AT&T plans to initially make use of “puck” devices to provide users with access to its 5G network instead of 5G-enabled smartphones. The confirmation on this was provided yesterday by AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, during a conference call following the release of the company’s Q4, 2017 results.
Details on these pucks were not provided during the call and so at present there is no firm information on when they will arrive to market, or how much they will cost when they do, other than the confirmation deployment will start in 2018 and only in 12 markets at first. However, Stephenson’s comments did highly suggest the pucks will essentially act much like a mobile hotspot, allowing users to establish a connection to AT&T's 5G network. With Stephenson noting although these are not smartphones in the traditional sense, “it is a mobile solution.” As part of the comments, Stephenson also explained the reason AT&T has chosen this particular approach comes down to two current 5G issues: manufacturers and market penetration. With Stephenson further explaining that while AT&T will be pushing manufacturers to bring 5G-enabled smartphones to market the expectation is this will not happen quickly - or at least, quickly enough. Likewise, even when these smartphones do start to become more readily available Stephenson expects the rate of market penetration to be slow in the beginning. Therefore the puck will act as a temporary gateway device where interested consumers will be able to test-run the service long before the abundance of 5G-enabled smartphones arrive to market.
On a side note, Stephenson also made the case that when it comes to 5G many are focusing on the wrong main benefits, most namely, speed. While Stephenson does acknowledge “speed and throughput is important”, Stephenson also stated what is likely to prove more important and beneficial with 5G is the lower levels of latency it will offer. While adding that AT&T is off the belief that due to its network it will be able to “take latency to a lower level than we think, virtually anybody else.” Something Stephenson explains will be of benefit to just about every area 5G relates to, and in particular, IoT, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR).