AT&T's 5G network has now been clocked at over 2Gbps in Atlanta, the company reports, marking the first time a US carrier has been able to record that much speed over a wireless network. Presumably, that data rate represents the download side of things and AT&T has not provided any details about the upload speeds.
If that speed can be maintained through a nationwide launch, the company says it would allow a 2-hour long HD movie to be downloaded in approximately 10 seconds -- not accounting for variations in connectivity or speed. Better still, the service provider says its test was conducted over a real-world network rather than in a specialized lab environment that would skew the results.
Not really available just yet
Despite that the test was conducted outside of the lab, the big drawback to the newly reported results from AT&T still stems from the circumstances under which the 2Gbps speed was reached. That's because the nation's fastest service provider as of the first quarter actually doesn't have any smartphones available that can take advantage of the next-generation networks.
While Verizon currently sells a moto mod for its exclusive Moto Z3 and has a second device on the way that supports the network, the $1300 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, all AT&T has is hotspots. More concisely, the company conducted its latest test with a NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. Since there aren't many modems available that can take advantage of the speed, especially with consideration for mobile gadgets, this test doesn't really mean much for now to the end users on AT&T's network.
The reach of the carrier's 5G is limited too, extending only into big metros. Areas with current or planned roll-outs by the end of the first half of the year include Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, Waco. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
As is the case with Verizon's current situation for 5G, AT&T's next-gen network is only covering select swaths of those areas due to the short range and lacking penetration of mmWave bands. In some cases, that reach only covers neighborhood-sized chunks of the cities where 5G is available -- drastically reducing its usefulness.
Speed isn't everything but this is still blistering fast
The benefits of 5G, once it does begin to become more widespread, are derived mostly from the reduced latency over much longer distances. That's one of the primary reasons it is expected to be the driving force behind innovations in smart vehicles and infrastructure as well as VR, media streaming, and enterprise environments -- among other things.
As exciting as the prospects for AI, robotics, automation, and smart cities are, none of that means that speed isn't an important aspect in its own right. Nowhere is that more clear than when compared to current rates with 4G LTE.
Advanced 4G LTE implementations can allow users to hit speeds in excess of 500Mbps, compared to home internet which doesn't surpass anywhere between 7Mbps and 50Mbps for many areas of the US. That's not the average though. The title for the fastest 4G network, for instance, belongs to AT&T as of the beginning of the year at 40.7Mbps according to Ookla. T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are just behind that at 35.4Mbps, 34.9Mbps, and 33.3Mbps, respectively.
For perspective, 2Gbps is equal to 2,000Mbps. So once devices are available that can take advantage of the new technology, it should have a resounding impact across the tech industry as a whole.