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The three major carriers are rapidly expanding their superfast 5G networks, which offer download speeds as much as 10 to 100-times faster than 4G connections.
That means users with 5G compatible phones can get an entire a movie in seconds and, someday, use even more data intensive apps like high-definition virtual-reality games. And with Apple’s line up of 5G phones now available, more people than ever are poised to access the newest networks.
But before any of that, consumers must decide which carrier to sign up with for 5G service, a potentially confusing task. Or perhaps they already have 5G access but don’t know it.
Whatever the case, 5G coverage is often spotty, even in many cities. And some carriers don’t provide 5G in their plans unless customers pay for the most expensive plans.
Here’s what you need to know about 5G plans from the various carriers:
T-Mobile 5G plans
At T-Mobile, 5G is included with every plan thanks to the carrier’s merger with Sprint earlier this year. In the run up to that deal, former-CEO John Legere promised regulators that if the acquisition were approved, T-Mobile would rapidly offer 5G without raising prices.
The merger finally closed in April, and now Legere’s promises are in effect.
So whether a customer pays $85 monthly for the top of the line “Maganeta Plus” unlimited plan, $60 for the “Essential” unlimited plan, or $40 for a 10 GB limited prepaid plan, 5G is included. Even T-Mobile’s cheapest data and prepaid plans get 5G, though a limited data plan could burn through the 5G allowance quickly, restricting the customer to a slower connection for the remainder of the month.
T-Mobile’s network offers three distinct types of 5G technology, and all three are included with all plans. One network using low-band airwaves covers an area in which over 200 million people live, but it provides speeds that aren’t much faster than 4G. A mid-band network offering speeds that are four to 10-times faster than 4G covers more than 30 million people, with a goal of reaching 100 million people by year end. Finally, in just a few cities, T-Mobile has a high-frequency 5G network that offers speeds 10 to 100-times faster than 4G.
Verizon’s 5G plans
Verizon has two versions of 5G. The fastest—in fact, the country’s fastest, according to testing firms—uses high-frequency airwaves that it calls “5G ultrawideband.” However, this service is only available in parts of 57 cities. And that network is accessible only to customers on one of Verizon’s three main unlimited plans, “Play More,” “Do More” and “Get More,” which cost $80 to $90 monthly for one line. Verizon also offers an “Unlimited Plus” 5G plan for tablets, laptops, and Wi-Fi hotspots that costs $30 monthly if added to a phone line, or $85 a month on its own.
Verizon also offers a low-band network,”5G nationwide,” that covers an area in which 200 million people live, but it is not much faster than 4G. Customers on the “Start Unlimited” plan, which costs $70 monthly, limited data plans of $55 to $65 monthly, and various lower cost prepaid plans get access to this “5G nationwide” service.
In addition to requiring a 5G compatible phone, like the iPhone 12 or OnePlus 8 5G, Verizon also requires that customers use a special 5G-compatible SIM card. AT&T and T-Mobile, in contrast, don’t require a special SIM card for 5G access.
AT&T’s 5G plans
AT&T has two types of 5G service (not to be mistaken with parts of its 4G network that it confusingly calls “5GE”). Like its rivals, AT&T offers a low-band network covering 200 million people that is typically no faster than 4G.
Additionally, the company offers a faster 5G service in parts of 35 cities.
But for AT&T customers, all 5G access is limited. The carrier’s three top unlimited data plans, Unlimited Starter, Unlimited Extra, and Unlimited Elite, costing $65 to $85 monthly, include access to the carrier’s 5G networks. The $60 per month prepaid Unlimited Plus also includes 5G. A cheaper $50 per month 4 GB data plan is limited to 4G only, as are prepaid plans that have limited data allotments and cost $30 to $40 monthly, and a prepaid unlimited 4G plan for $50.
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