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5G analysis shows C-band is helping Verizon, but it and AT&T still trail T-Mobile

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The game of catch-up has clearly begun, though

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Verizon’s network has gotten a noticeable speed bump.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Verizon and AT&T’s recent 5G rollout could put them in a better position to compete with T-Mobile, which has had similar tech rolled out for years, according to data from Opensignal. The company’s analysis showed that when Verizon turned on its C-band equipment in January, its average 5G speeds jumped — and where carriers have their new tech rolled out, they’re all achieving similar speeds.

When looking at the average 5G download speeds for each carrier, there’s a clear bump in Verizon’s numbers after the carrier took its C-band equipment online in January. The increased speeds that were available to customers in the rollout area brought its average up by around 15 megabits per second, according to Opensignal. Despite also rolling out C-band, AT&T didn’t see the same bump — likely because its launch only covered “eight metro areas,” according to the carrier (though it promises to expand throughout 2022).

There was a noticeable shift when Verizon turned on its C-band network.
Chart: Opensignal

T-Mobile is, of course, notably ahead. That’s because Opensignal’s average speeds account both for those with fast mid-band and those without. In January, Verizon said that over 100 million people would have access to its C-band service. T-Mobile said mid-band covered over 210 million at that time, which obviously helps its average numbers significantly — there are fewer people without mid-band coverage, bringing the average speeds down.

Verizon and AT&T look much more competitive in places where mid-band is rolled out.
Chart: Opensignal

When Opensignal narrowed the scope to just mid-band 5G download speeds, though, the speed differences between carriers became much smaller. T-Mobile is still on top, with its more mature network delivering 225.5 Mbps on average, but Verizon’s C-band isn’t too far off at 211.8 Mbps. AT&T is a bit further behind, only averaging around 160 Mbps, even on C-band. AT&T and T-Mobile’s average upload speeds are in the 18 Mbps range, while Verizon pulls out ahead, averaging almost 21 Mbps. Those are significant improvements over what the average AT&T or Verizon customer was getting before their C-band rollouts.

The average download speeds for each carrier before the C-band rollout, for comparison.
Image: Opensignal

While T-Mobile’s 5G rollout has been based around mid-band 5G, its competitors spent billions to get rights to the C-band spectrum so they could do their own wide rollouts. In January, they actually started the process of broadcasting mid-band signals to consumers (after several delays due to a brouhaha around the possibility that C-band signals could interfere with vital equipment on airplanes).

What this all means is that T-Mobile probably won’t be able to rest on its laurels. Verizon and, to a lesser extent, AT&T have shown that their C-band acquisitions let them compete on speed where they’ve rolled out the equipment. Verizon is planning on expanding its C-band availability to at least 75 million more people by the end of this year, whereas T-Mobile only plans on adding around 50 million more. Sooner or later, Verizon may catch up, and the carriers will once again have to race for some way to differentiate themselves that they can brag about.