By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business
Many mobile device users in the United States now have access to super-fast internet speeds thanks to the rollout of new C-band 5G networks from Verizon and AT&T earlier this week.
While telcos have rolled out 5G networks in various locations across the country over the past few years, many have delivered an experience that was arguably just a cut above what 4G offers. Now AT&T, which owns CNN’s parent company and Verizon have enabled 5G networks in C-band, which is an important set of higher radio frequencies. These networks will supercharge the internet as we know it, allowing users to, for example, stream a Netflix movie in 4K resolution or download movie in seconds. (Verizon said its C-band speeds reach nearly 1 gigabyte per second, about 10 times faster than 4G LTE. If that’s not obvious, it’s seriously fast.)
But not everyone will to be able to take advantage of these C-band 5G networks right from the start. You’ll need three key things to access it: a newer smartphone model that supports 5G, a 5G-specific cellular plan, and be in an area with new coverage.
Here’s what you need to know:
Is my phone compatible?
AT&T and Verizon have a handful of devices compatible with their new 5G C-band networks, including the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, the Samsung Galaxy S21 lineup and, soon, Google’s Pixel 6 phones. (For a complete list of C-band compatible devices, visit the AT&T and Verizon websites.)
If you’re using an Android device, you can check your phone’s supported network by going to Settings, tapping Network & Internet, and then tapping Mobile network. On iOS, open Settings, then Cellular and tap Cellular data options. If you use Dual SIM on iOS, go to Settings, then Cellular and choose the number whose options you want to change.
But if you haven’t bought a new smartphone in the past two years, you probably have a 3G or 4G phone.
It’s only a matter of time before most new phones come with built-in 5G support as manufacturers and carriers push customers to it through other networks. (AT&T plans to shut down its 3G network next month, Verizon shuts down its 3G network by the end of the year, and T-Mobile will shut down Sprint’s 3G network by March 31.)
Do I need a new cellular plan?
If you have a 5G device, you’ll still need a 5G-specific plan to access the faster C-band network. Existing 5G subscribers can do so at no additional cost. AT&T and Verizon both offer plans starting at $35 per month for each phone line.
Verizon also announced a 5G internet package at home for its C-band network, starting at $50 per month.
Where are the C-band networks?
Even if you have a 5G-enabled device and a 5G mobile plan, you may not be able to access the new high-speed 5G network.
AT&T’s new C-band 5G network – which it calls the 5G+ network – is actually alone available in eight metropolitan areas including Chicago, Houston, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando. The company said it will expand to more cities throughout the year, most likely in cities where it has already launched 5G in other bands.
Anyone with a 5G-enabled phone will be able to download the latest mobile operating system to access the network. On AT&T’s network, anyone in a 5G+ market will see a “5G+” at the top of the device when the network is available.
Meanwhile, Verizon said its new 5G Ultra Wideband network will be available to an additional 100 million people this month in more than 1,700 US cities, including Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and even smaller cities such as Dayton, Ohio and Rochester, New York. To see if the service is in your area, the Verizon website has a coverage map.
A “5G UW” indicator will appear in the upper right corner of the device when a 5G phone on one of the plans is detected on the network.
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