AT&T’s mobile 5G network has spread to seven more cities, bringing the carrier’s total 5G coverage to 19 markets. The latest expansion includes some of the countries most populated cities, including Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; and California’s four largest cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
AT&T was the nation’s first operator to launch a standards-based mobile 5G last December, and says it will have nationwide 5G service by early 2020. Verizon, which launched a non-standardized fixed 5G home service with limited coverage in four cities in September 2018, launched 5G New Radio (NR) service last week in Minneapolis and Chicago.
Late last month, AT&T also claimed to be the first U.S. carrier to reach mobile 5G speeds surpassing 1 Gb/s on a “live 5G network in multiple cities using a commercial device.” AT&T is also facing a self-imposed deadline to launch 5G service in two additional U.S. cities by the end of June.
While both carriers are clamoring for bragging rights in the race to 5G, differing approaches make comparisons difficult at this early stage of deployment. “Verizon and AT&T have launched their mmWave [millimeter wave-based 5G] first, but the coverage is very limited,” said Anshel Sag, analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. “This is the weakness of going with a mmWave first approach. T-Mobile and Sprint [which plan to use sub-6 GHz for initial 5G deployments later this year and next] will tout coverage while Verizon and AT&T will tout speed.”
Coverage is important, but so are real speed improvements, Sag explained, adding that a combined metric of the two would be the ideal way to gauge advancements. As part of today’s news, AT&T reiterated that it will provide “both the higher speeds available over mmWave spectrum and nationwide coverage over sub-6 [GHz] spectrum” by “early 2020.”
Devices Coming Soon
Devices, for the time being, are another matter. The only 5G-capable device available to AT&T customers is a WiFi mobile hot spot. And for Verizon, customers who want 5G have to add a modular accessory to a Motorola Moto Z3. Neither provides the experience that operators or customers expect from 5G, but genuine 5G smartphones have yet to hit the market.
AT&T has moved up its timeline for releasing the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone, which it now says will be available this spring. “In 2019 we plan to offer at least three 5G mobile devices,” AT&T said in a news release.
“Really what we’re waiting on are the devices,” Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO at AT&T, told SDxCentral in an interview last week.
As the operator advances on 5G, it’s been contributing to and reinforcing the strength of open-source initiatives to foster a less restricted approach to the radio access networks (RAN). AT&T last week contributed the initial seed code for the 5G RAN Intelligent Controller, which it co-developed with Nokia, to the Linux Foundation in partnership with the O-RAN Alliance as open source software.