It may have taken a while, but 5G ultra wideband is slowly gaining speed in the US. All major carriers now have 5G deployments nationwide for at least 200 million people, and T-Mobile will cover more than 270 million people with its low-band network by the end of 2020. Verizon ended the year on a low-band network that covered 230 million, while AT&T’s version reached 225 million. All of last year’s top phones come with 5G, including the iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S21.
The next-generation networks of all major airlines will expand further in 2021, laying the groundwork for advancements such as home broadband replacement, remote operations, and self-driving cars that will dominate the next decade.
But with all this rival carrier activity, there are countless different names for 5G, some of which aren’t actually 5G.
The carriers have a history of twisting their stories when it comes to wireless technology. When 4G was just hitting the market, AT&T and T-Mobile decided to rename their 3G networks to capitalize on the hype. Ultimately, the industry opted for 4G LTE. One technology, one name.
However, different technologies and approaches to representing 5G have made this impending revolution more confusing than it should be. Here’s a guide to help you understand everything.
Know The Three 5G Ultra Wideband Flavors
When it comes to 5g ultra wideband networks, there are three different versions that you should be aware of. While they’re all accepted as 5G — and Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are committed to using multiple flavors for more robust networks in the future — each will give you different experiences.
The first variant is known as a millimeter-wave (or mmWave). This technology has been used by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile for the past two years, although it’s best known as the 5G network that Verizon has touted across the country.
Millimeter-wave: high speed, but with a downside
Millimeter waves use a much higher frequency than previous mobile networks and provide a lightning-fast connection that in some cases exceeds 1 Gbit/s. The disadvantage? This higher frequency has problems traveling distances and entering buildings, glass, or even leaves. There were also some issues with the heat.
Outside of some 5G-equipped stadiums and arenas, these coverage areas can’t even be larger than an intersection. One solution is to line up more cell phones, but in many places that is not an option. For now, see it as a pimped-up Wi-Fi hotspot.
Low band: long-range, but slower speeds
Lowband 5G is the basis for the nationwide 5G offer of all three providers. While these networks are sometimes slightly faster than 4G LTE, they don’t offer the insane speeds that higher frequency technologies like millimeter waves can provide. The good news, however, is that this network is comparable in coverage to 4G networks and can serve large areas. It should also work well indoors.
As mentioned, T-Mobile currently covers more than 270 million people with its low-band 5G network, while Verizon covers more than 230 million and AT&T covers more than 225 million people with their respective 5G networks.
Midband: the middle ground in terms of speed and coverage
Between the two, the midband is 5G’s mid-range: faster than the lowband, but with more coverage than the millimeter-wave. This was the technology behind Sprint’s early 5G rollout and one of the main reasons T-Mobile worked so hard to buy the ailing wireless operator.
The company has worked diligently since the deal was closed and quickly rolled out its midband network in the United States. The company now provides faster service to more than 100 million people to reach 200 million people by the end of 2021. T-Mobile expects the average download speed over the medium band network to be between 300 and 400 Mbit/s, with top speeds of 1 Gbit/s.
While T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon have a lot of low-band spectrum, the mid-band was used by the military, making it a scarce commodity despite its mobile advantages.
But that could soon change. A recent Federal Communications Commission auction made much more mid-band spectrum available to wireless carriers, and all three major operators spent billions acquiring radio waves. Verizon and AT&T were the largest funders, and at least one of them is expected to deploy 5G over that aerial wire later this year.
It is important to note that no band of the spectrum is inherently better or worse than another. The operators hope to integrate all three frequencies for a more extensive network.
Three 5g ultra wideband 5G flavors, many different names
As you would expect in an industry accustomed to dominating the airwaves with commercials, there are several ways in which mobile carriers refer to the different flavors of 5G.
AT&T is the biggest culprit with three flavors: 5GE, 5G, and 5G Plus.
5GE, short for 5G Evoluti on, isn’t actually 5G, so no, your iPhone 11 ($600 at Best Buy), Galaxy S10, or Pixel 4 showing that 5GE isn’t compatible with the new next-gen network.
The National Advertising Review Board previously asked AT&T to stop advertising “5GE”. However, AT&T continues to use the symbol on its devices.
The normal “5G” is now really 5G, but only on the mid-band and low-band variants. AT&T uses “5G Plus” for the operator’s millimeter-wave service.
From Apple to Samsung: 5G mobile phones now available
Verizon calls its current millimeter wave 5G network “5G Ultra-Wideband” or “5G UWB”. While not as complicated as AT&T’s approach, it can cause confusion thanks to Apple’s adoption of the eponymous ultra-wideband technology in the latest iPhones. Unlike Verizon’s 5g ultra wideband, Apple’s version does not refer to mobile but is a technology used to find other similar devices. Apple’s version of UWB is what the long-awaited AirTags tracking system does.
In addition to the 5G UWB moniker, Verizon calls its low-band offering “Nationwide 5G” with devices that display a regular 5G indicator when connected to that network.
T-Mobile, currently the only provider with a large midband network, has kept it simple with one name: 5G. However, that changed late last year and now has two names for the new wireless technology: 5G ultra wideband is the name for its faster mid-band and millimeter-wave networks, while Extended Range 5G is the name for its low-band network.
Fortunately, the icons on phones and devices remain the same even if you change the name in marketing and advertising. “Our customers see a simple 5G symbol when they connect to the next-generation mobile network, regardless of the spectrum they use,” said a T-Mobile spokesperson.