Even as you read this, 5G is rolling out across the U.S. And while you may or may not have a phone that can connect to the next-gen network just yet, that day is rapidly approaching as more and more 5G phones arrive on the market.
But exactly where is 5G available? Each carrier has been rolling out the network in different cities, and we’ve been keeping track of those rollouts.
To use 5G, you’ll need two things: A phone that supports 5G and a network that offers it. There are now plenty of 5G-compatible phones on the market, including the entire iPhone 12 series, which supports all forms of 5G. It’s also important to note that not all phones that support 5G will get you the superfast speeds you might expect. For example, some phones only support low-band 5G, while others support all 5G frequencies.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll only be discussing standards-based 5G. We won’t be including misleading branding like AT&T’s 5GE, which is simply an improved version of 4G LTE. Keep in mind that 5G is typically only available in select areas of cities, so just because a city is touted as having 5G, it doesn’t mean the network is available throughout that city — to say nothing of suburban and more rural areas. It comes down to the type of spectrum being used, and while we shouldn’t get bogged down in the details of that here, we have a complete breakdown of everything you need to understand about 5G in a separate article.
Here’s where you can find mobile 5G in the U.S., no matter which carrier you’re on.
AT&T 5G availability
AT&T has a widespread 5G network, but as you’d expect, the type of connection that you get will depend on where you live.
A quick primer on types of 5G: There are two forms of 5G currently in use: Sub-6 and mmWave (millimeter-wave). Sub-6 relies on lower frequencies to deliver a much larger network, but the trade-off is that speeds are usually only marginally faster than 4G. While mmWave connections rely on much higher frequencies that deliver dramatically faster download speeds, those radio waves can’t physically travel long distances or make their way through obstacles like walls or even windows.
AT&T’s network largely depends on Sub-6, especially for its “nationwide” network. And depending on your city, its Sub-6 5G may actually be the same speed, or slower, than 4G because AT&T doesn’t have enough spectrum to deploy to both networks in tandem. In some cities, the company is offering mmWave (5G+, as AT&T calls it) with superfast speeds, but that type of connection is still extremely limited to a few street corners in a few major cities. It’s effectively still in testing.
It’s important to note that AT&T really wants you to think you’re always on 5G. If you don’t have a 5G-compatible phone, you may still get a little icon saying that you’re on “5GE,” but that’s not really 5G at all — it’s just AT&T’s new marketing name for 4G.
T-Mobile 5G availability
T-Mobile was the first carrier to deploy its nationwide 5G network, however that network also relies largely on Sub-6 spectrum, so it won’t be as fast as the mmWave networks that some expect when they hear the term “5G” or see carrier TV commercials. T-Mobile’s strategy has focused on building out Sub-6 5G to the exact same towers that currently carry 4G, so its network footprint is nearly the same for both.
T-Mobile isn’t using mmWave much at all, though it will eventually heavily deploy mmWave as part of its multitiered network to address the needs of different population densities. For now, users can expect a slightly faster-than-4G speed in most relatively populated areas. The company is currently the only carrier to offer 5G in all 50 states.
T-Mobile is also deploying its 5G network on what used to be Sprint’s spectrum following the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile.
Verizon 5G availability
Verizon’s current 5G network isn’t as big as AT&T’s or T-Mobile’s, but it’s getting better. After years of focusing exclusively on mmWave, and covering a very small portion of the country in the process, Verizon turned on its “nationwide” 5G network using Sub-6. But while it’s available in dramatically more places than mmWave, it’s still a little limited in scope across the country, and really only available in densely populated areas. You can at least expect good speeds when you do get it, though.
Verizon is continuing to lean heavily into its mmWave network, despite the fact that mmWave is still highly unreliable. Because of limitations in range and managing obstacles, mmWave is inherently much tougher to represent with a map online. So just because you see mmWave on a coverage map, a difference of walking 100 feet could take you in or out of coverage.
If you really care about mmWave, Verizon’s mmWave network is the most widespread and available in a few dozen cities right now. You can see a more detailed map of Verizon’s mmWave network at the Verizon website.
- It’s the end of 2020, and there’s still no good reason to have 5G
- The best cell phone plan deals for January 2021: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and more
- How to unlock a phone on every carrier in 2021
- 4G vs. LTE: The differences explained
- The best 5G phones of 2021