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More than 20 cities now have access to the full AT&T 5G network and the operator is forging ahead with its plans for many more cities in the near future.
But things aren't quite that simple.
That's because a while back AT&T has chosen to launch so-called '5GE'; essentially branding for a supercharged version of 4G that doesn't need a 5G handset.
In terms of full 5G, the network only has a hotspot and a couple of phones (the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Galaxy Note 10+). The 5G Service will be Included in AT&T Unlimited Extra and AT&T Unlimited Elite plans.
The network also said that it won't be offering 5G speeds much beyond 4G at present, which will be disappointing to a lot of businesses and consumers - the initial 5G network is based on lowband signals as opposed to the midband being rolled out by Sprint and the highband favoured by Verizon.
AT&T is rolling out the faster highband mmWave (millimeter wave) technology for its customers as well, so speeds will eventually be a lot higher - we've gone into a bit more detail about the kinds of speeds to expect below. This faster network will be called 5G+ by AT&T.
AT&T's senior vice president Chris Penrose describes the company's 5G network as a chocolate chip cookie. The main cookie dough represents low-band 5G while the chocolate chips represent the 5G+ millimeter-wave cities "sprinkled in across the country."
Penrose explains that the 15 new phones this year will have access to the “entire cookie’, whether it’s the low-band 5G or the super-fast “5G Plus”.
Whilst we don’t know what devices will support AT&T’s 5G or when they are coming, Penrose promised that prices will be "competitive in the marketplace."
So while the network is getting better all the time, AT&T customers can't really take advantage of the benefits of 5G yet. And to consumers, the network would rather market 5G and 5GE rather than 5G+ for now...
What is 5GE?
As we mentioned, AT&T is prioritising 5GE for customers, even though it's continuing to rollout its full-fat 5G network in the background. 5GE stands for 5G Evolution.
In some ways, this makes sense - consumers aren't really ready for full 5G networks yet in many instances, so why not give them a better service in the meantime before they're eventually convinced to go for a full 5G or 5G+ service.
The problem is that it could be seen as misleading - it's certainly pure marketing, any way you look at it. Other networks aren't keen and Sprint even took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times to say that "AT&T's fake 5G claims are deceiving consumers".
The issue is that 5GE is not really 5G at all - it's known as LTE Advanced from other vendors so, yes, it's still 4G.
AT&T says that 5GE is "the first step on AT&T’s path to 5G". It's available in over 500 US towns and cities already offering speeds double those of standard 4G LTE. But the critics are many; Analyst OpenSignal has even suggested that AT&T LTE is often slower than other networks with LTE Advanced.
Certainly AT&T's initial 5G speeds won't be much beyond 4G, with Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of AT&T Mobility, saying: "I think about it as the first step into the future. It’s something that will evolve."
AT&T 5G cities
AT&T has now launched its low band network in 19 cities, which is double what was promised previously - the network says it has now improved coverage for around 200 million people. AT&T is simply referring to this network as "5G" rather than 5GE or 5G+ (see below).
The low band 5G cities include Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Alabama; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; and San Jose, California.
As we mentioned earlier, the low band offering doesn't offer speeds much in excess of 4G - if at all. Indeed Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of AT&T Mobility, said that speeds on the low-band network will be "on par" with AT&T 4G LTE.
AT&T's faster millimeter wave 5G+ network is available today in limited parts of 35 cities including the newest - New York City and Las Vegas - although the network has currently announced plans for 30 cities in early 2020. As with other networks using millimeter wave, speeds on this network will reach in excess of 1Gbps.
The current list is Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Waco.
We don't yet have a date for when the 5G+ network might get bigger. We do, however, know that Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis are part of the next phase of the rollout - those locations are already on Verizon's 5G network list, too.
AT&T has said that it’s working toward offering “nationwide coverage” in the first half of 2020 - but presumably this will be based around the slower low band offering.
AT&T Stadium - home of the Dallas Cowboys - has also been 5G-enabled with various experiences available on the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which is available to try out at the stadium.
AT&T 5G phones
AT&T's 5G phone rollout has been very slow. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G was available in early 2019 for business users. Now the Galaxy Note 10+ is also coming to the network, too. Expect the new 2020 Samsung Galaxy phone to come to the network, too.
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Chris Penrose, AT&T's senior vice president told Cnet that the company will have 15 5G phones during 2020, a slightly smaller figure than Verizon's target of 20 handsets.
These numbers are for phones only and don't include other 5G devices like 5G-enabled tablets, laptops or routers.
Coincidentally, the new Samsung Galaxy Fold phone - which is 5G-enabled and available from AT&T - is only available on the 5G Evolution (5GE) tariff for now. So yes, that's a 5G phone which is only available on a 4G tariff.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Available on the new AT&T Business Unlimited Preferred plan, the Samsung S10 5G is the only common denominator between all US 5G networks. For a limited time, businesses can order the 256GB Galaxy S10 5G for $999.99, the same price as the 128GB Galaxy S10+.
The S10 5G is a large, 6.7-inch phone that's even larger than the 6.4-inch S10+. It's powered by Samsung's own Exynos 9820 platform and a Samsung 5G modem with the quad rear camera boasts wide, telephoto and ultrawide lenses.
The Business Unlimited Preferred plan includes 20 GB of tethering and a secure Private Wi-Fi app.
AT&T 5G coverage
We already mentioned AT&T's foray into so-called 5G Evolution, or 5GE. 5GE shows as the network you're connected to - rather than 4G - and it essentially indicates an upgraded 4G network as we mentioned earlier.
While it's probably been a successful short-term policy, there's no telling how it will play out further down the track. In the future, it may backfire as people question the merit of upgrading to 5G when their phone already says they have 5G, albeit 5GE.
The standard 5G Service will be Included in AT&T Unlimited Extra and AT&T Unlimited Elite plans. As we mentioned earlier, this is based on a low-band network so speeds won't be that much better than 5GE.
AT&T is referring to its even faster 5G network as 5G+ and its this network that uses mmWave (millimeter wave) technologies like Verizon and T-Mobile in central city areas for now, although it is also working on a sub-6GHz network so that it can provide wider coverage as we move into 2020-21.
You should expect speeds around the 400Mbps plus mark although as we've seen with other networks there's often an appetite to talk about speeds which are unrealistic for customers to get consistently, at least in the short term.
AT&T 5G deals
The main low band 5G network we're seeing roll out in December is available on the AT&T Unlimited Extra and AT&T Unlimited Elite plans.
AT&T Unlimited Elite will give you 30GB of mobile hotspot data per line, HBO and HD streaming all for $50 a month per line on per line lines after autopay and paperless bill discount.
The network says that, in May 2020, customers who subscribe to HBO, including those who receive it as part of our current and future postpaid wireless plans, will be able to get HBO Max - the network's new streaming service - at no extra charge.
AT&T Unlimited Extra customers have 5G service included, as well as 15GB of mobile hotspot data per line for $40 a month per line.
AT&T 5G business and home internet
Unlike Verizon's 5G Home Internet and similar offerings, AT&T doesn't have a 5G home or business broadband offering as yet. However, the company has talked about having it in future.
The network is offering the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile hotspot, which is compatible with mmWave (what AT&T is referring to as 5G+) and uses Qualcomm's X50 5G modem.
AT&T 5G for business
AT&T says that 5G will "ultimately unlock use cases that are dependent on faster speed, wide coverage, and low latency". In other words, you'll be able to take the ultrafast connectivity you have in your home or business with you onto the street.
And, as we know this will create better experiences for customers and businesses as the 5G network spreads to more devices and industries - with the key benefit that you're better able to better serve the customer.
AT&T carried out a trial with Magnolia Silos in Waco, that provided an insight into how 5G can change retail, using 5G speeds of approximately 1.2 Gbps in a 400 MHz channel and latency of just 9-12 milliseconds.
“Businesses are leading the charge on the nation’s first mobile 5G network, and this is the next step in unlocking 5G’s full potential for those early adopters and innovators,” said Mo Katibeh, Chief Marketing Officer, AT&T Business.
“With mobile 5G a core tenet of our 5G strategy for businesses, we’re making this amazing new device available so that the business community can begin creating new experiences and drive the next industrial revolution through unprecedented mobile capabilities.”