5G Network Rollout: Comparing Major Carriers
The 5G revolution has been steadily chugging along for the last year, and it’s only going to expand further in 2020. As we embark upon a new decade of technological promise, it’s a good time to check in with the major 5G carriers to see where their 5G network coverage currently stands.
5G Coverage: Carriers Compared
|Carrier||Current Availability||Average Download Speed|
|Verizon||Current: Atlanta, Boise, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Greensboro, Hoboken, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Omaha, Panama City, Phoenix, Providence, Salt Lake City, Sioux Falls, Spokane, St. Paul, Washington, D.C.|
Future: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, Little Rock, San Diego
|AT&T||Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Bridgeport, Buffalo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rochester, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Washington, D.C.||Up to 2x faster than LTE|
|T-Mobile||Nationwide (5,000+ cities)||30-100 Mbps|
|Sprint||Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Washington, D.C.||155-255 Mbps|
Data correct as of 1/24/20
Verizon 5G Coverage
Verizon started out the gate with the highest frequency 5G technology: the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. These waves, spread across Verizon’s “Ultra Wideband” UWB network of frequencies, offer lightning-fast download speeds, superior reliability, and super low lag time (known as “latency”). Verizon is the only major wireless carrier offering mmWave 5G to the general public, making it currently the fastest 5G network available.
However, these waves don’t travel nearly as far as those on the 4G LTE spectrum, nor can they penetrate objects. As such, Verizon’s initial 5G coverage is currently limited to specific outdoor hotspots in select U.S. cities. Verizon plans to continue installing more 5G radio towers and antennas to build out its Ultra Wideband 5G network, and eventually aims to accommodate up to 1 million devices within a single square kilometer. Next up on the rollout schedule: Cincinnati, Cleveland, San Diego, Little Rock, Columbus, and Kansas City.
AT&T 5G Coverage
AT&T’s 5G network is actually divided into three types of coverage, and your access differs based on whether you’re a general consumer or a business account or developer.
- Its 5GE (short for 5G Evolution) network is essentially rebranded 4G LTE. It’s the most widely and publicly available, as its technology is no different than that of its 4G counterpart. You may see slightly faster speeds in some areas, but generally expect 4G LTE performance.
- AT&T’s 5G network is on a low-band spectrum, making it closer to T-Mobile in performance than, say, Verizon. Its “Sub-6” GHz spectrum reaches farther than the mmWave spectrum (up to 2 miles), but at slower speeds. Like the other carriers, access to 5G is limited to hotspots in select U.S. cities, and you’ll need to be within range on a 5G-enabled phone.
- The 5G+ version of AT&T’s network is what many consider “true” 5G, as it operates on that mmWave spectrum. However, access to this super-speedy network is currently limited to businesses and developers, so general AT&T customers will have to wait to experience the full potential of 5G.
AT&T plans to offer nationwide 5G availability plus 30 cities with select 5G+ access within the first half of the year. You can also check out AT&T’s 5G coverage map below.
Want more on AT&T’s 5G rollout? Jump over to our guide to AT&T’s 5G coverage and plans.
T-Mobile 5G Coverage
T-Mobile beat the pack to the punch, becoming the first nationwide 5G carrier in late 2019. The carrier opted to roll out its network using the 600 GHz spectrum. As mentioned, these low-band spectrums don’t support millimeter waves, so speeds don’t reach the blazing-fast capability of 5G’s highest potential. However, this choice of spectrum allows T-Mobile to offer the farthest and widest coverage of all the major carriers to date, as these bands can reach miles farther and penetrate through walls and objects. That means T-Mobile users aren’t limited to outdoor hotspots to access 5G technology. Just don’t expect your service to be much faster than LTE speeds for the moment.
Customers in over 5,000 U.S. cities have access to T-Mobile’s low-band 5G network. The company plans to extend its reach to 200 million Americans over the next year, while it enhances its coverage and purchases more bandwidth to begin building an ultra-fast mmWave 5G network.
Sprint 5G Coverage
Sprint was the second major carrier to jump into the 5G pool, and the carrier’s 5G network utilizes the mid-band spectrum, offering faster speeds than the low-band carriers but not quite the speeds of high-band mmWave networks. Its network is built across unutilized channels within the 2.5GHz spectrum it already employs for its 4G LTE service. This way, it can send significant amounts of data at decently faster speeds while it ramps up its network buildout.
Like AT&T and Verizon, Sprint’s 5G coverage currently exists in specific hotspots within a few U.S. cities. However, both its coverage and capability could change if Sprint ends up merging with T-Mobile, in which case the newly formed mega-carrier would offer both low- and mid-band coverage, as well as combine its efforts on building out a high-band network with eight times the 5G capacity by 2024. You can take a peek below to see Sprint’s current 5G coverage map.
We’ve got more on Sprint’s 5G network over at our detailed overview.
So just how do you get access to this latest wireless super-technology?
If you’re in one of the carriers’ covered areas, you’ll need to make sure you have an eligible phone plan, as well as a smartphone that supports 5G. All of the carriers require subscribing to one of their unlimited plans, and some specify which plans support 5G (typically their mid- to high-tier unlimited plans).
Ready to take the plunge into 5G? Check out the latest 5G plans and phones that will have you riding the millimeter waves to the future.