AT&T and Verizon are using the new C-band spectrum to transform their 5G experience and enable them to catch up with T-Mobile. In this new analysis, we look at the real-world impact of the C-band.
Since March, AT&T users’ 5G Download Speed has increased by 34.6% which has been powered by a rising share of 5G readings that use C-band — it has increased from 4.6% to over 30% in the same time frame. On Verizon we see a similar upward trend — our users’ average 5G Download Speed has increased by 15.8%, with the share of 5G readings growing from 16.2% to nearly 50%, but AT&T is narrowing the gap.
Previously Opensignal analyzed the initial impact of 5G deployments in the C-band at a time when Verizon was deploying C-band services but AT&T’s early roll-outs were limited to eight metro areas around the U.S. at first as AT&T planned a surge in Q2 when it would also deploy service on the 3.45GHz band at the same time.
Our AT&T users’ average 5G download speeds have steadily increased since the beginning of the year when the operator started to roll out 5G services in the C-band. They enjoyed a rise of 17.3 Mbps in their average 5G download speeds between March 2022 and September 2022. This means average 5G download speeds increased by 34.6% in this period.
Notably, we observed the highest monthly rises in average 5G download speeds in July and August 2022, 8.7% and 7.5% respectively, compared to previous months. This late summer period matches when we saw increased numbers of readings using the C-band.
Looking at Verizon’s results, we also observed an increase in the average 5G download speeds of our users between March and September 2022, of 11.1 Mbps (15.8%), which was also driven by the C-band deployments across the U.S. The highest monthly growth in average 5G Download Speed experienced by our Verizon users in the observed period occurred in July, at 5.2%.
In March, AT&T relied mainly on the 850 MHz (n5) band to deliver 5G services. We saw this band in 92.7% of our 5G readings on AT&T’s network and we observed a limited use of the 3.7 GHz band in the same month.
However, C-band’s share in AT&T's total sub 6GHz 5G readings rose to 5.9% in April and then accelerated to nearly 10% in May and almost 20% just two months later in July. This trend continued in September when more than 30% of 5G readings observed on AT&T’s network were on the 3.7 GHz band — while the share of the 850 MHz dropped to 65.5% of 5G readings.
As Verizon started rolling out 5G mid-band from January, the C-band’s share in total sub-6 GHz readings increased from 16.2% in March to over a quarter of readings in June and to over a third of readings in July. In September, the proportion of C-band in 5G readings on Verizon rose to nearly 50%, overtaking the 850 MHz band for the first time.
C-band explains the jump in users’ overall 5G Download Speed on both carriers because of its significantly greater capacity than lower frequency 5G bands. Analyzing the different average 5G download speeds when different 5G bands are connected highlights the superior experience of using the C-band.
Our AT&T users saw the fastest average 5G download speeds with the 3.7 GHz band connected — clocking in at nearly 113 Mbps. This was approximately three times faster than the speeds users saw with other AT&T 5G bands — 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 1700/2100 MHz. On Verizon’s network, our users enjoyed 5G Download Speed averaging at 160.7 Mbps - 3.1-3.2 times faster than on the 850 and 1900 MHz legacy bands and 4.3 times faster than on the AWS (1700/2100 MHz) band.
On the 850 MHz band used by AT&T, users observed an average 5G download speed of 42.1 Mbps, which was over 70 Mbps slower than with the 3.7 GHz band. In the case of Verizon, the average 5G Download Speed was over 100 Mbps faster on the 3.7 GHz band than on the 850 MHz band. As our analysis shows above, the 850 MHz band is still commonly used by AT&T and Verizon for providing 5G connectivity — although it has been losing relative importance with the rising usage of the C-band during 2022.
AT&T has made significant progress in rolling out its 5G services in the mid-band, but it is still behind T-Mobile and Verizon. Compared to them, AT&T heavily relies on low-band spectrum to provide 5G connectivity to its subscribers. Between July 1, 2022 and September 29, 2022, we observed over 70% of 5G readings on AT&T’s network spectrum bands below 1 GHz.
While Verizon's C-band deployment is more mature than AT&T's, it cannot be complacent as it remains a long way behind T-Mobile in the use of mid-band 5G spectrum to boost its users’ experience — and our users on T-Mobile’s network have experienced faster speeds than those on AT&T or Verizon’s networks. Like AT&T, Verizon also started its C-band 5G deployments in January 2022 — months behind T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz rollout — and while C-band now represents nearly 46% of the total sub-6 GHz 5G readings seen, T-Mobile saw a much higher share for its 2.5 GHz with over 70% of T-Mobile 5G readings powered using mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile has been deploying 5G networks in the 2.5 GHz band (n41) since mid-2020 — Opensignal previously analyzed T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz-powered 5G experience in late 2021.
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