AT&T will soon start offering 5G wireless service to consumers. The rollout will begin as early as next month in five cities: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rochester, and San Diego. The coverage will be expanded to ten more cities, including Boston, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, New York, San Francisco, Birmingham, Bridgeport, Buffalo, Louisville, and San Jose, by February next year. AT&T plans to have nationwide coverage within the first half of 2020.
AT&T is using its 850 MHz spectrum for its low-band 5G mobile services. And you will be able to access it only if you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G and subscription to one of the recently launched AT&T Unlimited Extra and AT&T Unlimited Elite plans. Unlimited Extra costs $75 for a single line and $40 per line for a family of four for one month of services. Unlimited Elite, on the other hand, costs $85 per month for a single line, or $50 per month on a family plan of four. 5G services are bundled-in with these plans at no additional cost. 5G data will count toward the plans’ throttling caps, 50GB and 100GB, respectively.
AT&T already offers a 5G service to business customers since December last year. Branded 5G+ by the carrier, the mmWave 5G network is available in “parts of” 21 cities. The company plans to expand its 5G+ service to 30 cities early next year, before eventually opening it up for regular consumers. Do note that you can't access AT&T's 5G+ network on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, as AT&T's version does not include support for mmWave. Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G, meanwhile, is compatible with mmWave 5G. Yes, 5G is a mess right now.
AT&T also has a 5GE network, but that isn't the real 5G either. It's just an advanced LTE network. The 5G network that's rolling out next month is AT&T's first actual 5G offering for consumers.
5G network, 4G speed
Unlike mmWave, which uses airwaves of much higher frequency to deliver faster data speeds, low-band 5G combines LTE-like spectrum with newer technologies to achieve faster speed. AT&T's initial 5G speeds are said to be comparable to that of advanced LTE, aka 5GE. Speeds will “rapidly evolve" after the rollout, according to an AT&T spokesperson.
On a brighter note, low-band 5G has a much better reach than mmWave. The latter gets easily blocked by obstacles such as walls, whereas the former can reach indoor spaces thus covering much wider areas. AT&T has published a PDF with maps of expected 5G coverage by February next year.
AT&T has yet to say when its 5G network will actually be available. The carrier expects it to launch in the “first half of December”, and that's about it. More information should be available once it starts shipping the pre-ordered Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G units.
AT&T is taking pre-orders for the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G starting today. The handset retails at $1,300, with delivery expected by December 17. The carrier may add support for more devices if and when more low-band 5G-compatible smartphones arrive.