Photo representing the concept of wireless coverage

C-Band Coverage Maps

Last week, Verizon and AT&T started rolling out service using their recently acquired C-Band spectrum. Up until now, most of Verizon and AT&T’s 5G service hasn’t been particularly fast. With the help of C-Band spectrum, the networks may finally deliver 5G service that lives up to the hype.1

C-Band Spectrum

Last year, the FCC auctioned off a bunch of C-Band spectrum. In the FCC’s auction, the US was divided into 416 regions called Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). These areas weren’t consistent in size or population. I’ve borrowed an FCC Map that shows these areas and added colors to indicate the availability of C-Band spectrum for cellular networks:2

FCC map of PEAs shaded to show where C-Band is available

  • Blue: Some C-Band spectrum now available
  • White: C-Band spectrum to become available by late 2023
  • Red: No C-Band spectrum available

Let’s focus on the blue areas. Those are 46 of the largest PEAs. While these regions make up a minority of the US by land area, about 190 million people live within them (58% of the US population).3 Both Verizon and AT&T hold licenses that allow them to use C-Band spectrum immediately in each of the blue-shaded regions, and these are the only areas where C-Band cell service is permitted right now.4

Verizon’s C-Band Coverage

Verizon claims its Ultra Wideband coverage (which includes both millimeter wave and C-Band 5G) already covers over 90 million people. Since Verizon’s millimeter wave coverage is terrible, it’s safe to assume Verizon estimates roughly 90 million people have C-Band coverage.

I’m not sure, but I think Verizon has rolled out at least a little bit of C-Band in each of the 46 eligible PEAs. Right now, Verizon’s C-Band coverage is probably concentrated within big cities. However, with time, Verizon’s C-Band 5G will cover larger and larger portions of the eligible regions.

C-Band Coverage Maps

Verizon shows Ultra Wideband coverage in dark red on its interactive coverage map. While Verizon’s map doesn’t show whether Ultra Wideband coverage comes from C-Band 5G or millimeter wave 5G, you can usually make the distinction for yourself.

When only roads or outdoor areas show up in dark red, we’re dealing with millimeter wave 5G:

Snapshot showing a part of Denver on Verizon's coverage map. Roads show up in dark red, while a lighter red shades the rest of the area.

In contrast, areas completely shaded in dark red probably have C-Band coverage:5

Snapshot of Verizon's coverage map showing an area of Little Rock that's mostly shaded in dark red.

Based on reports I’ve seen so far, I don’t think Verizon’s C-Band mapping is particularly reliable.6 It should get better over time, though.

Other Carriers Using Verizon’s Network

I expect cell phone carriers that piggyback on Verizon’s network will gradually gain access to Verizon’s C-Band 5G. At the moment, the two other services that I know have access are US Mobile’s Super LTE and Verizon’s low-cost brand, Visible.

AT&T’s C-Band Coverage

While AT&T holds licenses in all 46 PEAs where C-Band spectrum can be deployed immediately, AT&T is starting small. Right now, eight cities have C-Band service from AT&T:

  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Miami
  • Orlando
  • Detroit
  • Dallas
  • Austin
  • Jacksonville

I expect we’ll see AT&T bring more cities onboard soon.

Verizon store

Verizon’s Updates: New Plans & C Band

Verizon officially launched the new plans I discussed on Monday. For the most part, the plans are structured as expected. However, the Get More and Do More plans will continue to include a 50% discount on plans for connected devices (e.g., watches, hotspots, tablets).

C Band Launch

Yesterday, Verizon planned to launch service using its recently acquired C-band spectrum. However, Verizon is now delaying for two weeks due to complaints from the Federal Aviation Administration. The complaints stem from the possibility that cellular service in the C band could interfere with airplanes’ radio altimeters.

The dispute has been covered in other places (e.g., The NYT), so I won’t rehash the story myself. I’m not an RF engineer, and I know nothing about radio altimeters. Perhaps that should convince me to keep my mouth shut. But it’s hard for me to watch the ongoing disagreements without suspecting the aviation industry is making arguments in extremely bad faith.

radio wave abstract

Verizon’s C-Band Timeline

Earlier this week, Verizon shared a press release detailing the company’s plans for deploying C-band equipment. As the equipment is deployed, Verizon will start making use of a huge swath of C-band spectrum it recently spent over $45 billion acquiring.

Some of the spectrum still needs to be cleared by previous holders. Further, it will take Verizon some time to roll out its new equipment. Here’s what Verizon’s deployment targets look like right now:

  • March 2022: 100 million people covered
  • 2023: More than 175 million covered
  • 2024+: Over 250 million covered

That’s based on this bit from Verizon’s press release:

Although the initial spectrum won’t be cleared until the end of this year, Verizon and its vendor partners have already begun the work to ensure the super-fast 5G Ultra Wideband service using C-band is deployed to 100 million customers by March 2022…In the first quarter of 2022, Verizon expects to put into service the new 5G C-band spectrum in the initial 46 markets and to provide 5G Ultra Wideband service to 100 million people. Over 2022 and 2023, coverage is expected to increase to more than 175 million people and by 2024 and beyond, when the remaining C-band spectrum is cleared, more than 250 million people are expected to have access to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service on C-band spectrum.
Crystal ball

Prediction: Verizon Will Offer C-Band Service To Everyone

Verizon won a bunch of spectrum in the recent C-Band Auction. That spectrum will be deployed over the next few years and will soon form a core part of Verizon’s network.

Eli Blumenthal, a reporter for CNET, recently shared this tweet:

I’m betting Verizon won’t stick to this policy over the long term. The new C-band spectrum is going to be extremely useful for Verizon when managing performance on its capacity-constrained network. If Verizon artificially limits C-band access to a minority of its customers, the company won’t be able to use the spectrum as efficiently as possible.

While I expect limiting C-band access will eventually become costly for Verizon, it’s not too costly yet. There are two main reasons:

  1. C-band spectrum will take a while to deploy (much of the spectrum won’t even be available to Verizon until 2023).
  2. At the moment, C-band is only supported by a handful of top-of-the-line phones. People with new, fancy phones almost certainly subscribe to Verizon’s premium plans at a disproportionate rate.

The situation will change as more C-band spectrum is deployed and C-band compatibility becomes a standard feature on nearly all phones. As that happens, I expect Verizon will open up C-band access to almost all of its direct subscribers as well as subscribers with Verizon’s flanker brands and Verizon-powered MVNOs.