Best Carriers for 5G Android Central 2021
It's finally time to think about 5G when choosing a new phone and making sure you're using the best carrier for 5G. 5G coverage has continued to grow and is available in more places than ever. Increased use of sub-6 5G has led to great coverage and many supported phones while mmWave is pushing out the boat on speed and capacity in dense urban areas. There are also some MVNO options allowing for even more access. With a mix of sub-6 on low-band and mid-band spectrum for rural and suburban areas and mmWave in progress in urban areas, T-Mobile is the best carrier for 5G.
- Best Overall: T-Mobile
- Best Value: Mint Mobile
- Best Family Value: Metro by T-Mobile
- Best overall speed: AT&T
- Best mmWave coverage: Verizon
- Best for travel: Google Fi
Best Overall: T-Mobile
T-Mobile invested heavily in the 600MHz spectrum, which is used to bolster it's LTE as well as start building a capable 5G network. While this 600MHz 5G hasn't been able to deliver speeds significantly higher than modern LTE in real world testing, it does deliver these speeds consistently. For most people using it, this network will be plenty fast enough.
Perhaps the most important part of T-Mobile's 5G efforts is its heavy investment in a wide range of spectrums. A carrier wants a wide range because the high-frequency spectrum can deliver higher speeds but doesn't travel as far, while sub-6 has similar coverage to LTE. T-Mobile gained access to Sprint's large chunk of 2.5GHz spectrum, which it had already used to start its own small 5G network as well as upgrade its LTE.
Combine this with T-Mobile's mmWave and 600MHz sub-6 spectrum, and T-Mobile is poised to have strong offerings in dense urban areas and the suburbs and even rural areas — a strategy T-Mobile is calling a layer cake.
While 5G phones are still making their way down to more budgets, T-Mobile has opted not to require a certain plan for 5G access. This means all T-Mobile customers can access 5G as soon as they get a phone that supports it. With some phones like the Galaxy S20+ 5G equipped to use all of T-Mobile's 5G spectrum, it will be hard for any carrier to top T-Mobile in 5G for a long time.
- Huge coverage
- Wide range of 5G spectrum
- Rapid 5G growth
- All plans get 5G
- mmWave deployment slow
Best Value: Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is growing fast thanks to its simple plans and solid savings for single lines. With plans available in three, six, and 12-month increments, you can save more when you buy a longer-term. Data is available in 3GB, 8GB, and 12GB chunks with unlimited talk and text. There's also an unlimited plan with 35GB of high-speed data though hotspot data is limited to 5GB. Mint Mobile has a plan that fits just about anyone.
Mint uses T-Mobile's network, including LTE and 5G. All plans include access to 5G as long as you have a phone that supports it. If it works out cheaper for you, you can manage multiple lines under one account for a family plan, but it's worth keeping in mind that many other carriers will work out cheaper with three or more lines. Still, for a lot of people, Mint Mobile is a great way to save on data.
- 5G on every plan
- Multi-month savings
- Uses huge T-Mobile 5G network
- Wide range of data plans
- You must buy at least three months
- No multi-line discounts
Best Family Value: Metro by T-Mobile
T-Mobile owns Metro, so it's no surprise it supports T-Mobile's 5G network. What is great is that it is doing so on all plans at no extra cost. While the plans haven't necessarily grown to reflect 5G's additional capacity, it does offer a nice option for lighter users that want to use the new network. Metro by T-Mobile's full 5G support also helps to illustrate that T-Mobile is treating 5G as its current main network obligation.
With plans starting as low as $30 per month, all you need is a sub-6 capable and compatible 5G phone, and you can gain all of the benefits of 5G without needing to worry about contracts. The other benefits of Metro are here as well, including features like unlimited music streaming on its 10GB plan and savings for family plans up to five lines. With current discounts, customers can get four lines with unlimited data, 15GB of hotspot data, Google One storage, and Amazon Prime for $120 per month.
- Great multi-line savings
- 5G on every plan
- Uses huge T-Mobile 5G network
- Extra benefits
- Most phones not sold online
- Limited phone selection
Best overall speed: AT&T
AT&T was one of the first carriers to start building a 5G network with mmWave, which it called 5G+. Around the same time, it launched a misleading update that renamed upgraded LTE service to 5GE on many phones. AT&T claimed this naming was to reflect that the towers had been updated to support 5G, something that other carriers called LTE Advanced. Even so, AT&T did keep building an actual 5G network with limited plan availability.
In late 2019, AT&T launched a sub-6 5G network on its 850MHz spectrum that is available to consumers with a capable device. According to AT&T, this rapidly growing 5G network already covers 50 million people. New capable devices such as the Galaxy S20+ 5G can take advantage of both the sub-6 and mmWave networks. With one of the strongest mmWave deployments of any carrier, AT&T customers can expect great 5G speeds.
AT&T customers will need to sign up for an unlimited plan 5G access. These plans are rather expensive, starting at $65 per line, but there are savings available if you sign up for more than one line. You also get unlimited talk, text, and data at 2G speeds in Mexico and Canada, plus unlimited texts from over 120 countries.
- New phones support mmWave and sub-6
- Large sub-6 network
- Plenty of data on its plans
- Expensive plans
- Confusing 5G naming
Best mmWave coverage: Verizon
Verizon was one of the first carriers to jump into 5G and did so with its UWB or Ultra Wideband network. This network uses the mmWave spectrum to deliver incredible speeds to compatible devices. In late 2020, Verizon launched its nationwide 5G network using sub-6 spectrum shared with its LTE network. This has allowed the carrier to quickly narrow the coverage gap between it and T-Mobile but still has a ways to go.
To gain access to Ultra Wideband, you'll need one of the hefty Play More, Do More, or Get More unlimited plans, which start at $80 per month for one line. Still, with incredible speed and capacity available with the UWB network, Verizon has been able to completely remove data caps, streaming limits, and hotspot caps when using UWB 5G. If you've got service, you'll have some of the fastest internet speed anywhere, wired or wireless.
Verizon's much larger nationwide 5G network is available on all of its data plans, including the shared data plans. If you have a compatible phone, you can get connected with Verizon. This includes unlocked 5G phones that can access Verizon's n5 5G band.
- Fast speeds
- Truly unlimited on 5G UW
- Strong backup LTE network
- 5G nationwide included with most plans
- UWB network has poor coverage
- Fewer phones
Best for Travel: Google Fi
Google Fi has made a name for itself thanks to its network switching, which is great for international travel. Google Fi has recently begun offering 5G services with its designed for Fio phones that can automatically switch to the strongest signal. With the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a with 5G, 5G was finally included with network switching. Around the same time, the Galaxy S20 series was added as well.
If you have a phone that can access T-Mobile 5G but isn't fully compatible with Google Fi, you can still use 5G, but all of your coverage will the limited to the T-Mobile network.
One of the main reasons to sign up with Google Fi is its flexible data plans. With one plan offering unlimited data, that is 22GB of high-speed data, and the other charging per gigabyte up to 6GB and slowed down at 15GB, it's easy to save with Google Fi. Another great feature of Google Fi is the ability to use your data in over 200 countries around the world. You pay the same rate for data no matter where you are. Like other carriers, you can save money by bringing multiple lines to your plan.
- Contract free
- Data is free past 6GB
- International travel is the same price
- Unlimited and flexible plans
- Only a handful of phones support network switching
- Can get expensive with heavy usage
5G can mean a few different things for customers and the varied deployment by carriers makes that apparent. With all major carriers offering some sort of nationwide sub-6 5G network, 5G coverage is growing fast. Most carriers are looking towards a deployment plan that includes both sub-6 and mmWave networks to come together eventually, but each carrier has approached it differently. Luckily, most 5G phones you can buy will activate and work on all of these carriers' networks, including Verizon.
The best way for people to experience 5G right now is with T-Mobile, and it's low-band 600MHz 5G network. With a huge deployment on its 600MHz spectrum with more spectrum available at 2.5GHz from Sprint and even mmWave spectrum, T-Mobile is set to have the biggest 5G network. With phones already starting to support all three of the network, T-Mobile's customers should have great service in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Samuel Contreras When Samuel is not writing about networking and carriers, 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.
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