In July this year, AT&T and Verizon were finally allowed to increase the power levels of their C-band 5G services around US airports and roll out additional C-band spectrum in the area. These changes were expected to bring substantial boosts in their 5G data speeds. Sure enough, users are seeing massive improvements. A new report from research firm Opensignal shows download speeds have increased by up to 80 percent.
AT&T and Verizon users are enjoying faster 5G internet at airports
US carriers took two different routes to 5G deployment. T-Mobile started with the low and mid-band spectrum (it acquired the 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum from Sprint following the 2020 merger of the duo). AT&T and Verizon, on the other hand, built their 5G networks in the high-band spectrum, aka mmWave. The problem with the latter spectrum was limited or shorter coverage. Speeds were much higher than T-Mobile’s but poor coverage means users couldn’t take full advantage of those speeds.
Things played nicely into the hands of T-Mobile as it quickly covered more users with 5G networks. Seeing this, AT&T and Verizon decided to add a mid-band spectrum too. In 2021, the duo spent more than $68 billion to purchase mid-band spectrum licenses in the C-band. However, they ran into another problem. Their mid-band 5G signals interfered with altimeter equipment used by aircraft. It tells the pilot the distance or height of the aircraft from the ground.
Since this has the potential to cause major issues for aircraft flying near airports, AT&T and Verizon had to lower the power levels of their C-band signals. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), meanwhile, asked the aviation industry to upgrade their equipment. On the 1st of July, the entire US airline fleet completed retrofitting planes with different altimeters that weren’t interfered with by C-band 5G networks. Effectively, the two carriers could unlock the true potential of their mid-band 5G services around airports.
Opensignal studied the 5G speeds on the two networks before and after this change took place. It observed that AT&T’s average 5G download speeds went up by a whopping 80 percent, going from 70.7Mbps to 126.9Mbps. Verizon’s average download speeds increased from 81.6Mbps to 132.2Mbps, a 62 percent boost. Upload speeds also increased by 22-30 percent, with both carriers crossing 50Mbps average 5G upload speeds around airports. As expected, T-Mobile’s speeds remained constant.
T-Mobile still provides the best 5G experience around US airports
Despite AT&T and Verizon fully leveraging their mid-band 5G spectrum, they couldn’t challenge T-Mobile. The latter’s average download and upload speeds were 174Mbps and 100Mbps, respectively. Opensignal observed the overall 5G experience—speed, coverage, consistency, 5G availability, video streaming, and gaming—of all three carriers in 20 major US airports. T-Mobile led the chart for every single one of them. AT&T and Verizon still have a long way to go before they can match T-Mobile’s 5G services.