Google won’t give old Pixels the best 5G, even though it admits it could

Google says it doesn’t plan to update the software for the Pixel 4a 5G, 5, or 5a to support C-band 5G in the US, despite also saying that the phones have the necessary hardware and that the functionality will work in other countries. Google hasn’t explained this decision, which it announced in a post on the Pixel support forums (h/t to Android Police for spotting that post). Google has updated its latest Pixels in the US, the 6 and 6 Pro, with C-band via a software update, but not those older phones.

The post says that the earlier Pixel models “have C-band capable hardware and are enabled for operation in certain countries” but that the company does “not have any plans to support C-band operation in the US” for those earlier Pixel models.

This news is, frankly, a bummer. When my colleague Chris Welch tested Verizon’s C-band network, it was notably faster than 4G LTE and most of the other 5G services the company provided. While C-band isn’t as fast as mmWave, it’s got more range, making it more viable for more customers. Verizon and (to a lesser extent) AT&T are spending billions to make C-band a big part of their 5G networks — and these relatively recent phones, seemingly arbitrarily, can’t use it in the US. It’s especially upsetting for the Pixel 5, a flagship phone that’s only one generation old and which already has the FCC’s approval to use C-band.

(If you’re wondering about T-Mobile, its current 5G network doesn’t utilize C-band, though it does have plans to introduce some late next year. The company loved pointing this out during the 5G debacle with the FAA, carriers, and airlines.)

Google didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Verge asking why it would support C-band in some countries but not others. In its post, the company points out that the phones will still be able to use whatever Sub-6 and mmWave 5G capabilities they had at launch.

As always, this serves as a reminder to not buy something based on features it may or may get in a future software update. In our Pixel 5a review from 2021, we mention that the phone’s lack of C-band could be a drawback in the future but that Google could add support for it if it wanted. Unfortunately, it seems like that future is right around the corner for customers with phones that Google is supporting. But the company doesn’t seem interested in including US customers that don’t have the latest and greatest Pixels.