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Verizon 5G Is Changing January 19: What You Need to Know

Am I overpromising the impact of the C-band launch? Yes. But it’s hard not to be excited.

By Sascha Segan

As Omicron sweeps the world, I have to take joy where I can. So I’m going to take joy in the end of the achingly stupid FAA/FCC conflict over C-band, the new swath of spectrum that will invigorate 5G on AT&T and Verizon, and hopefully lead to a massive boost in Verizon performance in 46 top metro areas on January 19.

Earlier this month, I wrote a story in which I listed the locations and devices that will get C-band. If you want to dive deeper into a map, head over to Spectrum Omega, scroll down under “Choose a Band,” and pick “3.7GHz (C-Band) A1-Int” to see the areas involved. In each area, Verizon will activate 60MHz soon, and AT&T will activate 40MHz…well, whenever it gets around to it. There is some other, very similar spectrum we’ll hear about within the next few weeks, 3.45GHz, that will probably also boost AT&T performance.

It’s worth noting that while the license areas cover big parts of the country, Verizon told me it’ll start in cities and work outward from there. C-band will likely serve capacity, not coverage. It won’t help you much if you have no coverage right now; it’ll help you if you get a lot of service bars, but things are still mysteriously slow. If you’re miles out of range, there’s no magic 5G panacea headed your way. The carriers just need to plunk down more giant towers in your vicinity, the way they’ve been doing on and off for decades.

But I’m hopeful this move will at least somewhat juice the search for new 5G applications. Can we get reliable 100Mbps connectivity in major cities? If we can, then what? Streaming gaming? Better multi-party video conferencing? Or please, hopefully, something we haven’t been seeing demos of for the past two years. (I just looked back and found that I’ve been promising C-band would improve 5G at least since the iPhone 12 launch in 2020. Ouch.)

You’ll notice I say “AT&T and Verizon” above. T-Mobile has been plugging along for a while now with its mid-band 5G network using a lower, non-C-band frequency. That network greatly increased T-Mobile’s speeds and let it start offering widespread home internet service.

That’s the first change C-band could bring to the most people: the potential cracking of cable home internet monopolies across the country. Verizon, T-Mobile, and (quietly) AT&T have all pledged to use their 5G systems to spread wireless home internet. They just need to provide good-enough service to enough people, something Verizon couldn’t do at scale with its fast but short-range millimeter-wave. More than 600,000 people have already signed up for T-Mobile’s home internet system, which uses non-C-band spectrum, the company said.

I’m not thrilled that the competitors to notoriously predatory cable companies will be notoriously predatory wireless companies. I’d love new competitors to be municipal systems or local firms. But any competition is better than none, and no ISP competition is what many Americans have right now.

I’m extremely psyched to get out and test this new network. I have some new test software, Ookla Wind, that can break things down to show which frequency bands are being used where. I’ll head out on the 19th, so check back for my results.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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