If you ask AT&T, it’ll tell you it was the first US carrier to launch 5G at the very end of 2018, but that’s only true by some very narrow definitions of the word “launch.” It wouldn’t let most people actually buy or use phones on its 5G network, but that’s finally changing. AT&T has fired up a 5G network covering several markets, and it’ll even sell you a 5G phone. Just be ready to drop $1,300 on it.
AT&T’s 5G rollout started in late December 2018 with millimeter-wave coverage in a handful of cities. That’s the same technology Verizon used in its rollout, but unlike Verizon, AT&T chose not to sell consumer devices when it deployed its first 5G markets. Only businesses and developers could get the company’s Nighthawk 5G hotspot and later a Galaxy S10 5G smartphone. Verizon pushed millimeter-wave 5G for consumers because that was the only viable way to deliver 5G with first-gen 5G modems.
AT&T’s new 5G deployment, not to be confused with its 5GE-branded LTE, uses a lower 850MHz frequency similar to LTE. It calls this network just “5G,” and the millimeter-wave network is “5G+.” The lower frequency means it can pass through walls, unlike millimeter wave. While it’s not as fast as millimeter wave, it actually covers most of the initial launch markets, whereas “5G+” only works on select city blocks.
AT&T 5G will launch in Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Birmingham (AL), Providence (RI), Rochester (NY), and San Jose (CA). AT&T will add more markets including New York City and Boston to the mix in early 2020. That’s all the carrier will promise right now, but it has the necessary licenses to deploy low-frequency 5G in many more areas. AT&T is not promising a noticeable speed boost on its new 5G network. T-Mobile, on the other hand, said its low-frequency 5G would be about 20 percent faster.
The only device on AT&T with support for its new 5G will be the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G. It’s virtually identical to the 4G Note 10+, but it has an added 5G radio inside and a higher price tag. It’s available today for $1,300. We expect most high-end phones in 2020 to support 5G thanks to Qualcomm’s requirement that OEMs pair its latest Snapdragon 865 with a separate 5G modem.
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