T-Mobile isn't just the latest to expand its 5G footprint, but the first to offer service that covers this many Americans with higher speeds. Next-generation networks from all the major carriers are set to expand in the coming months, laying the foundation for advancements such as replacing home broadband, remote surgery and self-driving cars that are expected to dominate the next decade.
But with all that activity by competing carriers, there's a myriad of different names for 5G -- some of which aren't actually 5G.
The carriers have had a history of twisting their stories when it comes to wireless technology. When 4G was just coming around, 4G LTE. One technology, one name.and opted to rebrand their 3G networks to take advantage of the hype. Ultimately the industry settled on
Differing technologies and approaches for presenting 5G, however, have made this upcoming revolution more confusing than it should be. Here's a guide to help make sense of it all. (And if you're curious, here's what has to happen.)
First: Know the three flavors
When it comes to actual 5G, there are three different versions that you should know about. While all are accepted as 5G -- and Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have pledged to use multiple flavors going forward for more robust networks -- each will give you different experiences.
The first flavor is known as millimeter wave (or mmWave). This technology has been deployed over the course of the last year by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, though it's most notable for being the.
Millimeter wave: High speed, but with a downside
Using a much higher frequency than prior cellular networks, millimeter wave allows for a blazing-fast connection that. The downside? That higher frequency and penetrating buildings, glass or even leaves. It also has had .
In effect, these coverage areas may be no bigger than an intersection, so think of it as a souped-up Wi-Fi hotspot. One solution is to string more cellular radios, but in many places, that isn't an option.
Low band: Lots of range, but lower speeds
Low-band 5G is. While faster than 4G LTE, it won't offer the same crazy speeds that higher-frequency technologies like millimeter wave can provide. The good news, however, is that this network functions similarly to 4G networks in terms of coverage, allowing it to blanket large areas with service. It should also work fine indoors.
T-Mobile plans to cover 200 million people with its December launch, while AT&T plans to launch its own low-band 5G network on its wider-ranging spectrum in 2019 before expanding it nationwide in the "first half of 2020." Verizon similarly.
Midband: The middle ground of speed and coverage
In between the two, midband is the middle area of 5G: faster than the low band, but with more coverage than millimeter wave. This is the technologyand one of the key reasons T-Mobile says it wants to . By acquiring Sprint, T-Mobile says that it will be able to offer a network featuring all three flavors of 5G. w
While T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have low-band spectrum, midband has been used by the military, making it a scarce resource despite its cellular benefits.
But that could soon change. An, the first time a significant amount of the spectrum will become available for commercial use, is expected to garner interest from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
It's important to note that no one band of spectrum is inherently better or worse than another. The carriers are hoping to incorporate all three types of spectrum for a more comprehensive network.
Three flavors, plenty of different names
As you'd expect in an industry used to blanketing the airwaves with commercials, there are several different ways carriers are referring to the different flavors of 5G.
AT&T is the worst offender, with three flavors: 5GE, 5G and 5G Plus.
The regular "5G," meanwhile, is real 5G but only on the midband and low-band flavors. The use of "5G Plus" will be for the carriers' millimeter-wave service.
Verizon calls its current millimeter-wave 5G network "5G Ultra Wideband" or "5G UWB." While it's not as complicated as AT&T's approach, it could run into some confusion thanks to Apple's embrace of the similarly named . Unlike Verizon's UWB, Apple's version isn't related to cellular, but is a technology used to track find other similarly equipped devices. Apple's version of UWB is .
Sprint, which only offers the midband 5G flavor, calls its network True Mobile 5G.
T-Mobile, which will have two flavors live after the low-band network is turned on in early December, will keep one name: 5G.
"Our customers will see a simple 5G icon when connecting to the next-generation wireless network, regardless of which spectrum they're using," said a T-Mobile spokesman.
With the expansion of 5G expected to ramp up in 2020 and beyond, here's hoping the new year brings some new clarity.