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AT&T 5G: Everything you need to know

AT&T store
AT&T store (Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

AT&T's 5G network is still a work in progress, but with more than 250 million people covered, the continued expansion of mmWave and C-band spectrum, and a fast LTE network as a backup, AT&T is still a good option for your next phone. AT&T's 5G network is made up of three primary parts. There is a nationwide network made up of low-band and shared spectrum, mid-band spectrum including C-band, and mmWave for dense areas.

These pieces come together to form one of the most competent mobile networks around, especially if you live in a rural area. While its 5G expansion hasn't quite kept pace with T-Mobile and Verizon, the carrier is hard at work expanding its network coverage and performance. 

When will my area get 5G?

AT&T's 5G network is comprised of three main parts. The first part is a low-band 5G deployment at 850MHz and uses some Dynamic Spectrum Sharing. The second piece is mid-band 5G made up of C-band and other mid-band spectrum around 3.7GHz. The final piece is a high-band mmWave network capable of very fast speeds but has a much more limited range.

Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, or DSS, is a technique that reuses spectrum currently used for 4G with both 4G and 5G as the need grows. Unlike the refarming spectrum from LTE and simply moving capacity from one network to the other, DSS can keep both networks active and allocate portions of that spectrum as needed to either 4G or 5G. On June 5, 2020, AT&T began deploying DSS to improve connectivity for 5G customers without reducing capacity on the older 4G network.

AT&T began preparing its towers for a 5G network with LTE upgrades it calls 5GE. This essentially added the network capacity on the backend for 5G, including upgraded fiber network connections. If you see 5GE on your older AT&T phone, this is not actually 5G and is actually 4G LTE with tower upgrades that make the most of LTE technology.

True 5G is shown on AT&T's standard coverage maps (opens in new tab) which makes it easier than ever to see how far this coverage has made it. These maps take a while to get updated, so check out the entire list for the most up-to-date locations.

Which cities are covered by AT&T's 5G network?

AT&T's 5G network is shown on its standard coverage map (opens in new tab) so if you're looking for coverage, that's the best place to start. You can also keep updated on 5G coverage on all carriers to know which network is best for 5G in your area.

For the most part, you'll be using the larger low-band 5G coverage through 2022 as AT&T builds out the places where it has access to mid-band spectrum. However, if you have one of the phones that supports AT&T's mmWave 5G+ network, you can still get some incredible speeds in several U.S. cities.

These markets now have AT&T 5G+ coverage.

Cities

  • Arizona
    • Phoenix
  • California
    • Los Angeles
    • Menlo Park
    • Oakland
    • Redwood City
    • San Bruno
    • San Diego
    • San Francisco
    • San Jose
    • West Hollywood
  • Florida
    • Jacksonville
    • Miami
    • Miami Gardens
    • Orlando
    • Tallahassee
    • Tampa
  • Georgia
    • Atlanta
  • Indiana
    • Indianapolis
  • Illinois
    • Chicago
  • Kentucky
    • Louisville
  • Louisiana
    • New Orleans
  • Maryland
    • Baltimore
    • Ocean City
  • Michigan
    • Detroit
  • North Carolina
    • Charlotte
    • Raleigh
  • Nevada
    • Las Vegas
  • New York
    • New York City
  • Ohio
    • Cleveland
  • Oklahoma
    • Oklahoma City
  • Pennsylvania
    • King of Prussia
    • Philadelphia
  • Tennessee
    • Nashville
  • Texas
    • Austin
    • Corpus Christi
    • Dallas
    • Fredericksburg
    • Houston
    • San Antonio
    • Waco
  • Wisconsin
    • Milwaukee

Airports

  • California
    • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Florida
    • Tampa International Airport
  • Illinois
    • Chicago Midway International Airport
    • O'Hare International Airport
  • Texas
    • Dallas Love Field Airport

Arenas and Venues

AT&T has also continued to focus on bringing mmWave 5G to stadiums and venues across the country. These buildings are the perfect demonstration of mmWave's strengths with large numbers of people in an open area that can be easily covered by 5G. This is also helped by the large number of people that wish to capture and share pictures and videos from the events they attend.

  • Arizona
    • State Farm Stadium
  • California
    • Dodger Stadium - Los Angeles
    • Oracle Park - San Francisco
  • Colorado
    • Ball Arena - Denver
  • Florida
    • Amway Center - Orlando
    • Hard Rock Stadium - Miami
    • Raymond James Stadium -Tampa
  • Georgia
    • Mercedes-Benz Stadium - Atlanta
  • Illinois
    • United Center - Chicago
  • Indiana
    • Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis
  • Louisiana
    • Caesars Superdome - New Orleans
    • Smoothie King Center - New Orleans
  • Massachusetts
    • TD Garden - Boston
  • Minnesota
    • U.S. Bank Stadium - Minneapolis
    • Target Center - Minneapolis
  • Nevada
    • Las Vegas Convention Center - Las Vegas
  • New Jersey
    • Red Bull Arena - Harrison
  • North Carolina
    • Bank of America Stadium - Charlotte
    • Spectrum Center - Charlotte
  • Ohio
    • Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse - Cleveland
  • Oklahoma
    • Paycom Center - Oklahoma City
  • Pennsylvania
    • Wells Fargo Center - Philadelphia
  • Texas
    • AT&T Dallas Stadium - Arlington
    • AT&T Center - San Antonio
    • Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center - Dallas
    • Toyota Center - Houston
  • Utah
    • Vivint Arena - Salt Lake City
  • Washington
    • Lumen Field - Seattle
  • Washington D.C.
    • AT&T Forum
    • Capital One Arena
  • Wisconsin
    • American Family Field - Milwaukee
    • Fiserv Forum - Milwaukee

Which phones work with 5G?

Samsung Galaxy S20+ and LG V60

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Most of the new phones AT&T sells work with 5G, including many of the best Android phones like the Galaxy S22 series and Pixel 6. Apple's 5G iPhones are also supported. If you're looking to update your AT&T phone, it's the right time to make sure it has 5G built-in.

On the Features & Specs table on AT&T's website, each phone's 5G support will be listed. Mid-band and mmWave 5G will be listed under the 5G+ category with band n260 for mmWave and n77 for C-band. Nationwide 5G will include the bands n2, n5, m30, and n66, although coverage will mainly depend on what's available in your area.

Having a phone that at least supports mid-band n77 is important if you care about getting the most from the network, as the majority of significant 5G expansion will be coming from the mid-band in the next few years.

Which plan do I need?

All of AT&T's current unlimited plans include 5G access. If you want to go for a data plan such as the 4GB plan, you won't get any access to 5G at all. Like most of the best 5G plans, AT&T treats its low-band nationwide 5G data the same as LTE when it comes to hotspot and premium data.

Currently available AT&T plans with 5G access include AT&T Unlimited Elite, AT&T Unlimited Extra, AT&T Unlimited Starter, and AT&T Value Plus. Keep in mind that only Unlimited Elite and Extra include priority data so the other may experience slower speeds when the network is congested.

AT&T has added 5G support to several of its older unlimited plans. This is great for people who want to upgrade to a 5G phone and use the growing network but don't want to lose a current promotion or go through the hassle of changing a plan. This applies to consumer and business unlimited accounts alike.

These AT&T plans will now get access to 5G service with a 5G compatible phone.

With AT&T Prepaid, you can only get 5G with the most expensive Unlimited Data Plus plan, which comes in at $75 per month for one line.

AT&T Prepaid

Source: AT&T (Image credit: AT&T)

Cricket, the AT&T-owned prepaid carrier, now offers 5G access on all its plans. Combined with the recent removal of speed limits from Cricket's plans, this carrier is a great way to test out AT&T's 5G network.

Cricket Plans

Source: Cricket (Image credit: Cricket)

What tech is AT&T using for 5G?

AT&T first started its 5G network with mmWave tech. This uses a high-frequency spectrum above 24GHz for coverage. This spectrum is available in large chunks allowing for enormous speeds of over 2Gbps in ideal conditions. With a solid signal, mmWave is able to handle a large amount of traffic while staying fast enough to get just about anything done on your phone.

AT&T next launched a low-band sub-6 5G network at 850MHz. This is the network that most customers will be able to connect to since it has much better coverage than mmWave. The coverage areas from a single tower will be much more like LTE but so will speeds. This low-band 5G will essentially fill in the gaps where deploying a denser coverage is not practical. AT&T is also sharing some spectrum with LTE where possible to balance the network for the current load.

Lastly, AT&T started deploying C-band spectrum in late January 2021. While its initial footprint was small with just eight cities at launch, this will continue to expand and improve as the carrier gains full access to the spectrum. AT&T has also acquired a significant amount of mid-band spectrum in the so-called Andromeda Auction.

What is 5Ge?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, AT&T will begin rolling out 5G based on its new C-Band spectrum in late 2020. Starting with 40MHz, AT&T will add speed and capacity to its 5G network with spectrum left over for future expansion. Some areas will have up to 80MHz of C-Band available, allowing AT&T to increase network density where it needs it most without investing in mmWave expansion entirely.

Is 5G worth it for most people?

In ideal conditions, 4G LTE is fast enough for most people. However, one problem is that these good speeds lead to data usage constantly increasing as media quality improves and download sizes grow. As a result, there will be a hard ceiling on the amount of data one tower can deliver with LTE technology, and the user experience will start to suffer.

All of AT&T's Unlimited plans now include 5G access, so if you're ready for a new phone, there's a good chance it will come with 5G.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.