AT&T hits 250M milestone with 5G low-band coverage

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AT&T expects to cover 70 million to 75 million people with C-band by the end of this year. (Getty Images)

AT&T now covers more than 250 million people across the U.S. with its flavor of 5G, which includes low-band spectrum in large parts of the country. It reached that goal a full six months earlier than originally planned.

AT&T uses dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), which allowed it to speed its 5G deployment by putting it on top of its LTE network. Its millimeter wave (mmWave) technology (which it calls “5G+”) is now in parts of 38 cities and 20 venues, with plans to be in parts of 40 cities and 40 venues by the end of this year.

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But one can argue that its C-band spectrum, of which it obtained 80 MHz at auction earlier this year, is the real star of the show, offering better capacity than low-band and wider coverage than high-band spectrum. Often called the “Goldilocks” of spectrum, the mid-band spectrum offers better propagation characteristics for 5G than other parts of the spectrum range.

It’s not quite ready for prime time, however. AT&T completed its first C-band field test earlier this spring, and it’s ready to start deploying the first 40 MHz tranche of its C-band spectrum when it becomes available later this year.

AT&T is touting its 5G prowess at an event in New York City today – and Fierce is there, so watch this space for future coverage. “From the nationwide coverage of AT&T 5G, to the super-fast speeds of AT&T 5G+ and now leading the industry in laying the groundwork to utilize our new C-band spectrum, AT&T continues to be a leader in the charge to unlock the power of 5G for customers and businesses,” AT&T stated.

Both AT&T and Verizon are in a race to get their C-band deployed as “un-carrier” T-Mobile continues to ramp up – and heavily tout – its mid-band spectrum advantage with the 2.5 GHz spectrum it’s been deploying at a frenzied pace.

AT&T expects to cover 70 million to 75 million people with C-band by the end of 2022. It will cover about 200 million by the end of 2023 after the next tranche of C-band spectrum becomes available from current satellite incumbents.

The most recent report from Opensignal shows AT&T in second place for 5G reach, with T-Mobile in the lead and Verizon trailing in third place. Indeed, Opensignal said it likely won’t be until December “before our users on AT&T and Verizon can see their 5G download speed take a steady upwards path to follow T-Mobile’s.”

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T-Mobile’s 5G service using mid-band spectrum and millimeter wave, dubbed “Ultra Capacity 5G,’’ delivers average download speeds of 350 Mbps and covers 150 million people; it’s on track to reach 200 million by the end of 2021. It’s 5G using low-band 600 MHz already covers 300 million people.

Like AT&T, Verizon also relies on DSS so that it can tout a nationwide 5G coverage layer using low-band 5G; its mmWave (dubbed “Ultrawideband”) service is available in parts of dozens of cities, and it expects to be in parts of more than 80 cities with that by the end of the year.

Verizon's plans call for providing service using C-band to 100 million people by the first quarter of 2022, with the goal of covering more than 250 million people by 2024.

Editor's Note: Article corrected to say that AT&T expects to cover 70 million to 75 million people with C-band by the end of 2022.