AT&T plans to have 5G service available in the C-band – at least in some areas – this year, according to a press release from Nokia today announcing Nokia’s five-year contract to build the AT&T 5G C-band network.
Handsets that support C-band connectivity are already available from Apple and Samsung, a Nokia spokesperson said in an email response to a question from Telecompetitor.
C-band spectrum is considered mid-band spectrum, which is widely viewed as offering the optimum mixture of speed and range for 5G. AT&T’s initial 5G deployments were in the millimeter wave band, which supports the highest speeds but is limited in range, and in low-band spectrum, which offers excellent coverage but lower speeds.
“AT&T is committed to bringing the power of 5G to businesses and communities across the nation, and our C-band deployments with Nokia will help add 5G capacity where it’s needed,” said Igal Elbaz, senior vice president of wireless and access technology at AT&T, in the Nokia press release.
AT&T C-band 5G
The C-band auction raised a record-breaking $81 billion, and AT&T was one of the biggest winners. The company successfully bid for over 1600 out of over 5600 licenses available. The company’s winning bids totaled $23.4 billion, putting the company second after Verizon in money spent.
The Nokia C-band equipment supports both 5G standalone (SA) and 5G non-standalone (NSA) networks. Initially, providers deployed 5G NSA, which is deployed on top of existing 4G networks and relies on those networks for certain capabilities.
More recently, providers have begun deploying 5G SA, which uses a dedicated 5G core, thereby supporting advanced capabilities such as network slicing, which enables carriers to customize portions of their networks with specific service parameters to support specific use cases such as internet of things.
C-band spectrum is currently in the hands of satellite operators, but technology advances have minimized the amount of spectrum those operators need. The operators will be relinquishing a total of 280 MHz of their spectrum in exchange for receiving a portion of the auction proceeds and have agreed to clear 120 MHz of the 280 MHz in the top 46 partial economic areas (PEAs) before year end, with apparently 100 MHz of that available for use by licensees. The remaining spectrum is due to be cleared in 2023.
One of the reasons AT&T may have paid top dollar for C-band spectrum is that its winnings included spectrum subject to the earlier clearing date.
T-Mobile gained a strong position in mid-band spectrum when it merged with Sprint last year and has been aggressively deploying 5G using that spectrum. The company has argued that its mid-band spectrum is better than C-band spectrum because it is somewhat lower frequency, which minimizes the number of cellsites required to support it.