Technology

AT&T’s 5G Network Gets An Upgrade Sooner Than Expected


On Monday Verizon announced that they will be speeding up their 5G network four months ahead of schedule. On Wednesday AT&T confirmed to CNET that they will be doing the same. In a statement, the carrier confirmed that it too now has access to its full C-band 5G portfolio, months ahead of its expected December availability. 

“With satellite companies finished clearing the remaining C-band spectrum months ahead of the December 2023 deadline, we got early access to our full C-band spectrum holdings – doubling our available C-band spectrum for deployment,” the company said. “We’ve since re-tuned our previously deployed C-band in the original 46 locations, resulting in notable capacity and speed gains, and ultimately an enhanced customer experience with fast, reliable and consistent performance.”

Among the 46 locations are major metropolitan areas including Austin, Boston, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. 

The carrier says that it now has access to “a minimum 100 megahertz of total mid-band spectrum in the contiguous United States and an average of 120 Mhz nationwide; that’s bandwidth in every available city, 406 locations in all.”

Having more bandwidth allows wireless networks to improve speeds. While AT&T wasn’t touting any speed expectations, Verizon has talked about being able to offer download speeds above 2 gigabits per second across its network and its average of 161 Mhz of bandwidth. 

Both AT&T and Verizon have paid hefty sums to acquire the valuable wireless spectrum in a 2021 FCC auction. AT&T spent $27.4 billion on these midband airwaves that are known as “C-band” and spent another $9.1 billion acquiring some similar, complimentary spectrum in 2022. 

The C-band spectrum was previously used by satellite companies, with Verizon last year going so far as to make deals with those users to get them to move off the spectrum sooner. AT&T tells CNET that it did not make any deals with satellite companies to expedite the timeline when it might get access to the airwaves. 

Marketed under the name “5G Plus” by AT&T, midband spectrum like C-band has long been viewed as a key piece of the wireless airwaves thanks to its ability to cover large areas while also being able to offer faster speeds than 4G LTE (what AT&T still confusingly calls “5GE”) and what is known as low-band 5G (what the carrier has named just plain “5G”). 

Read more: Understanding 5G’s Many Names and Types

AT&T says it covers over 175 million people today with its mid-band 5G networks and roughly 290 million people with its lower-band 5G. 

But it’s unclear which AT&T subscribers will benefit from the faster C-band speeds with the devices they currently have or if they will need to upgrade. Unlike Verizon, which has said that at least some of its existing devices would be able to get access to faster connections with a software update, AT&T hasn’t elaborated on if it will do the same. 

On the other hand, unlike Verizon, AT&T doesn’t require special or pricier plans to access its faster 5G networks.