Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T 'fastest' 5G network coverage expansion plans for 2021

Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T 'fastest' 5G network coverage expansion plans for 2021
This year, a critical mass of US carrier 5G networks expansion and sub-$400 5G phones may usher in a watershed moment in the next cellular connectivity standard adoption rates. After all, Apple made sure that even the cheapest members of its iPhone 12 family carries 5G connectivity, while Samsung will have phones as low as the Galaxy A32 on the 5G totem pole.

While unlimited 5G plans from Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T haven't budget much in price, the footprint of the next-gen networks is growing leaps and bounds so fast that speed and coverage awards are coming left and right for each carrier recently, depending on the timing of the network snapshot, how and what is being measured.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all score 'fastest network' awards

What gives?

According to Ookla, of SpeedTest fame,  "AT&T was the fastest mobile operator in the United States during Q4 2020 with a Speed Score of 50.27 on modern chipsets in competitive geographies." 

When it comes to another mobile analytics firm, however, RootMetrics, it's Verizon's median download speeds that take the cake in roughly the same period. The discrepancy may be due to the fact that SpeedTest is predominantly a crowdsourced data platform, leaning heavier on big cities and downtown areas, while RootMetrics actually goes and measures speeds in rural areas where Verizon has a big advantage.

Needless to say, T-Mobile has a report of its own to brag with, as it climbed to the top of the 5G pile in Q4 in the OpenSignal ranking, both in terms of availability and when it comes to average speeds. 

The same report, however, but including 4G, netted the January win to AT&T, with median download speeds that are actually higher than T-Mobile's average 5G speed win in Q4.

What gives and whose report to take into account now? The truth of the matter is that not only are the methodologies different, but several key trends and developments happened over a short period, and in Q4 alone.

  • Verizon introduced its low-band 'Nationwide 5G' which dropped its average 5G scores significantly.
  • AT&T deployed low-band 5G as well, plunging its average 5G scores from mmWave heights.
  • AT&T also boosted its LTE network and has more phones with modern chipsets to take advantage, racking it median speed wins. 
  • T-Mobile's Sprint network boost on the mid-bands brought it the 5G availability and, now, speed wins.

T-Mobile 5G network coverage expansion plans in 2021

In a nutshell, T-Mobile is expected to keep its 5G coverage and speed advantage this year. While Verizon and AT&T have scooped larger amounts of new C-band spectrum at the FCC auction, those won't be deployed en masse until next year, plus the Un-carrier doesn't really need them. 

T-Mobile, on the other hand, announced several initiatives it will pursue to boost its 5G network features in 2021, as it obviously has the lead in coverage and speeds now:

  • Voice over 5G (VoNR) capabilities
  • The high-speed 'Ultra Capacity' 5G network goes nationwide, doubling the user market.

Verizon 5G network coverage expansion plans in 2021 

Verizon remains a leader in overall network coverage and its 4G LTE speeds and capacity are robust enough to take on any 'Extended Range' 5G network that T-Mobile advertises as covering 280 million people on its low-band spectrum. Verizon's 5G plans for 2021, however, include several new undertakings:

  • Doubling its high-speed mmWave 5G coverage and bringing it to 20 more cities.
  • Boosting its 'Nationwide' low- and mid-band 5G coverage by Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) on existing LTE infrastructure.
  • Deploying standalone 5G equipment and mid-band C spectrum for faster 'Nationwide' 5G speeds.

While Verizon may be spending $40 billion during the new C-band spectrum auctions, it will take a while to deploy and integrate it, and the process is unlikely to start before the fourth quarter, so for 2021 it will mostly have to rely on spectrum sharing with its admittedly very robust LTE network, concurrently with boosting its ultrafast mmWave coverage to more cities.

AT&T 5G network coverage expansion plans in 2021

AT&T made so much progress on adding spectrum and switching on equipment in the second half of 2020, that it is now boasting the fastest median download speeds as it has a richer portfolio of subs with modern phones and chipsets that can take advantage, boosting its crowdsourced scores. 

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Just like with Verizon, its average 5G speeds took a dive after it dabbled into the lower speed, farther coverage bands, yet unlike Big Red, AT&T started with standalone 5G rollout, similar to what T-Mobile did from the get-go. The AT&T 5G ambitions for 2021 include: 

  • Scaling its standalone 5G network and introducing new features as they become available.
  • Deploying the auctioned C-band spectrum for increased 5G network speeds and capacity.
  • Leveraging Warner's media business for 5G applications like immersive video and story-telling.

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