5G in the USA made simple: Sub-6 vs mmWave

Chris Burns - Feb 12, 2020, 3:30 pm CST
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5G in the USA made simple: Sub-6 vs mmWave

Today we’re using the Galaxy S20 as a key example in explaining 5G in the USA. We’ll be exploring the two main varieties of what’s considered 5G mobile data as well as the coverage you can get with carriers in the USA today – and in the near future. This article acts as guide for the most major roll-out of 5G data in the USA, here in the year 2020.

5G sub-6 vs mmWave

Different carriers use different names for what’s essentially the same sort of mobile data. Sub-6 is every sort of mobile data with frequencies under 6Ghz – that includes what are referred to as “mid-band” and “low-band”. Terms “high-band”, “wide-band”, “ultra wideband”, “millimeter wave”, “mmWave”, and “MWV” all generally refer to data on frequencies over 24Ghz.

Sub-6 5G referred to as:
• Verizon: “5G low-band network”
• AT&T: “AT&T’s 5G network”
• T-Mobile USA: “T-Mobile Nationwide 5G” or “T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum”
• Sprint: “Sprint’s True Mobile 5G”

mmWave 5G called:
• Verizon: “Ultra Wideband (MMW)” “mmWave” “UWB”
• AT&T: “AT&T’s 5G+ network”
• T-Mobile USA: “millimeter wave (mmWave) high-band spectrum”
• Sprint: N/A

Definitions:
• Low-band: Under 1 Ghz
• Mid-band: 3.6-6 Ghz (Under 6Ghz is Sub-6)
• High-band: 24-40 Ghz (Over 24Ghz is mmWave)

Galaxy S20 5G version 1 or 2

The Samsung Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra launched with 5G connectivity – the first devices in the USA with 5G connectivity for both sub-6 5G AND mmWave 5G. The Samsung Galaxy S20 (non-plus, non-Ultra) also launched with 5G, but only worked with sub-6 5G. In Q2 of 2020, another version of the Galaxy S20 will appear with the ability to connect to both sub-6 5G AND mmWave 5G.

If you buy a Samsung Galaxy S20 unlocked from Samsung, you’ll get a device with sub-6 5G connectivity and NO connectivity with mmWave 5G. The difference between this first S20 and the Q2 S20 for Verizon is hardware. Hardware modifications to this new version of the S20 (with Verizon) allow it to connect to both sub-6 and mmWave versions of 5G.

The same is true of the Galaxy S20 sold in Q1 by any other brand – until that second version of the Galaxy S20 is released, there is no Galaxy S20 (non-plus, non-Ultra) with the ability to connect to mmWave 5G. This first Galaxy S20 can only connect with sub-6 5G.

Before you choose

Each of the major carriers in the USA have a different allotment of coverage for “5G” mobile data in sub-6 or mmWave frequencies. Most major networks will have both sorts eventually, with coverage for 5G data speed in vast amounts – but it won’t happen overnight.

If you’re looking for a 5G smartphone (or any 5G device, for that matter), make sure you’ve got the sort that can connect to the 5G frequency you’re after – chances are you’ll want to full set, with both sub-6 and mmWave onboard. The first 5G smartphones to have connectivity with both sub-6 AND mmWave are the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (plus), and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. More will appear from other brands very, very soon.

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