You’ve almost certainly heard of 5G, even if you aren’t sure exactly what it means. You’ve also probably heard it alongside terms such as “faster speeds” and “reliable connection.” However, you may have come across terms like 5G UW or 5G UC and become confused over what exactly this means.
This guide breaks down exactly what 5G is and the differences and similarities between 5G UW, 5G UC, and 5G Plus. If you’ve upgraded to a 5G-enabled phone like the Google Pixel 6a, this guide tells you everything you need to know about 5G technology and what it means for your phone.
What is 5G?
5G is the latest global wireless standard (after the appropriately named 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G versions). It’s the newest way you can communicate and download data over cellular networks.
The best way to explain what 5G is to explain the differences between 5G and 4G. 5G introduced higher Gb/s data speeds, lower latency, and improved bandwidth. In general, it’s faster and better than 4G.
What’s the difference between 5G UW, 5GUC, and 5Ge?
While 5G offers a faster experience, you won’t get a uniform experience everywhere. The peak download speed varies significantly across locations depending on what band you’re accessing. There are three bands, each with its own frequency spectrum that determines its peak download speed. These are appropriately named high-band, mid-band, and low-band. Low-band is comparable to 4G LTE speeds but offers more capacity. High-band 5G (mmWave) lets you download movies within seconds, but coverage and penetration are spotty. Mid-band, the most common type of 5G in most of the world, offers increased capacity, covers a greater area, and usually clocks in at higher speeds than low-band, but speeds will likely be slower than mmWave coverage.
To help consumers understand why their speed changes even when they’re always connected to 5G, the three major US carriers have grouped these bands into separate categories, which show up as different icons on your phone. The high-band and mid-band services are grouped together under a special abbreviation, and low-band stands alone. As you might expect, low-band coverage is significantly bigger than high-band and mid-band.
Verizon’s 5G UW
5G UW stands for 5G Ultra Wideband, which includes Verizon’s high-band and mid-band networks. Its coverage is extremely limited, so you’ll struggle to find a reliable UW connection outside the cities. If you’re connected to the UW network, the 5G UW icon appears on your phone. It’s difficult to tell whether you’re on the high-band or low-band network, but unless you desperately need to download a large file, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Verizon’s low-band network is named Verizon Nationwide and has significantly better coverage than 5G UW. However, it’s not much faster than 4G LTE, so don’t expect anything special. You’ll know when you are connected to Nationwide because the 5G icon appears on your phone.
T-Mobile’s 5G UC
T-Mobile’s 5G Ultra Capacity network compromises their high-band and mid-band networks and is limited to covering major cities. The 5G UC icon appears on your phone when connected, and like Verizon, you’ll need to use some guesswork to determine whether you’re connected to the mid-band or high-band network.
If you’re not in an area covered by 5G UC, you’ll probably connect to their 5G Extended Range network instead. This is not much faster than 4G LTE (Noticing a pattern yet?) and will be indicated by the 5G icon on your phone.
AT&T’s 5G Plus
AT&T has organized its 5G networks along the same lines as T-Mobile and Verizon. However, its high-band and mid-band service, 5G Plus, has nowhere near the coverage as 5G UC and 5G UW. You’ll only find it at a few airports and stadiums within the U.S., so unless you’re attending an event or taking a flight, you’ll only encounter their 5G service. You’ll notice the 5G+ icon when you’re connected to 5G Plus.
You may have encountered the term 5Ge. This misleading term stood for 5G Evolution and referred to AT&T’s 4G LTE service. The confusion over this name meant it was forced to remove the term from advertising materials. You’ll still see the 5Ge icon appearing on phones, but don’t get misled. It’s equivalent to 4G LTE.
A lot of terms that mean the same things
Once you strip away the marketing talk, all these fancy terms and abbreviations mean roughly the same thing. Except for AT&T’s misleading term and limited coverage, there isn’t much to differentiate Verizon’s 5G UW and T-Mobile’s 5G UC.
Phones with 5G support are commonplace nowadays, and many of the best budget Android phones support sub-6GHz. which means you’ll be able to take advantage of all the major carriers low-and mid-band 5G networks.