U.S. Cellular is often overlooked in conversations about and evaluations of the nation’s largest mobile network operators, but with around 5 million customers under its belt across 21 states as of the end of Q1 2020, the 1983-founded company can definitely be considered a relatively major player in the American wireless industry, especially in the wake of Sprint’s untimely and entirely predictable death.
Spreading the low-band 5G love
You’ll be excused if you had no idea U.S. Cellular started its move away from outdated 4G LTE technology a little while back in parts of Wisconsin and Iowa, but the carrier is now aggressively vying for your attention with an impending expansion of the improved cellular signal to 11 additional states.
The list includes California, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia, although not everyone will get 5G access at once, and at least for the time being, there are no individual rollout dates to share for any of these places.
While we’re on the subject, we should highlight that U.S. Cellular is not making any specific 5G coverage promises yet, merely claiming that traffic and usage patterns will determine the focus of the operator’s deployments, with dense urban areas prioritized but “small and medium towns” also considered important.
The future is all about the layer cake
Like T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular envisions its 5G network as a perfect cake with three layers
, but the middle and arguably most important level of this metaphor is proving difficult to implement for essentially anyone that’s not Magenta. That’s because Sprint used to own the largest chunk of usable mid-band spectrum
in the US, while everyone else is currently engaged in a critical auction that may determine who can keep up with T-Mo in the battle for striking the ideal balance between 5G speed and availability.
Until U.S. Cellular can roll out a mid and high-band signal, those grounded in the present should be happy to hear an “LTE Advanced” modernization is also taking place. Although that doesn’t sound as meaningful or as buzzworthy as everything happening in the 5G
field, it’s actually something that most users will be able to experience out in the real world fairly soon.
In case you’re wondering, most mobile devices currently or recently sold by U.S. Cellular are LTE Advanced-capable, with the LG V60 ThinQ, Samsung Galaxy S20
lineup, and Galaxy A71
composing the operator’s 5G-enabled smartphone roster at the time of this writing.