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Who Has the Best Enhanced 5G: AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon?

The 5G world is confusing. Although there are lower frequency 5G bands with unexceptional performance, each of the big three American carriers has its own high-performance variant: AT&T’s 5G+, T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G, and Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband. (Each gets its own icon on the iPhone too.) Which one is best? Opensignal performed the industry’s first direct comparison of the three services and found that while Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband had an edge in performance for some uses, T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G was available in more places by far. All three were considerably faster than standard 5G, but in our view, T-Mobile wins overall with its superior coverage and throughput on par with Verizon’s. AT&T fared the worst, both in coverage and speed.

5G comparison

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Comments About Who Has the Best Enhanced 5G: AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon?

Notable Replies

  1. Xfinity Mobile is a Verizon MVNO. They use Verizon’s mobile network, supplemented with Comcast’s network of Wi-Fi hotspots. I don’t know if the Wi-Fi is used for voice calls or if it’s only for data.

    I would expect their performance to be very similar to Verizon when you’re not using a Wi-Fi connection.

    See also: Xfinity Mobile In 2022: What You Need To Know - BestMVNO

  2. David,
    Thank you. Didn’t know.
    Xfinity on iPhone allows wifi for calls -as best I can tell. It’s a choice to make.
    Again
    Thank you.

  3. I love how carriers have found a way to make sure this becomes as confusing as possible to customers.

    The study mentioned here refers to “5G” and “5G Enhanced”. Sounds simple enough.

    But then my carrier T-Mobile uses “Extended Range 5G” and “Ultra Capacity 5G”. OK… I can guess how these map. Now I just need to interpret what my phone is showing me…

    Meanwhile Apple is parading various fancy icons such as “5G”, “5G+”, “5GUC”, and “5GUW”. Good luck guessing which ones there get used by your carrier. And then what they actually mean.

    When actually all I as the customer really want to know is:

    • as lame as before (“4G” or “LTE” or out in the boonies “3G”, “GSM”, “UMTS”, “E”, or my personal favorite “••••”—if you’re thinking morse code that’s about right considering this abomination has essentially zero bandwidth)
    • 5G in name only (still pretty lame, but now with fancier marketing “5G”)
    • or truly new and fast (go ahead call it “5G Pro Max Ultra Extreme+” for all I care).

    And to be perfectly honest, all I probably truly care about is the latter vs. anything else.

    It’s impressive that something as trivial as this, apparently needs a chart, and in fact a chart specific to every single carrier. :laughing:

  4. I’m not perturbed with what Apple has done—there’s either “5G” for the unexceptional speeds that will vary all over the place and then there’s a special icon to match the name of each carrier’s high-performance 5G service. Seems reasonable enough given that trying to get all the carriers to use the same name would be an exercise in frustration. And any one person will only see one icon for the high-performance 5G service; the other two are irrelevant to each person.

    • AT&T’s 5G+ gets 5G+
    • T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G gets 5GUC
    • Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband gets 5GUW

    image

  5. For the most part it’s all marketing.

    As far as I know, everybody’s 5G product, with or without suffixes, is referring to the 5G New Radio specification.

    5GNR works in two frequency ranges:

    • Frequency range 1 (FR1, sometimes inaccurately called “Sub-6”) is for bands ranging from 410 MHz up to 7.125 GHz. This corresponds (roughly) to the bands used for 1G through 4G. The 5GNR protocol can provide a bit more data throughput over these bands, but not a lot more, because the width of each band is unchanged.
    • Frequency range 2 (FR2, also inaccurately known as “millimeter wave”) is for bands ranging from 24.25 GHz up to 71 GHz. The bands in this range are much wider and can pass much more data, but they have serious limits with regard to distance and obstructions, due to the physics of these higher frequencies.

    US network operators use their 5G suffixes (“+”, “UC”, “UW”) when your phone has at least one connection over a band in the FR2 range. That’s pretty much all it means. Note, however, that it will always maintain at least one connection on an FR1 band at the same time, because connections on FR2 bands are not always very reliable.

    “5G Enhanced” is also a marketing term that appears to be referring to various multimedia/streaming features designed for use with the high bandwidth provided by the FR2 bands.

    As with 4G LTE and earlier GSM standards, the 3GPP standards that define everything are actually a grab-bag of features, organized by releases, with a release being a set of internally-consistent features and specifications. These standards cover more than just the radio (“air”) interface - they also describe data encoding and server software, and all the various communication protocols used at every stage (including user equipment, tower sites, and data centers) in order to permit interoperability of equipment from different vendors.

    Network operators and equipment manufacturers do not typically support all of a particular release, but will support most of a baseline release and will cherry-pick specific features from other releases for their deployments. Unless you’re an engineer working for one of these companies, it is unlikely that you will know the specifics, and most of the time there’s no reason you have to care.

    The first 5G features were introduced in release 15, with further enhancements added in subsequent releases. Release 18 (currently under development) is colloquially known as “5G Advanced” and has no relationship to the “5G Enhanced” marketing term.

    FWIW, 4G LTE was introduced in release 8, with “LTE Advanced” being a term for release 10 and “LTE Advanced pro” being a term for release 13.

  6. That’s what I thought I had initially understood too. But then an iPhone on T-Mobile and the latest iOS started showing 5GUW. Turns out that’s at the ballpark on mm wave. Go figure.

  7. I’m guessing (don’t know for sure) that the ballpark has mmwave cells that are serviced by Verizon. Since there are no T-mobile mmwave cells in range, your phone may have decided to “roam” onto the Verizon network, and therefore displayed Verizon’s branding.

    But that’s just a guess.

  8. I’m in Prescott, Arizona but only somewhere in Phoenix has “5G+”, so I don’t expect to ever see it. But according to AT&T’s coverage page, my home address has both 5G & 4G LTE. However even though I have my iPhone 12 set to “5G On”, all I ever see on my phone is “LTE”. I’m thinking of bailing on AT&T and moving to either Consumer Cellular or T-Mobile. How is the 5G coverage with those two?

    Edit: According to my AT&T Mobility bill, I pay $20 for “Access for iPhone 5G with VVM”

  9. Nice with a bunch of version names, but what about the distance to transmitter needed, etc.? does it need to be closer than 3G and 4G? and do the 5G-versions differ in that respect?

    If 5G is about 250/20, I am still happy with my coax 1000/100 at home, that actually gives me about 990/90, and won’t change much for my iPhone usage, even the occasional internet sharing.

  10. FYI, we are on Verizon and, because of their significant increase in the cost of our current plan, we tried T-Mobile using their free app ‘T-Mobile Network Test Drive’ to see if it was worth it for us to switch. The app used the eSIM in our iPhone 12s to give us a second cell carrier in parallel to Verizon. We could choose which carrier we wanted to use for which purpose (calls, cellular data, etc.). Over our 30 day test we found a few places around town where we had very fast 5G service, but there were also places where we had very slow 4G service. The deciding factor against T-Mobile for us is that we had only one bar of 4G/LTE service at our house and very poor quality when we made cellular calls. Although Wi-Fi calling worked fine, we live where storms can knock out the power so we didn’t want to depend on it. The cell systems (usually) still work when the power grid is out due to their backup batteries. We’re staying with Verizon and looking at options for a different plan. If you want to try T-Mobile I would recommend their ‘Test Drive’.

  11. Sounds like the local towers you’re connecting to aren’t actually using 5G, no matter what AT&T’s coverage map says.

    When you’re out and about, do you see 5G anywhere else in town? If so, then that’s it. If not, do other people with AT&T phones see 5G? If they do, then your account might be messed up or your phone could have a problem.

    Are you using a 5G SIM card or did you migrate the SIM from an older phone? If the latter, it might not have the ID codes necessary to connect to the 5G network. Consider getting a replacement SIM from AT&T.

    Really? That’s not nice. Verizon has one price. No extra fee for 5G. Of course, the regular fee is pretty high (not sure how it compares to AT&T).

  12. That was the same I experienced with T-Mobile. Nothing on my plan changed. But when I got my 12 mini, 5G started being used. No extra cost. No changes to plan or billing.

    (No SIM swap or calling customer service or any other such shenanigans either.)

  13. I just occurred to me, that this might not be a 5G surcharge. AT&T might be charging a constant $20 access fee for any smartphone, and you simply have the SKU that indicates it is an “iPhone 5G with VVM”.

    Without knowing anything about AT&T’s fee structure, I can’t tell if I’m right or wrong, but I remember something similar on my Verizon bill. Years ago, when I migrated from Android to iPhone, I remember the text of one of the line items on my bill changing to indicate this (different incompatible voice-mail systems), even though the amount I was paying didn’t change.

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