AT&T has launched its 5G network in the U.S., barely making its self-imposed, “by the end of the year” deadline. And in two days, on Dec. 21, the company will also start offering a mobile 5G device to customers.
Caveats abound, however. The service is only live in 12 cities: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Oklahoma City; New Orleans; Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio; and Waco, Texas.
And the device AT&T is launching with the network isn’t a 5G phone. Instead, it’s a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, which will indeed offer faster speeds than an LTE hotspot, but only in “dense urban areas.” If 5G+ (as AT&T calls its 5G network) is unavailable, the hotspot will work on the company’s not-really-5G-but-also-quite-fast network, the 5G Evolution.
A hotspot is alright, but it’s very different than having a 5G phone. but sadly, no phone sold in the U.S. has 5G capabilities right now, so that Nighthawk gadget will be the only way to enjoy 5G speeds on a phone. Both AT&T and Verizon should be adding a Samsung 5G phone to their lineups in the first half of 2019.
AT&T didn’t share any details about the attainable speeds on its new 5G network. In a recent test, both AT&T and Verizon demonstrated 5G speeds of up to 140Mbps, so take that as a rough estimate of what you can expect, at least in the beginning.
For AT&T it’s a win. All the telcos have been in the same race, though Verizon and AT&T built an early lead from the early days. T-Mobile US might suggest it didn’t want to be the first, and is instead focusing on a genuine nationwide rollout, but don’t get too caught up in the PR spin. CEO John Legere and his magenta army would have loved to be first across the finish line, something else for him to get wild-eyed about on social media, but that prize, and the ‘first’ claims in advertising is heading over to AT&T.
AT&T Labs president and CTO Andre Fuetsch called the launch a “first taste of the mobile 5G era,” but promised that the company will “continually iterate in the months ahead.” There’s some news on that front already. In the first half of 2019, AT&T plans to deploy 5G in seven additional cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
Think augmented reality (computer graphics merging with the real world), virtual reality, improved streaming resolutions, holographic displays, enhanced power and next-gen cloud computing – 5G is going to be significant jump forward for phones.
If you’re still interested and want to walk into an AT&T store and sign up, sorry: The service will initially be invite-only and available only in the aforementioned cities. The selected businesses and consumers that are on AT&T’s invite list will get a good deal, though: They’ll get the Nighthawk hotspot and 5G data usage for free for at least 90 days. In the spring, the Nighthawk should become more widely available for $499 upfront, combined with a 15GB data plan costing $70 per month.