What Is C-Band 5G and Why Does It Matter to You?

Getting 5G much closer to its full potential

There’s been a lot of talk lately about C-band 5G. Once used primarily by satellite TV operators, C-band is a type of radio spectrum that cellular companies are now harnessing to improve the performance and reach of 5G wireless networks.

Long story short, C-band is the stuff that will give your 5G phone a massive speed boost on a much more regular basis. It will make 5G finally worth your while, after years of 5G being mostly unavailable and not nearly as fast as initially promised.

But what is C-band spectrum, exactly? And what makes it so special? Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of C-band and how you can get the most out of it on your phone or mobile device.

Not sure if you’re getting the best performance on your 5G phone?

Run a speed test to see what bandwidth you have in a 5G area.

 

You can also use our How Much Internet Speed Do I Need? tool to see what works best for you based on your home and mobile internet needs.

Why Is C-band 5G important?

The introduction of C-band is the next big step in the years-long deployment of 5G wireless networks. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and a handful of other US telecom companies have collectively invested more than $95 billion to obtain licenses to use a chunk of this coveted radio spectrum in their 5G networks. The federal government has given the green light for C-band to be rolled out in dozens of American cities beginning in January 2022.

Wireless companies use radio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum to provide internet access on your cell phone. And C-band falls in the middle of the radio spectrum used for 5G networks—specifically, according to federal standards, it refers to the frequency bands of 3.7–3.98 GHz.1 This is on the low end of a wider C-band spectrum, which has primarily been used for satellite TV broadcasts and distribution since the 1970s.

5G uses a wide range of radio frequencies to deliver internet data to our cellular devices. C-band is lower on the radio dial compared to millimeter-wave spectrum (24–47 GHz), the much-hyped type of 5G that can deliver gigabit speeds over short, line-of-sight distances. However, C-band is a higher frequency than low-band 5G (600 MHz–1 GHz), which has a similar range and speed capacity as 4G.

Since C-band fits in the middle of the spectrum, it hits the sweet spot between mm-wave and low-band, combining faster speeds with longer range.

5G typeSpeed capabilitiesRange from cell towerMore info
Millimeter-wave (24–47 GHz)600 Mbps and aboveLine of sight (less than half sq. mile)View 5G Providers
C-band (3.7–4.2 GHz)100-500 Mbps0.5–6 sq. milesView 5G Providers
Low-band (600 MHz–1 GHz)30-50 MbpsHundreds of sq. milesView 5G Providers

 Benefits of C-band 5G:

  • C-band can deliver fast speeds, upwards of 100 Mbps on phones.
  • C-band can work over long ranges without requiring too many cell towers.
  • There’s a lot of C-band spectrum available for wireless use by telecom companies.

If you’re curious about C-band 5G because you want a wireless home internet setup, then run a search with your zip code below to see what kind of home internet you can get in your area.

If C-band is so great, then why are we just getting it now?

European and Asian telecommunications companies have already deployed C-band in their 5G markets, but the United States is late in hopping on the C-band bandwagon.

The build-up to 5G in the late 2010s came with a lot of hype. Commentators and telecom experts bandied about a lot of buzzwords and made promises that 5G will soon pave the way for everything from gigabit phone speeds to self-driving cars to robot brain surgeries.

Alas, that bright future has not become a reality. Throughout 2020 and 2021, 5G was only intermittently available on peoples’ phones. For the most part, 5G speeds were only a nudge or two faster than 4G.3

Pro tip:

Get a full run down on the differences between 4G and 5G wireless networks in case you’re unsure about speed, pricing, and availability.

5G’s lackluster performance has a lot to do with the radio spectrum that federal regulators made available for commercial use. Cellular companies need to purchase licenses from the Federal Communications Commission in order to use certain airwaves for their wireless networks, and initially, the FCC emphasized millimeter-wave channels (24–47 GHz) over C-band channels, since millimeter-wave had little commercial use and a lot of potential to deliver fast speeds.

Millimeter-wave looks fantastic on paper—it’s capable of delivering gigabit-plus speeds and significantly lower latency. But there are some big downsides to millimeter-wave, too, which put a damper on cellular companies’ abilities to roll out the fastest form of 5G quickly across the country.

 Downsides to millimeter wave 5G:

  • Millimeter-wave signals have an extremely limited, “line of sight” range.
  • A millimeter-wave signal can be knocked out by inclement weather or even trees and hills.
  • Widespread access to millimeter-wave requires a massive buildup of infrastructure (think a radio tower on every city block).

For these reasons, 5G’s progress lagged during the initial two years of deployment, and now cellular companies are eager to deploy C-band to really get 5G going.

Looking for a new internet setup? Run a search with your zip code below to see what you can get in your area.

How can you get C-band 5G?

Verizon and AT&T are the two main cell carriers using C-band 5G right now. So if you have a cell phone plan with either, you’re golden. Of course, you’ll also need a 5G phone with C-band capability to access any C-band networks.

C-band 5G is currently available in 46 major cities, reaching 60% of the US population. Verizon and AT&T still have to build up their cell sites to make sure C-band is available in all of these places, but there will be much wider availability starting in 2022.4

Another portion of C-band spectrum will be available in 53 more major markets beginning in December 2023. That includes a lot of C-band spectrum controlled by T-Mobile, which has focused on building up lower-band versions of 5G with slightly slower speeds.

Where can you find C-band 5G, exactly?

Allnet Insights & Analytics put together a list of where C-band 5G is available as of January 2022. It also has listed where C-band will be made available beginning in December 2023. Take a look below to see if you can get C-band 5G in your city or town.4

Markets where C-band 5G is currently available (listed in order of population size):

  • New York City, NY
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Boston, MA
  • Dallas, TX
  • Miami, FL
  • Houston, TX
  • Detroit, MI
  • Orlando, FL
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Seattle, WA
  • Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN
  • San Diego, CA
  • Portland, OR
  • Tampa, FL
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Saint Louis, MO
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Nashville, TN
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • Fresno, CA
  • Austin, TX
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Columbus, OH
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Rochester, NY
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Little Rock, AR
  • Brownsville, TX
  • Harrisburg, PA
  • Albany, NY
  • Greenville, SC

Markets where C-band 5G will be available starting December 2023:

  • Baltimore, MD–Washington, DC
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Denver, CO
  • Louisville, KY
  • Charleston, WV
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Huntsville, AL
  • Kalamazoo, MI
  • Richmond, VA
  • Bloomington, IN
  • Memphis, TN
  • Manchester, NH
  • Toledo, OH
  • Dayton, OH
  • Tulsa, OK
  • South Bend, IN
  • Cape Coral, FL
  • Lansing, MI
  • Sarasota, FL
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Springfield, MA
  • Eugene, OR
  • Knoxville, TN
  • Tallahassee, FL
  • El Paso, TX
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Reno, NV
  • Portland, ME
  • Greensboro, NC
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • Omaha, NE
  • Saginaw, MI
  • Baton Rouge, LA
  • Fort Wayne, IN
  • Mobile, AL
  • Charleston, SC
  • Frankfort, KY
  • Pensacola, FL
  • Frederick, MD
  • Columbia, SC
  • Jackson, MS
  • Colorado Springs, CO
  • Decatur, IL
  • Lafayette, LA
  • Waco, TX
  • Bluefield, WV
  • Richmond, KY
  • Mankato, MN
  • Johnson City, TN
  • Tupelo, MS
  • Greenville, NC

Which cellular carriers have C-band 5G?

Cellular carrierWhen will C-band be available?More info
VerizonJanuary 2022View 5G Providers
AT&TJanuary 2022View 5G Providers
T-MobileDecember 2023View 5G Providers

Verizon and AT&T are the main cellular carriers with C-band 5G right now. Verizon controls about 60% of the currently available C-band 5G spectrum, while AT&T has licenses to operate 40% of it.2

It may take several months until C-band is available everywhere, but you can expect AT&T and Verizon to focus on deploying their C-band spectrum across their current 5G networks throughout 2022.

T-Mobile also has C-band, but it isn’t cleared to make its C-band 5G networks live until December 2023, as per government regulations.

Even without C-band (for now), T-Mobile remains the leader in 5G

T-Mobile is the dominant force in 5G so far. According to a report from analytics firm Opensignal, T-Mobile had the fastest 5G speeds and the greatest 5G availability of the three major cellular carriers as of October 2021.3

At the beginning of 2022, T-Mobile’s 5G network reportedly reached 210 million people, while Verizon covered just under half that with its own 5G network using C-band spectrum.4

Reportedly, T-Mobile hopes to stay the lead 5G player throughout 2022 by increasing its investments, expanding its wireless reach, and bringing on more customers in mobile and with its fixed-wireless T-Mobile Home Internet service.

Which 5G phones have C-band?

You can get C-band on numerous 5G phones, including iPhone 12, iPhone 13, Samsung Galaxy S21 phones, Google Pixel 5, and Google Pixel 6.

To make sure a phone can use C-band 5G, go to the list of tech specs on the package or the manufacturer’s website and look in the wireless section to see if it supports the frequency bands called n77 and n78. N77 is the code for the frequencies 3.3–4.2GHz, making it the main frequency that we know as C-band. N78 also covers frequencies that fall within C-band spectrum.6

Pro tip:

You can use 5G on your phone—but you can also get it as a home internet setup. Take a look at our review of Verizon 5G Home Internet to see how it works.

Best phones with C-band 5G

PhoneStarting priceDisplayProcessorGet it
iPhone 13$829.006.1" Super Retina XDR OLED; 2532 x 1170 pixelsA15 BionicView on Amazon
iPhone 12$829.006.1-inch Super Retina XDR display with True Tone; 2532 x 1170 pixelsA14 BionicView on Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G$999.996.8" AMOLED; 3200 x 1440 pixelsSnapdragon 888View on Amazon
Google Pixel 5a$468.896.34-inch FHD+ OLED; 2400 x 1080 pixelsSnapdragon 765GView on Amazon
Google Pixel 6$599.006.4-inch FHD+ Smooth Display; 2400 x 1080 pixelsGoogle TensorView on Amazon

Which 5G phones are NOT compatible with C-band 5G?

Any 5G phone that does not support n77 and n78 bands will not be compatible with C-band 5G. Many of the early 5G phones don’t have C-band support and some low-end phones currently on the market don’t have C-band either. If you’re not sure whether your phone supports C-band, contact your cell carrier to double check.

Do you need a 5G phone with C-band?

You need a 5G phone to access any type of 5G service, including C-band. But you don’t necessarily need C-band on a phone right now—unless you have Verizon or AT&T and hope to get the most out of your 5G experience. While C-band isn’t fully deployed yet, availability will expand in 2022, and the right 5G phone will ensure you get the best speeds in the widest coverage area.

If you’re on T-Mobile, don’t worry about investing in a pricey phone just for the C-band. T-Mobile won’t deploy C-band until late 2023—and likely by then, a lot more 5G phones will be on the market, and most (if not all) will have C-band capability.

As you shop around for 5G phones and networks, it’s also important to see what you can get for your home internet. Run a search below to see what’s available in your area—and how it compares to 5G capabilities.

If you’re curious about C-band 5G because you want a wireless home internet setup, then run a search with your zip code below to see what kind of home internet you can get in your area.

Sources

  1. Federal Communications Commission, “Auction 107: 3.7 GHz Service Fact Sheet,” undated. Accessed January 12, 2022.
  2. Mike Dano, Light Reading, “Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile: Here Are the C-Band Auction Results,” February 24, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2022.
  3. Francesco Rizzato, Opensignal, “5G Experience Report—October 2021,” October 2021. Accessed January 12, 2022.
  4. Mike Dano, Light Reading, “T-Mobile Increases 2022 Capex to Maintain 5G Position Against Rivals,” January 6, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022.
  5. Allnet Insights & Analytics, “C-Band Auction: Markets and When the Spectrum Will Be Available,” November 20, 2020. Accessed January 11, 2022.
  6. Sascha Segan, PC Mag, “What Is C-Band, and What Does It Mean for the Future of 5G?,” July 6, 2021.

Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.