Building a nationwide next-generation network across a continent-sized country always takes a while. It arguably takes a bit longer when the spectrum assets needed to do so must be patiently assembled over a period of time. And that arguably is precisely what AT&T and Verizon face with 5G.
Both firms have a significant trove of millimeter wave assets, but both have had a real shortfall of mid-band spectrum offering the best balance of coverage and capacity.
T-Mobile, on the other hand, has lots of 2.5-GHz mid-band spectrum to deploy, putting both the other two firms at a near-term disadvantage, though T-Mobile’s early 5G coverage also has been based on low-band spectrum, meaning relatively limited speed differentials compared to 4G.
That appears to be why the C-band auction has drawn such interest, though we do not yet know which firms are bidding for the rights.
In the meantime–for coverage–AT&T and Verizon have had to make do with either new low-band spectrum (AT&T) or dynamic spectrum sharing (Verizon), which essentially diverts 4G capacity to support 5G.
“We’ve always been very transparent and said the nationwide 5G layer would be built on our best-in-class 4G LTE network,” says Ronan Dunne, Verizon’s consumer group CEO. What we’re generally seeing is between five-percent to 20-percent performance improvement over 4G.
Over time, the speed differential between 4G and 5G will widen dramatically. But building a continent-sized network does take a few years, even when spectrum and other assets already are in position.
That has not generally been the case in the U.S. market, where 3.5-GHz assets used in most other countries to support 5G have been unavailable. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum auctions were part of the effort to rectify that problem. The C-band auctions are the bigger part of the answer.