What Is C-Band And Do You Need It In Your Next Smartphone? Everything You Need To Know – Updated February 2022
Earlier this month, Verizon announced that it was rolling out C-Band to nearly half of the US. AT&T is also starting to roll out its C-Band network. But what exactly is C-Band? That’s what we are here to talk about today. To help you learn more about C-Band, how it works with existing 5G networks, and whether you need it in your next smartphone or not.
What is C-Band?
It’s important to explain what exactly C-Band actually is. Essentially, C-Band is a set of radio airwaves that operate at a frequency between 3.7 and 3.98GHz. That is also called “mid-band spectrum”.
For Verizon and AT&T, they have been building their 5G network off of its low-band and mmWave spectrum that it already had. That’s the low-end and the high-end of a 5G network, and C-Band will serve in the middle. Remember when it comes to spectrum, the lower the spectrum the larger coverage area it can achieve and the less bandwidth it has. And the higher the spectrum, the more bandwidth you’ll get but coverage really suffers.
This is why mmWave coverage is so pitiful, but you can still get multi-gigabit speeds from it.
The plan for the carriers is to use low-band, C-band and mmWave to build out their 5G network. That’s going to provide excellent coverage while also providing blazing fast speeds.
C-Band will allow carriers to offer much faster speeds, without hurting the coverage of their network. So it’s going to work out quite well.
How fast can C-Band be?
Peak speeds are normally not worth talking about, but we’ll do it here. Verizon claims that peak speeds with C-Band will be around 1Gbps. Which doesn’t sound all that great, when mmWave can achieve up to 5Gbps already on Verizon. However, that C-band theoretical speed is 10x faster than 4G LTE is currently.
Verizon and AT&T are going to use the C-Band spectrum to plug coverage gaps in their 5G networks that fall between mmWave and low-bands. So that they can better blanket the entire country with 5G coverage. Between Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, the carriers spent over $80 billion buying up this C-Band spectrum from the FCC last year. Now it’s starting to become clear why the carriers spent that much.
How does C-Band work with the existing 5G networks?
As we’ve already mentioned, C-Band is basically the middle-layer of the 5G cake. To T-Mobile’s credit, they did a really good job explaining this to those that aren’t super knowledgeable about how wireless carrier networks work. You can see a picture of the 5G Layer Cake below.
Basically, you have the low-band spectrum that is rolled out nationwide, typically using 600MHz, 700MHz or 800MHz depending on the carrier. Then there’s the mid-band layer which is going to be C-Band along with the 2.5GHz spectrum T-Mobile got when it acquired Sprint. At the top, you’ll see mmWave, which will be used in dense urban areas. Think of airports, stadiums, downtowns, malls, etc.
C-Band or mid-band spectrum, will slot in between the low-band and the mmWave spectrum that carriers have already rolled out. It’ll be available in more areas than mmWave, but perhaps not as much as low-band is. It’s also going to help carriers bring in more bandwidth, which is going to be important as we get more and more 5G devices on these carrier networks. Not just smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, but also laptops, autonomous cars, and more.
What smartphones have C-Band support?
For the past year, most smartphones sold by AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon have had C-Band support. However, it’ll need to be turned on for it to actually work. So expect a software update once the spectrum is rolled out and turned on – for Verizon, that should be later this month.
Will I need to change my plan?
This will depend on your carrier, but you may need to change your plan, or the carrier may roll out new plans. For example, Verizon did roll out some new plans that now support access to its C-Band spectrum.
Verizon did roll out some new plans that now work with its C-Band network. Prices did not change, and Verizon actually added some more data to them all. Including a plan that now has no deprioritization. Meaning you can use as much data as you want, and never be slowed down. This is a really good plan to check out, especially with the speeds we’re talking about for 5G.
When will I be able to access C-Band spectrum?
The FAA actually asked Verizon and AT&T to delay launching their C-Band network, due to concerns raised by the airlines. But they only agreed to delay this until January 19. So we could see both networks light up on January 19, 2021.
T-Mobile won’t be launching their C-Band network until late-2023. But T-Mobile is not in a big hurry to do it, since it does have that 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum from its Sprint acquisition.
Why does the FAA have an issue with C-Band?
The airlines and aviation officials have been arguing that the frequencies that C-Band covers could interfere with the instruments used in aircraft and contend that deployments of 5G near airports could endanger takeoff and landing operations.