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November 25, 2022
AT&T earlier this month updated its coverage maps to show customers where it is offering 5G services running on its new midband spectrum holdings.
The move isn't surprising – Verizon and T-Mobile provide similar coverage information – but AT&T's update is noteworthy in light of the US telecom industry's renewed focus on mapping, following the release of the first draft of the FCC's new broadband maps. These maps help to highlight the significant complexity regular consumers must navigate as they search for suitable mobile coverage.
Adding the midband layer
AT&T officials confirmed to Light Reading that the company has updated its online coverage map with information about midband 5G services. AT&T hopes to cover around 130 million people with its midband 5G network by the end of this year, using both C-band and 3.45GHz spectrum.
AT&T uses the "5G+" label for its midband network, and the company has deployed its highband, millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in some stadiums, airports and other locations, which it refers to as "5G+ venues." Like Verizon, AT&T uses the regular "5G" label for its lowband 5G network.
AT&T trails both Verizon and T-Mobile in the deployment of midband spectrum for 5G. Verizon hopes to cover around 175 million people with its C-band midband 5G network by the end of this year, while T-Mobile expects to cover around 260 million people with its own 2.5GHz midband 5G network by then.
Assembling the image
AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all taking a slightly different approach to 5G, and the differences are reflected in their respective coverage maps.
Verizon is the only big 5G provider that has embarked on a major outdoor deployment of 5G in its short-range mmWave spectrum holdings. That deployment can be seen in some of its coverage maps. For example, Verizon's mmWave network is clearly visible in its Memphis, Tennessee, coverage map, which shows each street with mmWave signals.
But because Verizon is using the "5G Ultra Wideband" label for both midband 5G and mmWave 5G, other markets show broad coverage that's clearly fed by midband spectrum, not mmWave spectrum. Midband spectrum covers broad geographic areas, unlike mmWave spectrum, but it doesn't provide the same blazing speeds that are supported on mmWave.
Thus, the two networks are very different for consumers. Verizon's midband network currently offers speeds in the 100 Mbit/s to 200 Mbit/s range, while its mmWave network can offer speeds up to 1 Gbit/s.
AT&T has deployed mmWave in a few select indoor and outdoor locations. T-Mobile also has a handful of mmWave deployments, but those are not shown on its online coverage map. And like AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile includes both mmWave and midband services in one label, which T-Mobile calls "5G Ultra Capacity."
The FCC's new coverage map provides 5G information, but it doesn't delineate based on the type of spectrum operators have deployed. Instead, the agency provides two different and seemingly arbitrary 5G speed tiers: 35/3 Mbit/s and 7/1 Mbit/s.
Those speeds are a far cry from the 1.3 Gbit/s speeds Verizon touted for 5G in 2020.
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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