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, only recently becoming available for consumers. It has now been joined by the new Samsung Galaxy S20 series.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
The Samsung S10 5G is the only common denominator between all US 5G networks.
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.
Samsung Galaxy S20 5G
We didn't actually think the Samsung Galaxy S20 was coming to the US, but were proven wrong by AT&T choosing to offer it. It's available in cloud pink, cloud blue and cosmic grey in a 128GB version only.
With a 6.2-inch OLED display it's not a small phone, although is more pocketable than the others in the range. There'a s triple camera with 30x zoom (the main lens is a whopping 64 megapixels) and it can record 8K video should you really wish to.
Samsung Galaxy S20+
The S20+ carries over many of the features from the standard S20 but you get a quad-camera instead, again with 64 megapixel telephoto lens and 12MP ultra-wide cameras. The screen is half an inch bigger though at 6.7-inches.
Once again the phone is based around the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 platform with a Qualcomm X55 5G modem.
It's available in two storage sizes - 128 and 512GB - and in three colours, cloud blue cosmic black and cosmic grey.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is a flagship phone in every sense. It's significantly more expensive than, say, the standard S20 and, while it has a lot in common with the S20+, it improves on the middle phone of the range quite significantly as well.
It's 0.2-inches bigger than the S20+, clocking in just shy of 7-inches at 6.9 and the 3,200 x 1,440 AMOLED display;ay absolutely sings. Like the others in the range it has super-fast charging and is based around the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 platform with X55 modem.
But the real change is in the camera department. You get a quad-camera just like the S20+ but instead things are pushed to the limit. Instead of a 30x zoom, the S20 Ultra is capable of 100x, while there's a huge 108 megapixel sensor to go alongside a 48 megapixel telephoto. While the 100x zoom isn't hugely practical, you'll love zooming into far-off objects.
Again it's available in two storage sizes - 128 and 512GB - but only two rather dark colours, cosmic black and cosmic grey.
AT&T 5G coverage
Like other networks, AT&T has reported a massive upsurge in traffic around the coronavirus outbreak, largely driven by home working. AT&T has also announced it is relaxing data caps during the outbreak.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNN’s Brian Stelter on the Reliable Sources programme that: "We’re seeing some signs of stress. We’re having to go out and do some of augmentation of network but right now the network is performing quite well.” Although he didn't go into details, 'augmentation' probably means opening up additional capacity.
Stephenson added that the network would “come out of this crisis" before saying it would also "continue to invest in 5G and new technology."
Interestingly, the AT&T CEO added that the pandemic will cause all organisations to reevaluate how they run things. "I think it’s going to cause every business to evaluate how [they] do business", clearly intending to include AT&T within that.
In the US the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has introduced a Keep Americans Connected pledge for networks and other organisations with the intention that they won't overcharge consumers and make hay from the coronavirus outbreak.
AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and other big players like Comcast have already committed to the pledge which is aimed at ensuring that they don't terminate service for people who may not be able to pay and forgo late fees. The intention is also to open up public Wi-Fi hotspots.
In its statement on the development, AT&T says it "will not terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic."
AT&T has also put forward $10 million to create a Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund with the intention to better connect students and teachers for distance learning during the next few months. Around $1 million will be going to online learning platform Khan Academy, which is a renowned source of educational materials. Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy said of the donation: "We’re grateful that they’re helping us respond quickly to school closures so everyone can keep learning at home.”
As for its normal 5G rollout, 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.”