5G branding is going to get even more confusing, soon: T-Mobile has announced that it’ll be rolling out a new “5G UC” icon on the upcoming iPhone 13 lineup to let customers know when they’re connected to T-Mobile’s “5G Ultra Capacity” network, instead of the regular old 5G network.
The difference here is one of bands and brands: at T-Mobile, an unadorned “5G” icon will soon refer to the company’s low-band network, which it calls “5G Extended Range.” As the name suggests, it’s a slower network (closer to legacy LTE speeds) but it reaches a broader area. From a spectrum perspective, it exists in largely the same areas as LTE but uses 5G technologies and techniques for improved speeds.
A “5G UC” icon, though, will mean that you’re either connected to T-Mobile’s mid-band network (which it inherited from Sprint as part of the major merger between the two companies) or its high-band mmWave network (branded as “5G Ultra Capacity”) — both of which offer dramatically faster speeds. As PCMag’s annual 5G speed test showed this year, that mid-band coverage in particular (hitting the sweet spot of speed increase and range) has been a big contributor toward T-Mobile’s vastly improved network offerings.
And while yet another 5G brand standard is confusing, it’s not without precedent. Verizon has been differentiating between its low-band 5G (also called “5G”) and its mmWave coverage (“5G UW,” or ultra-wideband) since it started rolling out those networks years ago. AT&T does something similar, too, referring to low-band 5G as “5G,” while its mmWave networks are “5G Plus.”
AT&T also has the unfortunate tendency to misleadingly refer to its LTE networks as “5G E,” which, unlike the other flavors of 5G on this list, is not actually 5G at all.
But T-Mobile’s change is arguably a necessary one: the rush to sell customers on 5G and slap the next-generation networking’s branding everywhere has meant that the low-band networks most people currently experience as “5G” is actually fairly similar — practically speaking — to LTE. But now that carriers are actually rolling out the bigger improvements that do bring meaningful speed and latency increases, they’re caught in a problem of their own devising: regular “5G” is too diluted of a brand to make an impact, hence the more bombastic ultras and pluses being appended to icons and logos.
The new 5G UC icons should start rolling out soon on the iPhone 13 models once they’re released, as well as last year’s iPhone 12 lineup.