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Verizon vs T-Mobile vs AT&T 5G speed battle is getting closer with C-band factored in


If you've been following the US 5G speed tests regularly conducted by independent analytics firms like Opensignal, RootMetrics, and Ookla over the last couple of years or so, you're probably well aware that the primary reason why T-Mobile always emerges victorious from these kinds of nationwide comparisons is its mid-band supremacy.


The middle part of Magenta's so-called "layer cake" strategy is capable of striking the best balance between speed and coverage of the three main 5G flavors available stateside, but after initially betting big on the losing mmWave horse, Verizon splashed out in an early 2021 FCC auction on C-band spectrum, which is the closest thing to the industry-leading mid-band technology T-Mo acquired from Sprint back in 2020.


Both Verizon and AT&T started adding C-band to their 5G networks fairly quickly after the aforementioned auction, and following some very promising early tests from January 2022, a slightly more expansive report seems to confirm today what we suspected all along.


Verizon is rapidly becoming a serious threat... in certain markets

To put Opensignal's latest data in the right context, it's definitely worth looking back at the same company's complete USA 5G Experience scorecard from a couple of months ago, which relied on measurements made between September and December 2021.


With an average 5G download speed of 150 Mbps, T-Mobile was holding a mind-blowing advantage of almost 100 Mbps and more than 100 Mbps over Verizon and AT&T respectively before C-band technology started factoring into the 5G equations of the latter two operators.


Fast forward to the January 19 - March 19, 2022 timeframe, and while T-Mobile continues to lead the average mid-band 5G download speed chart with an absolutely astounding 225.5 Mbps figure, Verizon is less than 14 Mbps behind, followed by AT&T with a decent 160 Mbps score of its own.


Incredibly enough, Big Red is now also ahead of its arch-rivals in mid-band 5G upload speeds, but before doing their victory dance, the carrier's customers should keep in mind this refers strictly to the Ultra Wideband network, which isn't exactly available nationwide yet.


For the time being, Verizon claims around 100 million people across 1,700 cities are (theoretically) covered by this blazing fast service, compared to T-Mobile's equivalent Ultra Capacity 5G network, which purportedly crossed the 200 million milestone last year en route to 260 million by the end of 2022 and 300 million in 2023.


Still, Verizon's rapid C-band deployment marks an impressive achievement in its own right, already boosting the carrier's overall 5G download speed average by around 15 Mbps in the period covered by this latest Opensignal report compared to the 55.7 Mbps score registered in the six weeks before. That should reduce the nationwide gap to T-Mobile, although America's heavyweight 5G speed champion is clearly in no immediate danger of losing that title.


These five cities are where you can notice the biggest speed improvements

If that average 15 Mbps hike doesn't impress you much, perhaps Verizon's progress across Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Phoenix will better highlight the impact C-band technology can have on a 5G network previously based on an uninspired combination of low and high-band (aka mmWave) spectrum.


In these five major cities, Big Red has managed to jump from download scores of around 50 Mbps to anywhere between 207 and 231 Mbps averages, almost catching up to Magenta's chart-leading 5G speeds.


It's not entirely clear if Verizon will be able to continue improving its numbers in these markets in addition to expanding C-band 5G technology to more and more places, while AT&T obviously has no way to go but up after kicking off its C-band rollout so timidly that Opensignal couldn't collect "statistically significant results" in any of the five aforementioned cities.


For what it's worth, AT&T has some pretty substantial C-band 5G deployment plans of its own, but it will take a little more time for the nation's third-largest carrier to start closing the gap to T-Mobile and now Verizon in more than "limited parts of eight metro areas."

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