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Verizon’s faster C-band 5G is live and off to a promising start

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Amid an ongoing tussle with the FAA and airline industry, Verizon today flipped the switch on its mid-band 5G deployment, which uses spectrum that the company spent tens of billions of dollars to acquire in the C-band auction. The new, faster level of 5G connectivity will significantly augment Verizon’s “5G Ultra Wideband” network, which, until now, has relied solely on extremely-fast-but-very-hard-to-find millimeter wave spectrum.

Mid-band 5G overcomes many of the hurdles that have made mmW the brunt of jokes from competitors like T-Mobile: it’s actually available indoors, and coverage doesn’t vary as unpredictably from one street to the next. Customers with compatible phones should experience noticeably faster data speeds compared to Verizon’s “5G Nationwide” network that offers widespread signal but with download and upload performance that in many cases isn’t much better than LTE.

In short, 5G is about to feel a lot more real for Verizon customers than it ever has before. Mid-band is a crucial element of Verizon’s long-term 5G ambitions and bridges the gap between the slow 5G Nationwide and barely existent, ultra-fast millimeter wave 5G.

Even on day one, the improvements are promising. Customers were quick to take to the Verizon subreddit on Wednesday to post a slew of Ookla Speedtest screenshots, with download rates regularly topping 600Mbps and even 800Mbps in some cases. Many are seeing an average downlink between 300 and 400Mbps, far exceeding the performance of 5G Nationwide.

Which devices support Verizon’s new, faster C-band 5G?

At launch, the list of supported phones and tablets is fairly short. These are the devices that can already connect to Verizon’s C-band 5G:

  • Apple iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation), iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation), or iPad mini (6th generation)
  • Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, S21 Ultra, Z Fold 3, Z Flip 3

Verizon has said that all phones it releases as of now will support C-band 5G, and the carrier expects to offer over 20 compatible phones by the end of 2022.

Where can I get Verizon’s C-band 5G?

Verizon has said it will provide a C-band coverage map at launch, but so far, no such map is available on the carrier’s website — perhaps a consequence of eleventh-hour concessions to the FAA. You can expect just about every major metro market to have some degree of C-band coverage in January: the company has promised to reach “more than 100 million people in 1,700-plus cities around the nation” with the faster flavor of 5G this month.

But it’s a rolling process and won’t be instantly available everywhere. I’m located in downtown Brooklyn and am still riding on the slower 5G Nationwide network as of mid-day Wednesday.

How do I know if I’m on Verizon’s C-band 5G?

Verizon’s C-band 5G shares the same “5G Ultra Wideband” indicator in your phone’s status bar as millimeter wave 5G. That makes things a little confusing, but if you’re suddenly (and consistently) seeing “5G UW” appear in places where you never had it previously, that’s the best evidence that your device is taking advantage of the faster 5G.

How fast is it really?

Based on many early tests, pretty fast — and on a different level altogether than 5G Nationwide. Upload speeds aren’t anything spectacular, but many Verizon customers on C-band are getting download rates that range anywhere from 200 to 500Mbps and, in the very best cases, over 800Mbps. And these are in regions where cellular data had previously often topped out around 60 or 80Mbps, so the upgrade is substantial.

Do I need to change my plan to get C-band 5G on Verizon?

Not necessarily. The new, faster 5G is included on Verizon’s 5G Play More, 5G Do More, and 5G Get More Unlimited plans. Ahead of the C-band rollout, Verizon slightly rebranded and tweaked those plans — with the top plan now offering truly unlimited 5G data. But if you’re on a previous version of those plans, and since actual plan features have changed, in most cases, you’ll automatically be rolled over to the new plans within two billing cycles.

The exception to this is Verizon’s entry-level Start Unlimited plan, which does not include 5G Ultra Wideband whatsoever.

What about the whole airplane safety thing?

Don’t expect to get C-band speeds at your local airport for some time. Verizon and AT&T have begrudgingly agreed to delay activating C-band 5G around many airports and are creating exclusion zones to address airplane-related safety concerns that continue to be raised by the FAA.

Both carriers have strongly criticized the FAA for being unprepared for this moment. “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” Verizon said in a statement.

If you’re a Verizon customer and are already using the faster mid-band 5G, feel free to share some of your impressions in the comments.

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