T-Mobile on Thursday introduced the market's newest 5G moniker: "Ultra Capacity."
The label will stew alongside "5G Ultra Wideband," "Extended Range 5G," "5G+," "5Ge," "5GTF," "5G Nationwide" and plain-old "5G" in the US wireless industry, ensuring that if American mobile customers aren't confused yet, it's only a matter of time before they're hopelessly bewildered by operators' thesaurus-toting marketing executives.
"One midband Ultra Capacity 5G site can cover tens of thousands of times the area that one Verizon Ultra Wideband 5G site can cover, giving T-Mobile customers the Wi-Fi rivaling 5G speeds in waaaaay more places," boasted T-Mobile in a release that – incredibly – did not include a glossary.
So here's that 5G lexicon everyone is apparently going to need:
5G Ultra Capacity: This is the new brand that T-Mobile is applying to its 5G network running in the midband 2.5GHz spectrum it acquired from Sprint, as well as its highband, millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. The operator said customers with "5G Ultra Capacity" phones and coverage can expect speeds around 300 Mbit/s up to peaks of 1 Gbit/s. Importantly, T-Mobile also published a map of where its new service is available. The operator has promised to expand "Ultra Capacity" to 100 million people by the end of this year and to 200 million people by the end of 2021. (It's also worth noting that T-Mobile said it will sell a new "Ultra Capacity" hotspot providing up to 100 gigabytes (GB) of data per month for $50, which I guess is a good deal unless of course you use more data than that per month.)
5G Ultra Wideband: This is the label Verizon has applied to its 5G network running in its own mmWave spectrum. Due to the physics of signal propagation in such spectrum, mmWave transmitters can't reach receivers that are more than a few thousand feet away. As a result, Verizon currently covers only the downtown areas of a few dozen US cities with "Ultra Wideband" connections. Both AT&T and T-Mobile operate similar, smaller mmWave networks in a handful of cities.
5G+: This is the label AT&T has applied to its own mmWave network. However, the operator appears to be focusing its energies on 5G in other spectrum bands. (It's worth noting that T-Mobile confirmed its "Ultra Capacity" label also applies to its own mmWave network, at least for the time being.
Extended Range 5G: This is the label T-Mobile has given to its 5G network in its lowband 600MHz spectrum, which supports slower speeds than mmWave or midband networks. As you can imagine, given the name, signals in Extended Range 5G go much, much further than signals in mmWave spectrum, again due to the physics of signal propagation in lowband spectrum like 600MHz. Verizon and AT&T also operate extensive lowband 5G networks.
5G Nationwide: This is the label Verizon has applied to its lowband 5G network. It's similar to T-Mobile's "Extended Range 5G," although T-Mobile has dedicated some 600MHz spectrum to 5G while Verizon is using a technology called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to put both 4G and 5G signals in its lowband spectrum.
5Ge: This is the moniker AT&T gave to its 4G LTE network in 2018, sparking plenty of controversy. The action allowed AT&T to quickly offer 5G icons to most of its customers without actually having to deploy a 5G network that adheres to the 3GPP's official 5G technology standard.
5GTF: This is the technology label that Verizon tacitly applied to its initial 5G Home fixed wireless service running in its mmWave spectrum. The network initially did not work on the official 3GPP 5G technology standard and instead worked on a derivation developed by Verizon and its vendors. However, Verizon has since shifted its 5G Home service to the official 3GPP 5G standard.
5G: This is the catch-all label that operators are applying to whatever their marketing teams haven't gotten their fingers on yet. T-Mobile used "5G" for a while until it introduced "Ultra Capacity," and AT&T still uses "5G" for its lowband 5G network.
Now, here's why this is all important: There's a very good chance this glossary will expand in the coming months and years in part thanks to the FCC's ongoing C-band spectrum auction. That spectrum promises to support speedy 5G connections across wide swaths of the country, and Verizon is widely expected to buy most of the C-band spectrum licenses up for grabs.
And based on Verizon's past actions, there's a very good chance the operator will think up some new label for its 5G network in C-band spectrum. After all, the operator briefly used the "XLTE" label for its 4G LTE network running in the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum it purchased from a group of cable companies in 2012.
Thus, it's reasonable to expect a similar strategy when Verizon begins lighting up 5G in C-band spectrum at the end of 2021. For those Verizon marketing executives who will undoubtedly spend tens of thousands of dollars developing advertising campaigns around this buildout, let me save you some time: 5GX, 5G Max, 5G Pro Max, X5G and 5G Premium.