AT&T Still Unsure About 5G Launch Date As Time Is Running Out

AT&T is still committed to launching a 5G service in the United States before the end of the year but remains vague on when exactly that's meant to happen. During a Thursday call with analysts, AT&T Communications Chief Executive Officer John Donovan said the firm is progressing toward its previously set goal but avoided attaching an exact launch date to the project. With the network operator having just over a month to fulfill its original promise, it's unclear what exactly is preventing it from committing to a specific date.

What Mr. Donovan did confirm is that as stated before, AT&T remains exclusively interested in standards-based 5G communications instead of proprietary standards which come with a variety of issues and likely aren't the future of wireless. AT&T's first 5G network hence may be experimental in nature but will still be utilizing the 5G New Radio specification defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The service in question will also be of the mobile variety and should hence offer truly wireless coverage in select areas.

Speaking on the subject of monetization, Mr. Donovan suggested AT&T won't be aggressively pushing its incoming service to consumers. Instead, the industry veteran opinioned that "the early opportunities are going to be in enterprise," without providing many more details on the matter, save for referencing AT&T's partnerships with Samsung and Magic Leap on robot production and augmented reality experiences as examples of potential early-stage revenue-making opportunities in the 5G segment.

Background: The actual name of AT&T's next-generation solution remains as elusive as its launch date, though the telecom juggernaut already confirmed some of the markets that will be prioritized in the rollout: San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles in California, Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina, Dallas and Waco in Texas, Las Vegas, Nevada, Nashville, Tennessee, Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia Indianapolis, Indiana, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

As 5G-enabled handsets still aren't available to consumers and won't be launching in the United States before the first quarter of 2019, AT&T is planning to offer its seminal wireless service alongside mobile "pucks" will be able to relay the improved signal to other clients. A dozen of the aforementioned cities should have access to the new network before the end of the year, though AT&T is unlikely to be able to provide reliable coverage throughout their metropolitan areas and will instead presumably focus on downtown locations. The Dallas, Texas-based wireless carrier already has 5G cites in its hometown and Waco, though none of them are presently usable by consumers.

Verizon is technically the first company to launch a fifth-generation wireless service in the country, having done so last month with its 5G Home. However, Verizon's solution isn't based on 5G NR and instead uses a proprietary standard, in addition to being exclusively designed as a fixed wireless access (FWA) network, i.e. an alternative to broadband and not mobile services. That fact has already been the subject of criticism and mockery in the industry as Verizon's rivals and some analysts were quick to point out that a proprietary 5G solution of any kind is neither scalable nor highly upgradeable compared to 5G NR. 5G Home hence isn't expected to make significant waves in the U.S. even as Verizon said it intends to continue expanding the availability of the service in the long term. Its avoidance of the 5G NR specification did allow it to be rolled out faster but also means it won't be directly related to a truly mobile 5G network Verizon has in store for next year. In other words, it appears AT&T will still be the first operator to roll out a standards-based 5G mobile network in the U.S.

The next generation of wireless connectivity is widely believed to be the most significant telecom upgrade in the history of the industry for several reasons. 5G NR is the first new mobile specification that's been built from the ground up with use cases in mind, meaning it should lead to new technologies, jobs, and economic growth much sooner than any previous wireless technology did. Secondly, the 3GPP's standards also represent the most upgradeable contemporary communications solution ever, meaning that there won't be a need for "true" 6G in the foreseeable future, at least until the modern society completely rethinks the manner in which it shares information wirelessly.

Due to that state of affairs, many of the world's developed countries are racing to commercialize 5G as quickly as possible. While it's still unclear who might be the first to reach large-scale coverage, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and China are presently the most likely candidates for that achievement. Besides Verizon and AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint also pledged to launch a national 5G service by 2020 but have so far provided little details on their efforts to do so. That particular situation became more complicated after the duo agreed to try to merge and risk wasting time on an unsuccessful consolidation attempt with the goal of having an easier time with competing against AT&T and Verizon's 5G services. The two companies are presently hoping to have their tie-up approved in the second quarter of 2019.

Impact: AT&T's latest remarks on the subject of 5G illustrate that the next generation of mobile connectivity is still somewhat away from becoming a commercial reality. While the wireless carriers in the country and abroad are all quick to claim a wide variety of 5G "firsts" and the 3GPP's latest specification is technically ready for consumer-grade rollouts, even the world's largest telecom giants are still struggling with setting up real-world experimental networks. Whether AT&T manages to deliver on its promise of having a live 5G mobile network by the end of the year ultimately doesn't matter as the vast majority of consumers won't be able to access it prior to late 2019 at the earliest, and that's assuming they invest in one of select few (Android) flagships that will be compatible with the new standards and are expected to start hitting the stateside market in the first half of the next year.

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Dominik Bosnjak

Senior Writer
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]