Verizon’s 5G network is getting a remarkable speed boost. On Monday, the wireless carrier announced that it has gained access to C-band spectrum it bought back in 2021 four months ahead of schedule.
The valuable airwaves, which were previously expected to be fully available to the carrier by the end of the year after becoming partially available in 2022, will allow Verizon to greatly improve the speeds it offers to connected devices its mid-band 5G network. Once deployed and connected to a compatible phone or device subscribed to a proper plan, the carrier says its network will be capable of delivering download speeds above 2 gigabits-per-second (Gbps).
Verizon said this speed is based on areas where it has 161 megahertz (Mhz) of spectrum bandwidth available, which is the amount of bandwidth it aims to have available on average nationwide. In some areas where the carrier can take advantage of 200 Mhz bandwidth, which is largely in mainly rural areas, these speeds can be even higher. Similarly, speeds could potentially be slightly lower in areas where Verizon has less than 161 Mhz available, although it expects to have a “minimum of 140 Mhz of total spectrum in the contiguous United States.”
A compatible wireless plan is still required to use the C-band network (what Verizon calls “5G Ultra Wideband”). These are generally the carrier’s more expensive wireless plans, such as its new Unlimited Plus offering, or its older plans, such as its Do More, Play More, Get More, Above or Beyond unlimited options.
As for devices, a software update is required to access the improved, faster connection. Verizon says updates are underway for existing products to take advantage of the network upgrade, but it did not provide a list of which products will receive the update or when.
Devices as far back as Apple’s iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 have supported the carrier’s C-band network, with Verizon including support for the spectrum in nearly every major device it’s sold over the past year. A spokesperson for the carrier confirmed to CNET that some phones have already received the update and can take advantage of the faster speeds, though a full list of devices that can be updated is still not known.
In its press release announcing the news, the carrier says that once a device gets the software update, “customers will begin to see the effects of this dramatic increase in bandwidth in the coming days and weeks.”
The carrier has made its C-band network available to 222 million people nationwide and has stated a goal to cover 250 million people with the network by 2024. Mid-band spectrum like C-band has long been considered an important part of wireless radio waves thanks to its capabilities to cover large areas while being able to offer faster speeds than 4G LTE and what’s known as low-band 5G (what Verizon calls “5G Nationwide”).
Read more: Understand 5G’s many names and types
Beyond simply increasing the speeds of current and future devices connecting to its network, Verizon says that with the added spectrum, it will be able to offer 5G home and business internet in 47 new markets, as well as cover more homes in areas where its 5G home broadband product is already available. As with its list of compatible devices, the carrier did not specify which markets would be added or when.
Previously used by satellite companies, Verizon spent nearly $53 billion on C-band spectrum in 2021 as part of an FCC auction that garnered a record $81 billion in bids. Last year, it announced that it had struck deals with satellite companies that used the spectrum to speed up the timeline for when it could receive some of the spectrum.
Rival networks AT&T and T-Mobile had similarly acquired some C-band spectrum as part of the 2021 auction, and AT&T has already deployed some of its C-band for its mid-band 5G network. However, it is unclear whether either carrier has similarly been able to access the rest of their respective spectrum ahead of schedule, or whether they will still have to wait until later in the year to pool their 5G network.
As part of the auction rules, the incumbent C-band holders had to finish clearing out the spectrum by December 5, 2023.
CNET has reached out to both AT&T and T-Mobile for comment and will update if they respond.
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