,” Rysavy said. “As much as airports only represent a subset of the total coverage area, they are places where people would like to obtain the higher speeds.”
Besides flyers, many Americans living within a one-mile area of 50 major airports also won’t get mid-band 5G for another six months. That leaves out many people in densely populated areas. As Quartz reported last week, residents near LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, people on the Las Vegas strip and tech company offices in San Jose, California, will all be excluded from the rollout until at least July.