Verizon Spent $53B On Faster 5G Spectrum But There's A Catch For Consumers

Verizon 5G
The true promise of 5G connectivity has yet to be realized, for a few reasons. For one, it is simply not as widely available as 4G LTE. Secondly, not all cellular devices support 5G. And then there is the issue of speed. In a lot of places, 5G connectivity can actually be slower than 4G. That is set to change with Verizon spending big money on mid-band spectrum known as C-band, but there's a very big catch for consumers.

Only customers who subscribe to a premium unlimited plan will have access to the desirable C-band spectrum, when Verizon flips the switch. Customers on lower tier plans will be stuck with slower 5G, which has been a disappointment so far.

We wrote about this last November when Verizon's 5G download speeds ranked dead last, according to data collected by Ookla. That's because much of Verizon's 5G network is based on low-band spectrum. A month later, separate testing found that Verizon's nationwide 5G network is typically slower than its existing 4G LTE network.

Our own testing has shown similar results. It's disappointing, though adding C-band spectrum into the mix could be a game changer. That is, if you're willing to pay more for it. Verizon revealed its plans during its Investor Day 2021 presentation.

"C-Band will enhance our ultra-wide band value proposition, and will be included in all our premium unlimited plans," said Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Verizon's consumer group.

This means consumers hoping for faster 5G connectivity—or real 5G, truly—will have to pay for one of Verizon's three premium plans, those being Play More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited, and Get More Unlimited. Customers of Verizon's Start Unlimited plan and any of its non-unlimited tiers will be left with slower, low-band 5G connectivity.

"In the next 12 months, Verizon expects to have incremental 5G bandwidth via the new spectrum available to 100 million people in the initial 46 markets, delivering 5G ultra wide-band performance on C-band spectrum. Over 2022 and 2023, coverage is expected to increase to more than 175 million people and by 2024 and beyond, when the remaining C-band is cleared, more than 250 million people are expected to have access to Verizon’s 5G ultra wide-band service on C-band spectrum," Verizon said.

Perhaps Verizon is looking to more quickly recoup its $52.9 billion investment into C-band spectrum, as a result of a recent FCC auction. Verizon effectively more than doubled its existing mid-band spectrum, the company said, representing a 120 percent increase in spectrum holdings in sub-6GHz bands.

This is disappointing, though not shocking. Verizon separates its mmWave 5G in the same manner, limiting access to its premium plans mentioned above. What makes this even more of a punch in the gut, however, is that low-band 5G just isn't all that great, and adding C-band into the mix could have sped things up for everyone on Verizon.