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What Is 5G UW?

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You look at your phone and see a weird symbol next to your bars that you haven’t noticed before: 5G UW. What is 5G UW? What’s the difference between that and regular 5G? 

Since 2019, 5G has become commonplace in mobile devices, but since then, the big three carriers have rolled out slightly upgraded versions of 5G. Verizon’s is called 5G UW. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what 5G UW is, how it works, and why it’s important regarding your phone's data speeds.

What is 5G?

Before we get into 5G UW, let’s zoom out a bit to look at 5G as a whole. 5G technology offers a significant advancement over previous technologies like 4G LTE, 3G, and 2G.

As a bit of background, Verizon is one of the companies instrumental in deploying 5G, along with AT&T and T-Mobile. They launched 5G smartphones and services on their 5G network in 2019. Since then, it’s become a standard offering among providers.

But what is 5G?

The short answer is that 5G is a wireless communication that works by using radio waves to travel through the air, bringing an internet connection to your phone. The name 5G was coined because it’s the fifth generation of technology. This distinction is important because 5G uses higher frequencies than previous generations (like 4G).

So, what does all this mean for you regarding user experience?

In essence, it improves your service. 5G offers greater speed, so you don’t experience lag times as much as you would on previous generations. And it gives you improved network capacity.

Because 5G moves faster, with greater capacity, you can download media quicker. Your service won’t slow down as much during high-traffic hours or because you’re in a densely populated area, because the greater network capacity means more people can use the same networks without disruption or slower service.

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Understanding 5G UW

Now that you have grasped 5G, we can get deeper into 5G UW. UW stands for Ultra Wideband. This is specific to Verizon – it’s the company’s name for one of their levels of service for 5G. Other providers also have different service levels; we’ll cover that briefly in a section below.

With Verizon, 5G is the standard or lowest band. 5G UW, also called mid-band, offers a step up in service. 5G UW is a higher frequency band; only phones with Verizon 5G UW can connect to this network.

To get 5G UW, you need to purchase a phone that’s equipped for 5G and sign up for the Ultra Wideband service through Verizon. You’ll be able to see this on your phone, as well: the UW icon will appear on your phone as 5G UW rather than the standard 5G.

So long as your phone is equipped with 5G, you’ll be connected to a 5G network regardless of which level of service you choose because it’s standard on the Nationwide plan, which is Verizon's base level of network service. But, with the 5G UW add-on, you’ll experience the faster speeds of UW where coverage is available.

5G UW connects to millimeter wave (mmWave), unlike regular 5G. The standard 5G gives you increased speed and connectivity from 4G. By connecting to high band, mmWave, and mid-band, C-band, 5G UW delivers even greater data speeds, download speeds, and better responsiveness when compared to standard 5G. With regular 5G, speeds can reach up to speeds five times faster than 4G, but 5G UW with mmWave networks can go even faster than that.

As Verizon continues to evolve its services and offerings, 5G UW is the next step to give users the mobile device experience for greater connectivity.

How 5G Ultra Wideband Works

As mentioned, 5G UW uses mmWave technology that relies on a higher band frequency. These high-frequency networks promise much better performance, but there are challenges to implement 5G UW on a massive scale.

The mmWave frequencies that 5G UW uses have a much shorter range than standard 5G. So, when this was first rolled out, it was difficult for customers to get their full capabilities. They needed to be inside the 5G UW coverage areas, which was often only in major cities.

Lower band frequencies travel much farther than mmWave, but the increased speed and performance made the shorter wave frequencies more ideal for users when available.

To expand their network, Verizon purchased C-Band frequencies from the FCC to enable greater customer coverage, expanding the network to over 1,700 cities and millions of customers as of 2023.

5G vs 5G UW

Is 5G UW really that different from 5G? And, given that only two Verizon unlimited plans include it, is it worth springing for it?

5G UW does offer greater performance. But the benefit to you depends on your needs and uses. If you’re satisfied with your existing wireless coverage, standard 5G or even 4G LTE may be all you need for the moment.

The benefits of 5G UW vs 5G include:

  • Increased capacity: more devices can connect to the network simultaneously.
  • Better performance: you’ll have the same responsiveness no matter where you are or the time of day.
  • Faster speeds: Fewer delays if you’re downloading or uploading material for work or play; you don’t get frustrating lags.

Customers notice a heightened difference in speed, especially during high-traffic hours. Legacy networks often get bogged down when many people in a location are using them simultaneously. This means fast speeds, decreased latency, and higher bandwidth for users.

Exploring Other Kinds of 5G

Most of this article discusses 5G UW, which is only available through Verizon.

But other wireless carriers also offer mid-band networks for 5G service. Let’s do a quick overview of other options.

These three versions are basically each carrier’s fastest 5G offerings. They all rely on the same basic mid-band and high-band frequencies to deliver increased speeds, and the performance is comparable, but coverage area varies between carriers.

T-Mobile 5G UC

T-Mobile’s mid and high-band 5G is called 5G Ultra Capacity, or 5G UC. You need to purchase a phone equipped with the feature to have the UC option. Older phones may not have the option, and T-Mobile didn’t begin rolling out their 5G UC until 2021.

5G UC uses both mid-band and mmWave frequencies, so users get all of the coverage of the 5G standard, but the increased speed is associated with the higher band of UC. This service also uses C-band frequencies to extend the coverage areas for their customers.

AT&T 5G Plus

AT&T offers 5G and 5G+, but there is no extra charge for the faster mmWave technology of their 5G+ level of service. To access 5G+, you just need to have a phone that supports 5G+ and be in an area with coverage for the service.

Like the other providers, AT&T’s 5G+ uses C-Band and mmWave frequencies. This is especially advantageous for users in high-traffic areas, like stadiums or airports.

Which One is Best? 5G UC vs 5G UW vs 5G Plus

The big three wireless carriers are all actively expanding their networks to include wider availability for their fastest 5G offerings. For now, which one is best really comes down to which one is more widely available where you use your cell phone. As for speed, for the highest bands, T-Mobile and Verizon are pretty comparable. AT&T lands somewhere in the middle on both speed and coverage.

The Bottom Line

The wide world of 5G UW is available to you, but only if you have a 5G-enabled phone and you're on Verizon Unlimited Plus or Verizon Unlimited Ultimate. Maybe you're more intrigued by T-Mobile cell phone plans, or your area is better covered by AT&T. Or maybe you don't know where to start. As you're tying to make sense of your wireless options, Navi can help you find the best phone deals in seconds, and our free, unbiased Plan Finder below makes it easy to compare cell phone plans from major wireless carriers based on your needs.

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