5G Coverage in the U.S. and Canada: Which Carriers Are Winning the Race?
John Koon posted on November 02, 2020 |
Examining the 5G readiness of AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Bell, Rogers, and TELUS.
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling the iPhone 12. The iPhone is ready for 5G, but is 5G ready for the iPhone? (Image courtesy of Apple.)
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling the iPhone 12. The iPhone is ready for 5G, but is 5G ready for the iPhone? (Image courtesy of Apple.)

With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, smartphone companies like Apple and Samsung have started heavily promoting their 5G phones. Consumers worldwide are on the wish list of the smartphone companies and telecoms both.

5G is poised to take mobile phones to the next level, enabling the download or upload of huge files in seconds and unlocking new applications such as connected autonomous vehicles. However, technology pundits have maintained for a while that mobile carrier networks do not yet support 5G phones or any other related technology. Critics contend that the areas covered by a 5G network are still too small, sparse or disconnected to constitute real networks. Also, 5G network performance in these areas may be lower than expected.

The three biggest mobile carriers in the U.S. are AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The three biggest mobile carriers in Canada are Rogers Wireless, Bell Canada, and TELUS Mobility.

How ready and extensive are these mobile carriers’ 5G networks? This article considers that question for major U.S. and Canadian mobile carriers. 

5G in the U.S.

AT&T 

While other carriers jumped onto the 5G bandwagon in 2019, AT&T is one of the latecomers to the party. AT&T rolled out its wide-spanning sub-6GHz 5G service in July 2020.

AT&T’s 5G service supposedly covers more than 200 million people in 395 markets in the U.S. But its coverage map still shows large areas in northern New England and many regions in the Southeast and the Midwest still having only 4G service. Some places in the U.S., like Alaska, don’t even have 4G coverage.

AT&T’s 5G coverage as of August 2020. (Image courtesy of AT&T.)
AT&T’s 5G coverage as of August 2020. (Image courtesy of AT&T.)

In addition, AT&T has split up its 5G service into the sub-6GHz service, which is an improvement over 4G LTE and what it calls 5G+, which gives access to mmWave 5G infrastructure. 5G Plus is only available in 36 cities across 18 states, according to a list on AT&T’s website. 

According to a report from Opensignal, only 10.3 percent of AT&T’s subscribers can connect to 5G. The same report found that the average download speed of AT&T’s 5G network is 60.8 Mbps, an improvement over 4G LTE but still below the expected performance of 5G.

Verizon 

In September of 2020, a third-party tested Verizon’s 5G offering to be at 2 Gbps. Today, Verizon claims that through its partnership with Ericsson and Qualcomm it has achieved the fastest 5G peak speed of 5.06 Gbps. According to Opensignal and third-party testing, Verizon’s 5G is indeed the fastest available today.

Verizon splits its 5G services into two options, Ultra Wideband (mmWave) and Nationwide (sub-6GHz). According to Verizon’s coverage map, the 5G Ultra Wideband service is concentrated around the 40-plus biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S. The 5G Nationwide service extends into areas surrounding or near these metropolitan hubs. Other than that, the rest of the country is under 4G LTE coverage. The percentage of Verizon subscribers with access to 5G is unavailable. 

Verizon’s 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Verizon.)
Verizon’s 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Verizon.)

T-Mobile

T-Mobile and Sprint merged in April 2020. According to T-Mobile’s 5G coverage map, its 5G appears to be the most extensive of any U.S. or Canadian carrier, covering almost the entire U.S. and reaching areas where other mobile carriers don’t deliver 5G coverage.

T-Mobile also keeps an impressively long list of cities and towns with access to mid-band 5G. That list goes far beyond the major coastal metropolitan areas. Recently, T-Mobile has reportedly added 121 more cities and towns to its mid-band 5G list. According to the company, the mid-band spectrum provides an ideal balance of coverage and speed and allows T-Mobile to increase its coverage area significantly. As a result, T-Mobile has the highest availability of 5G among the major carriers, according to Opensignal. T-Mobile claims that 65 percent of Americans have access to its 5G coverage.

T-Mobile’s 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of T-Mobile.)
T-Mobile’s 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of T-Mobile.)

5G in Canada

Three mobile phone carriers—Rogers Wireless, Bell Canada, and TELUS Mobility—dominate Canada’s telecommunications market, providing service to about 90 percent of Canadian mobile phone users.

Rogers Wireless  

According to the Rogers Wireless coverage map, 5G coverage is relatively sparse across the entire country and concentrated around the most populous metropolitan areas. However, Rogers’ 5G network, powered by Ericsson, is now the largest in Canada. Initially, Rogers launched 5G in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal, and recently expanded coverage to 18 new cities and towns in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Rogers and the Canadian government have invested heavily in developing Ontario’s digital economy. Rogers has also formed a collaboration with local research institutes. By the end of 2020, Rogers will expand to more than 60 markets. 

Rogers Wireless’ 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Rogers Wireless.)
Rogers Wireless’ 5G coverage as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Rogers Wireless.)

Bell Canada 

In June 2020, Bell Canada announced the launch of its commercial 5G service. Montréal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver were the first cities to gain access to Bell’s 5G network. According to Bell Canada’s 5G coverage map, the company has a similar strategy to that of Rogers Wireless. Its initial focus will be on the biggest metropolitan areas and then 5G will expand from there. According to its CEO, Bell Canada plans to launch 5G in 28 additional markets in 2020. 

Bell’s 5G coverage (light blue, circled in red for visibility) as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Bell.)
Bell’s 5G coverage (light blue, circled in red for visibility) as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of Bell.)

Initially, Bell Canada used equipment from Nokia to construct its 5G network. Then, like Rogers and Verizon, Bell Canada began working with Ericsson. It is using Ericsson’s 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) technology to support its nationwide 5G mobile infrastructure. 

TELUS Mobility  

TELUS currently serves 50 communities in Canada within British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Its coverage appears nearly identical to that of Bell’s.

TELUS’s 5G coverage (purple) as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of TELUS.)
TELUS’s 5G coverage (purple) as of October 2020. (Image courtesy of TELUS.)

At the end of 2019, TELUS’s 4G network had the fastest download speed (241.11 Mbps) among all three carriers in Canada. The company plans to roll out its 5G network in Vancouver, Montréal, Calgary, Edmonton, and the Greater Toronto Area first. It will continue to expand to an additional 26 markets across Canada by the end of 2020. 

Since 2000, TELUS claims it has invested nearly CAD$200 billion to build up its wireless and fiber-optic network infrastructure. It will invest an additional $40 billion over the next three years to support its 5G networks. The goal is to offer a 5G network with peak speed of 1.7 Gbps based on the Samsung network infrastructure. 

The Hype and the Reality

In the U.S. today, based on the coverage maps provided by the carriers, T-Mobile has the broadest coverage, while Verizon leads with its 5G peak speed of 5 Gbps. 

In Canada, the story is similar. Network coverage is the selling point for Rogers Wireless, while TELUS points to its network speed. No network boasts both broad coverage and impressive speed. 

3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the standard body behind 5G, has specified a theoretical peak data rate of 20 Gbps in the 5G specification. However, that speed has not been achieved by anyone today. The entire 5G ecosystem, including silicon makers, infrastructure builders, carriers, and smartphone manufacturers, is in a mad dash to achieve that ultimate speed. Carriers are in a race to expand 5G coverage as fast as they can.

5G is a dynamic game. Everything you read today may change tomorrow. And the race to 5G goes on! 

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