While telecom companies have rolled out 5G networks to various locations across the country over the last few years, many delivered an experience that was arguably only a notch above what 4G offers. Now, AT&T (T), which owns CNN’s parent company, and Verizon have turned on C-band 5G networks, which are 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 a movie in seconds. (Verizon said its C-band speeds reach nearly 1 gigabyte per second, about 10 times as fast as 4G LTE. If that’s not obvious, it’s really fast.)
But not everyone will be able to take advantage of these C-band 5G networks out of the gate. You’ll need three key things to access one: a newer smartphone model that supports 5G, a 5G-specific cellular plan and to be in an area with the new coverage.
Here’s what you need to know:
Is my phone compatible?
AT&T and Verizon have a handful of devices that are compatible with their new C-band 5G networks, including the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, the Samsung Galaxy S21 line and, soon, Google’s Pixel 6 phones. (For a full list of C-band compatible devices, visit AT&T and Verizon’s websites.)
If you’re on an Android device, you can check which network your phone supports by going to Settings, tapping on Network and Internet, and then selecting Mobile Network. On iOS, open Settings, then Cellular and tap Cellular Data Options. If you’re using 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 most likely 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 will push customers toward it over other networks. (AT&T plans to shut down its 3G network next month, Verizon is shutting 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 own a 5G device, you’ll still need a 5G-specific plan to access the faster C-band network. Existing 5G subscribers can do so without an additional charge. Both AT&T and Verizon offer plans that start at $35 a month for each phone line.
Verizon also announced a 5G home internet plan for its C-band network, starting at $50 a month.
Where are the C-band networks?
Even if you have a 5G-capable device and a 5G mobile plan you may not be able to access the new higher-speed 5G network.
AT&T’s new C-band 5G network — which it is calling the 5G+ network — is currently only available in eight metro 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-compatible phone will be able to download the latest mobile operating system to gain access to 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 100 million more people this month in over 1,700 US cities, including Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, New York City and even smaller cities such as Dayton, Ohio, and Rochester, New York. To see if service is in your area, Verizon’s website has a coverage map.
A “5G UW” indicator will appear on the top right corner of the device when a 5G phone on one of the plans is detected on the network.