As you read this article, the 5G network is expanding across the United States at a significant rate. And while you may not yet have a phone that can connect to the next-generation network, that day is fast approaching as most flagship phones are already equipped with 5G. When you have a phone with 5G, where exactly is 5G available? This coverage question always depends on the service provider, but right now there’s a pretty good chance that 5G is available where you live – or nearby.
To use 5G, you’ll need two things: a 5G-enabled device and a mobile network that supports it. There are many 5G-enabled phones on the market right now, including the iPhone 12 series and the Galaxy S21 series. All three major wireless carriers in the U.S. are actively rolling out their 5G networks to meet demand — as you can see in the 5G availability map below — but, of course, there’s more to rolling out 5G than you might think by visiting the carriers’ websites.
Here’s where you can find a 5G mobile network in the U.S., no matter which carrier you’re with.
Verizon 5G network coverage.
After several years of focusing solely on mmWave and covering a very small portion of the country in the process, Verizon has turned on its “nationwide” 5G network using Sub-6 spectrum. Although it is available in many more places than mmWave, its nationwide coverage is still somewhat limited, and it is really only available in densely populated areas. However, at least you can count on good speeds when using it. And the ace up Verizon’s sleeve is that the 4G network is incredibly reliable and provides great speeds on its own.
Verizon’s 5G network continues to actively use mmWave (which the company calls UWB, or Ultra Wide Band) for 5G coverage, even though mmWave is still very unreliable. Because of range and obstacle management limitations, mmWave is inherently much more difficult to map online. Therefore, if you see mmWave on a coverage map, walking 25 feet may put you out of range of a cell tower. When evaluating which carrier to choose, look at nationwide 5G coverage, which is a better indicator of actual coverage than mmWave.
If you really care about mmWave coverage, Verizon’s mmWave network is the most prevalent and is already available in dozens of cities – although, again, you will only be able to establish 5G connections in some of those cities, which means that 5G access is still limited.
AT&T 5G network coverage.
AT&T has widespread 5G network coverage, but as you might expect, the type of 5G connection you get will depend on where you live.
A quick note on 5G types: Two forms of 5G technology are currently in use: Sub-6 uses lower frequencies to create a much wider network, but the trade-off is that you’ll get only slightly faster speeds than you would with 4G. While mmWave connections use much higher frequencies, which provide much faster download speeds, these radio waves can’t physically travel long distances or break through obstacles like walls or even windows, reducing signal strength.
AT&T’s wireless coverage depends mostly on Sub-6 for its “nationwide” network. And depending on your city, its Sub-6 5G may be as fast or slower than 4G because AT&T doesn’t have enough spectrum to deploy both networks in tandem. The company offers mmWave (5G+, as AT&T calls it) with superfast speeds in some cities, but this type of 5G service is still extremely limited to a few streets in a few major cities. It has a long way to go.
It’s important to note that AT&T really wants you to think you’re always on a 5G network. If you don’t have a 5G-compatible phone, you may get an icon saying you’re on a “5GE” network, but it’s not really 5G at all – it’s just AT&T’s new 4G marketing name. Only when you see “5G” or “5G+” in the status bar can you use real 5G service.
T-Mobile 5G network coverage.
T-Mobile was the first carrier to deploy a nationwide 5G network, but that network also relies heavily on Sub-6 spectrum, so it won’t be as fast as the mm-wave networks that some expect to see when they hear the term “5G” or see the carrier’s TV ads. T-Mobile’s strategy has been focused on building Sub-6 5G on the same towers that currently run 4G, so the network footprint is virtually the same for both networks.
T-Mobile also began launching mmWave in some urban centers after the merger with Sprint. Like all other carriers, T-Mobile will eventually use mmWave spectrum in as many cities as possible as part of its tiered network to meet the needs of populations of varying densities. Unlike other carriers, fortunately, you don’t get another icon in the status bar when you’re on mmWave – your phone just switches seamlessly between mmWave and Sub-6, and you get the best possible speed at the moment.
One thing the 5G network hasn’t fixed is overall coverage. T-Mobile’s 5G network is really good in densely populated areas, but the overall coverage map still lags somewhat behind Verizon and AT&T. There are places in the country where T-Mobile and Sprint customers just don’t get any coverage – although T-Mobile can now match Verizon and AT&T when it comes to 5G coverage.