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AT&T 5G: all the phones, deals, coverage and pricing you need

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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 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 - which AT&T is calling 5G+ - the network only has a hotspot and a single phone available for purchase and what's more that phone - the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G - is only currently available for business customers (and developers). AT&T is rolling out the faster mmWave (millimeter wave) technology for its customers, however, so speeds will be high - we've gone into a bit more detail about the kinds of speeds to expect below. 

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 5GE for now...

What is 5GE?

So as we mentioned, AT&T is prioritising 5GE for customers, even though it's continuing to rollout its full-fat 5G network (which, again, it is calling 5G+) 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 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. 

AT&T 5G cities

So forgetting 5GE for a minute, AT&T's 'true 5G' or 5G+ network is available today in limited parts of 21 cities including the newest - New York City and Las Vegas - although the network has currently announced plans for 30 cities.

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 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 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

As we mentioned, the only 5G phone AT&T has so far announced is the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. There's also a slight catch, since it remains only available to business customers for now as well as developers through the AT&T Developer Program

That's quite a limited audience, but AT&T clearly wants to make the network rollout pass a critical mass so that the customer experience isn't disappointing; and presumably not wanting to offer poor speeds. We guess the network will wait until 2020 for a full 5G phone launch. 

Even 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 S10 5G

(Image credit: Samsung)

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. 

Check out AT&T's coverage map

AT&T is referring to its main 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. 

Again 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. 

(Image credit: AT&T)

AT&T 5G deals

AT&T's true 5G network remains tied to business accounts only for now, presumably because the network sees business customers as the only ones who can really get some benefit from the emerging network. It could also be that AT&T just doesn't think the service is ready for prime time. 

As we mentioned, AT&T is selling the S10 5G to businesses on a preferential deals - you'll need to contact your account manager to find out more.

The move is a little frustrating though, because even if you bought a 5G handset from elsewhere you aren't currently able to use it on AT&T's 5G network.

(Image credit: Netgear)

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 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.”

Check out AT&T for business