C-Band launched and the sky didn’t fall: first test results

The C band is there. No plane fell from the sky.

Verizon launched its C-band network in 46 cities this week and AT&T in eight. None of them have a coverage map yet due to last-minute arguments about airport exclusion zones, but Verizon says its map will be available soon.

The airline industry’s whole C-band doomsday argument turned out to be as far-fetched as I thought. Yes, some older radio altimeters can pick up signals well out of their band (and current C-band networks are 400 MHz, so we’re talking path out of their band), but modern commercial aircraft typically use altimeters with band filters that can stay in their lane.

As of Thursday afternoon, the FAA had certified nearly 80% of commercial planes to be safe to operate in C-band, and the president of American Airlines said none of that would cause noticeable disruptions to air traffic.

Here’s the catch: If the FAA certified the altimeters now, they very well could have done the same in December, or even a year ago, when the spectrum was auctioned off! But instead, the agency and the airline industry interests it serves wanted to play this ridiculous game of tightrope and scare everyone for what turned out to be no reason.

I can’t help but subscribe to analyst Anshel Sag’s conspiracy theory that this was all about airlines trying to get Verizon to pay for new altimeters; if so, they don’t get what they wanted, and instead everyone has been stressing themselves out for nothing.

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OK, now the test results. We use a very cool app called Wind from our cousins ​​at Ookla; it uses specially modified Samsung Galaxy S21+ phones to deliver very low-level modem data, even chopping things up to show how fast each component channel of your connection is. It’s awesome, and you’ll see more of it in the future. (Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, the parent company of PCMag.com.)

In my day one testing of Verizon’s C-band network, I got results that were much slower than most other people. I’m 99% sure it’s because the two cell sites I found were just slow sites. But I walked all over Queens, NY to find these two cell sites; it’s just the luck of the draw. I’ll be back while you read this and will update my test results as I see more data.

I’m more encouraged by the results I’ve seen on range, up to about a 0.37 mile radius for sites. This is limited not only by frequency, but also by the proximity of neighboring sites. This distance is very close to what I’ve seen on T-Mobile’s mid-band network, and so it’s something you can actually build a metro network on. (Yes, there will always be someone in the comments saying “well, nothing for rural here”, and yes, there’s nothing for rural here.)

I don’t have any AT&T C-band results yet — we’ll have them in Chicago next week — and I also plan to review T-Mobile’s NR carrier aggregation soon. There’s a lot to come, so keep an eye on my author page on PCMag.com.

What else happened this week?

  • My favorite opinion piece on the FAA’s utter mess comes from the ever-reliable Mike Dano, who does an excellent job of summarizing how the FAA managed to unnecessarily go wrong a good thing (by not bothering to certify that the equipment is safe to use, even if it is).

  • No more C-band! Auction spectrum allocations from 3.45 to 3.55 GHz, a sort of C-band 2, came out, and AT&T and Dish were the big winners. And while C-band is currently limited to 46 markets, this stuff is nationwide.

  • T-Mobile has added 57 Texas cities to its national internet markets. As AT&T and Verizon battled with airlines, T-Mobile without C-band really laughed all the way to the bank.

  • Samsung teases the Galaxy S22 launch, but doesn’t tell us things we don’t already know. It will definitely use the S Pen, but so will the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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