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C-Band 5G FAQ: What it is, supported phones, carriers, and launch cities

By Sanuj Bhatia January 22, 2022, 9:00 am
5G C Band what it is explained

If you've read the news or scrolled through social media in the past few days, you must have noticed that 5G is trending again. 5G, US Airlines, and C-Band have all been making headlines for the past few days. Understandably, you must have got a lot of questions. Wondering what is C-Band 5G? Which carriers support it? Which smartphones support it? Is it available in your city? Why the US Airports and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are worried about it? Get answers to all of your questions here!

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What is C-Band 5G?

5G is nothing new, it's been here for a while now. It's the next generation of cellular connectivity after 4G LTE. However, a new term called C-Band 5G is being thrown around these days. To know more about the new bands, we'll have to tune back to 2020.

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In 2020, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) of the United States auctioned some of the unused networks bands. The bands they auctioned ranged in between 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz and these bands were previously used for satellite TV but were no longer in use.

AT&T and Verizon were quick to act and spent over $68 billion, combined, to use these bands, which were called C-Bands. T-Mobile also spent money to hoard some of the C-Bands, but it could only commit $9 billion. As a result, AT&T and Verizon were handed a large chunk of C-Bands.

The two companies planned to roll out 5G services that make use of C-Band frequency in December 2021. However, a month before its release, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) swooped in and delayed the launch. It's a long story explained in a separate section down below.

After a bit of delay, AT&T and Verizon flipped the switch and the two carriers went live with C-band 5G on January 19th, 2022.

Essentially, with C-Band, these carriers will be able to use more bands than ever, allowing them to offer more reliable, fast, and better 5G services. It might also solve one of the big problems of 5G — no availability in dense areas. Obviously, since more bands are available for each carrier, it'll result in better speeds (and lower latency) as well.

How fast is it?

Based on many early tests, we can safely say that the C-Band 5G is much faster than T-Mobile's low-band 5G. Most early users and adopters are reporting speeds around 400Mbps, which is almost double the speed you get on T-Mobile's low-band 5G but slower than Verizon's Ultra Wide Band 5G (it can go up to 1Gbps). Some have even seen speeds of 800Mbps on their C-Band 5G, but that's a rare occasion.

Why US Airlines are making a 'chaos' about C-Band 5G?

5G and US Airlines Source: Unsplash, Jan Rosolino

So, yes, let's talk about why FAA and US Airlines are opposing 5G C-Band. In 2021, when AT&T and Verizon were getting their C-Band 5G ready, FAA put in a request to stop the operations as C-Band 5G, FAA claimed, could interfere with the airplane safety equipment.

FAA said that cellular towers near the airports using the C-Band for 5G were interfering with radio altimeters used in airplanes. Radio altimeters provide data to the pilot about how far above ground is the airplane. This data is especially crucial when the visibility is low. This posed a safety threat and, therefore, both of the carriers decided to delay the launch.

So when AT&T and Verizon flipped the switch on January 19th, 2022, they decided that they won't broadcast the 5G C-band spectrum from towers near airports. But cellular towers that are not near the airports are clear to use C-Bands for 5G.

In fact, 5G C-Band doesn't affect all the airplanes with radio altimeters. Moreover, the FAA is also making progress on providing clearance to airlines about which airplanes are cleared to fly near the 5G C-band towers. The administration has currently approved 62% of the US commercial fleet to fly near the 5G C-band towers.

The FAA knows that C-Band 5G has been live in Europe for quite some time without any issues. But, it's also worth noting that aviation safety standards are higher in the United States. The administration has published a detailed report highlighting the progress of this issue.

Which carriers have rolled out C Band 5G?

On 19th January 2022, Verizon and AT&T enabled C-Band 5G throughout the United States. These are the specifics you need to know about:

AT&T

AT&T calls its C-Band 5G as 5G+. It's only available in 8 metro areas right now. The company says it plans to expand in more cities throughout 2022 with plans to cover over 200 million people by the end of 2023. AT&T users will see 5G+ on their supported phones when they're connected to AT&T's C-Band 5G. The 8 metro cities in which AT&T's C-Band 5G is available are:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Houston
  • Austin
  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Jacksonville
  • Orlando
  • Miami

Verizon

Verizon has rolled out C-Band 5G as an extension to its 5G UWB. The company says over 100 million people across 1700 cities can use its C-band spectrum right now. You can check if Verizon's 5G C-Band is available in your area using the company's official coverage map. Verizon users will see 5G UW on their supported phones when they're connected to the carrier's C-Band 5G.

What about T-Mobile?

T-Mobile acquired a small amount of spectrum for C-Band 5G. It isn't a part of the initial rollout, though it plans to launch C-Band 5G in late 2023. Till then, T-Mobile will continue to focus on promoting its low-band 5G. "T-Mobile does also have C-band licenses, but we plan to put them into use in late 2023, by which time we're confident any issues [FAA and Airlines'] will be resolved," the company said in a statement.

Does your phone support it?

iPhone 13 support C Band 5G

If you happen to own any one of these smartphones, you can take advantage of C-Band 5G:

Notice something strange? Yes, where are the new Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro? Well, it's a bit different for both the carriers. Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro support AT&T's C-Band 5G. However, Verizon is yet to enable support for C-band 5G on Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

Even though Verizon is yet to add support for C-Band 5G on the Google Pixel 6 series, it does support more Apple devices in comparison to AT&T, which include iPad Pro 12.9" (5th gen), iPad Pro 11" (3rd gen), and iPad mini (6th gen).

Do you need to buy a new data plan to access C-Band 5G?

On Verizon, if you're on Do More, Play More, and Get More Unlimited, then you can access C-Band 5G today (given you're in a supported region and near to the C-Band-enabled 5G tower). In addition to these plans, Above and Beyond Unlimited plans, 5G Do More, 5G Play More, and 5G Get More plans also get access to Verizon's UWB 5G. However, it's worth noting that Verizon's entry-level Start Unlimited plan does not include 5G Ultra Wide Band support.

AT&T's C-Band 5G is available on most of its unlimited plans. These plans also include Unlimited Starter, Extra, and Elite plans. You can check all the supported Unlimited plans here.

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