If you’ve seen cryptic new icons appearing on your phone next to the 5G logo, you’re not alone. Carriers are massively expanding their 5G networks this year, and those little “UW” and “UC” logos you suddenly see represent the different variants of 5G you’ll find in the wild. Just like Pokémon, but much more confusing.
Isn’t 5G just… 5G?
New. There are low-, mid- and high-band variants of the 5G spectrum. They all offer different data rates and all major US carriers use all three. Of course, they also have different names for it. Depending on your carrier, you may see abbreviations appear next to the 5G symbol on your phone when you are connected to its network. Here’s a quick guide to the different variants of 5G in the US and the abbreviations that carriers have assigned to them.
Basics of the 5G spectrum
In general, low-band 5G has a widespread signal range, but the speeds are not much faster than 4G LTE (if at all). High-band 5G is very fast – download a movie in seconds quickly – but the signal is extremely limited. Then there’s mid-band 5G, which offers a sort of middle ground between the two: far-reaching signal and speeds noticeably faster than 4G, but not shockingly fast like high-band.
5G YOUR: Verizon refers to both its high-band and mid-band 5G as Ultra Wideband. Until recently, UW only referred to the high-band network, also called mmWave. Verizon has put a lot of effort into building and promoting this network, but even in the limited areas where it exists, the signal can be hard to find. Beginning in 2022, Verizon began lighting the new mid-band 5G spectrum in major cities and also classified it as Ultra Wideband. Not confusing at all.
If you see the 5G UW icon on your phone, chances are you are on the midband network. If you use mmWave, you will notice a big difference in data rates. But if your data just seems noticeably fast, not ridiculously fast, you’re probably in the middle band.
5G nationwide: Verizon refers to its low-band 5G as 5G Nationwide. You are connected to this network if you only see a 5G logo on your phone with no “YOUR” next to it. And if your reaction to seeing that 5G icon is something like “Huh, this doesn’t seem faster than 4G”, you’re not imagining anything. It is generally not much faster than LTE. Certain Verizon plans, such as the basic 5G Start unlimited plan, only include this low-band version of 5G.
5G Plus: A “5G+” logo on your screen means you’re connected to AT&T’s high-band or mid-band spectrum. AT&T has put much less effort into building a high-band network outside of stadiums and airport terminals, so you probably won’t come across it just like that. As of early 2022, AT&T’s mid-band spectrum is also a bit sparse, as the carrier has a “kill two birds with one stone” approach until its mid-band expansion. A 5G logo without the “Plus” refers to the carrier’s low-band 5G network, which, worth repeating, isn’t much faster than LTE.
5GE: A few years ago, before a meaningful 5G network existed in the US, AT&T got creative and started branding some of its 4G LTE as “5G Evolution.” It’s not 5G, and an ad review board told the company to abolish it. The logo still appears on phones, but please ignore it; you are on 4G.
5G UC: T-Mobile’s “Ultra Capacity” network technically includes high-band 5G, but most of the network — and T-Mobile’s advertising — is centered on the mid-band spectrum included in the name. While Verizon and AT&T are just starting up their mid-band networks, T-Mobile got a head start with the 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum it picked up when it bought Sprint. If you see that “5G UC” logo on your phone, rest assured that it’s the spectrum you’re connected to.
Extended range: A 5G logo without “UC” indicates that you are connected to low-band 5G, which T-Mobile calls “Extended Range”. Again, it’s not much faster than LTE, but the coverage is wider than mid-band or high-band 5G. If you’ve seen a 5G logo on your T-Mobile phone and weren’t impressed with the data speeds, that might be the reason.