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.

A gavel

FCC Auction 110 Results

I’m covering this late, but the results of the FCC’s Auction 110 were announced on January 14th. The spectrum licenses up for grabs in this auction fell between 3.45 and 3.55 GHz.

Final bids totaled about $22.5 billion. While that amount is far less than the $80+ billion raised in last year’s C-Band Auction, I believe Auction 110 is still the third highest-grossing FCC auction in history (the AWS-3 Auction was the second largest at about $45 billion).

AT&T was the biggest spender in Auction 110 with a final tab of roughly $9 billion. Dish spent over $7 billion, while T-Mobile spent just shy of $3 billion. Verizon didn’t win any licenses—the company likely feels content with its mid-band spectrum holdings after spending around $45 billion in the recent C-Band Auction.

Here’s the full list of the 23 license winners:1

BidderGross Payment
Three Forty-Five Spectrum, LLC$1,379,489,483
US Cellular$579,646,526
Whitewater Wireless II, L.P.$427,906,975
NewLevel III, L.P.$375,665,956
Cherry Wireless, LLC$235,960,843
N Squared Wireless, LLC$101,852,981
Skylake Wireless II, LLC$52,511,264
Blue Ridge Wireless LLC$11,942,201
Agri-Valley Communications, Inc.$9,508,003
LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC$7,742,202
NE Colorado Cellular, Inc.$6,360,008
East Kentucky Network, LLC$5,140,000
Nsight Spectrum, LLC$4,687,882
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$4,526,920
PVT Networks, Inc.$2,316,030
RSA 1 Limited Partnership$1,737,360
Raptor Wireless LLC$845,700
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$103,600
PocketiNet Communications, Inc.$70,001
Jones, Anthony L$2,100
Gavel with money behind it

C-Band Auction Results

The FCC’s C-Band Auction closed in January, but the full results weren’t released until earlier today. Here’s how I described the auction in a previous post:

In the C band auction, about 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98GHz range was reallocated to cellular companies. Spectrum in this frequency range is particularly appealing to operators of cellular networks. The spectrum offers great characteristics, combining a potential for covering large areas with a potential for delivering fast speeds.

The C-Band Auction had fifty-seven qualified bidders. Twenty-one of the bidders won at least one spectrum license. Here’s a breakdown of the winners (note that Cellco Partnership is Verizon and Little Bear Wireless is Dish):

Bidder Gross Winning BidsLicenses Won
Cellco Partnership$45,454,843,197 3,511
AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC$23,406,860,839 1,621
T-Mobile License LLC$9,336,125,147 142
United States Cellular Corporation$1,282,641,542 254
NewLevel II, L.P.$1,277,395,688 10
Canopy Spectrum, LLC$197,021,760 84
Widespread Wireless, LLC$64,606,668 14
Cellular South Licenses, LLC$49,850,284 8
Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$23,652,000 4
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$18,565,480 7
Nex-Tech Wireless, L.L.C.$12,164,043 5
East Kentucky Network, LLC$8,675,753 1
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$7,638,336 3
Smith Bagley, Inc.$6,635,510 4
Nsight Spectrum, LLC$5,424,123 3
Agri-Valley Communications, Inc.$4,915,460 2
LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC$4,267,485 5
Union Telephone Company$3,123,600 2
Little Bear Wireless L.L.C.$2,510,020 1
Grand River Communications, Inc.$1,590,200 2
Granite Wireless LLC$170,510 1

Verizon spent a bit more than some analysts expected. Interestingly, Dish barely spent anything. While Comcast and Charter registered to participate jointly as C&C Wireless Holding Company, they did not win any licenses.

The full results can be explored in the FCC’s Public Reporting System.

Spectrum Is Expensive

The FCC’s C band auction recently closed with a total of about 81 billion dollars in bids. This was by far the highest-grossing spectrum auction in U.S. history. Previously, the largest auction garnered about 45 billion dollars.1

In the C band auction, about 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98GHz range was reallocated to cellular companies. Spectrum in this frequency range is particularly appealing to operators of cellular networks. The spectrum offers great characteristics, combining a potential for covering large areas with a potential for delivering fast speeds.

The amount of money committed in the recent auction drives home a point that I think most casual observers miss: spectrum is an enormous expense for cellular networks in the U.S. With the auction closing at about 81 billion dollars, U.S. networks are spending over $250 per person in the United States in a single auction.2