AT&T’s 5G Network is Live in Some Cities and at a High Price

It’ll cost $500 for the 5G-capabe modem/router and then $70 a month, data-capped at 15GB per month. Oh, Boy . . . .

Adapted from an article by Stephen Shankland, Dec 18, 2018 | Original CNET article here.

If you live in one of a dozen US cities, you can tap into AT&T’s 5G network this week, but why would you, really?

The carrier, participating in some contrived "Race to 5G" with Verizon and other network operators to move to the next-gen wireless technology, is turning on its network on Tue Dec 18. Until 5G phones arrive in the first half of 2019, however, it’ll only be useful with Netgear’s $500 Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, a portable device that creates its own Wi-Fi network so you can link phones, laptops and tablets via W-Fi to the 5G signals beaming to and from to the Netgear Nighthawk modem/router.

AT&T’s 5G network will work in parts of (key emphasis is "parts of") . . .

  1. Atlanta, GA
  2. Charlotte, NC
  3. Dallas, TX
  4. Houston, TX
  5. Indianapolis, IN
  6. Jacksonville, FL
  7. Louisville, KY
  8. Oklahoma City, OK
  9. New Orleans, LA
  10. Raleigh, MC
  11. San Antonio, TX
  12. Waco, TX

AT&T wouldn’t comment in detail about how broadly 5G will work in those cities, but said it would arrive in "dense urban and high-traffic areas."

So how much will it cost you to try tomorrow’s technology today?

Hold onto your hats . . . "select" customers will have the opportunity to pay:

  • $500 for the required Netgear Nighthawk modem/router
  • $70 per month for a wireless data plan — with a 15GB per month data cap.
Oh, Boy!

The 5G frenzy is in full force as the tech industry tries to cash in on a technology that, while hyped to white-hot levels, doesn’t offer any more than today’s wireline (cable and fiber optic) and today’s 4G wireless networks.

5G networks hope to eventually increase wireless download and upload speeds, operate better in crowded areas, enable low-latency uses like fast-twitch multiplayer gaming, and eventually connect all kinds of internet-of-things devices — that is at least what AT&T is claiming. Of course, current wireline (cable and fiber optic) offerings are just as fast (or faster), much more energy-efficient, more secure and more reliable than any wireless network, 4G or 5G . Oh, and then consider that wireline service does not have data caps . . . hmmmm .

"This is the first taste of the 5G era," Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer and president of AT&T Labs, said in a statement. In 2019, AT&T expects 5G to reach multi-gigabit speeds — a big notch up from the 1 gigabit per second that modern 4G can almost reach under optimal circumstances.

Slow Transition or No Transition to 5G?

For now, this is expensive baby steps. AT&T and Verizon each pledged to launch 5G in 2018, and each made its deadline . . . sort of. AT&T had a couple weeks to spare and addressed a limited number of people with a useful but not mainstream product. Verizon launched its 5G service first, but not with the actual 5G industry standard itself and serving only customers with fixed wireless broadband for the home,

It’s not easy to move to a new wireless network standard. Upgrading thousands of cell towers — and installing new cell towers in the public rights-of-way that no one wants in front of their home — is a tall order that is not guaranteed to work for many communities, no matter how many years tick away.

In fact, laws suits filed right now in the Tenth Circuit are asking for an Injunction or stay of the FCC "Small Cell" Deployment Regulations that are a massive overreach by the FCC into intrastrate matters.

Now, add all of this — the fact that everybody would have to buy new 5G-capable phones, like the ones we expect to see debut from Samsung and others at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona this February.

"It’s not like an overnight switch off of 4G," said Rudolf van der Berg, a consultant at Dutch telecom consulting firm Stratix. "There are hundreds of millions of 4G-capable phones, and replacement cycles are growing longer."

So even if you live in a city covered by 5G, you could be more excited about watching a few really data-hungry early adopters upgrade to 5G and leave you with a bit more room on the boring old 4G network. And even though 5G is coming, carriers continue to upgrade 4G networks, too.

If you’re interested in 5G, though, expect to pay though the nose. AT&T said.

"5G brings capabilities that are going to cause us to think different about pricing. We expect pricing to be at a premium to what we charge today,"

AT&T Throws Shade at Verizon

Verizon may have beaten AT&T to the punch by launching its home broadband service with 5G technology in October, but AT&T took a dig at Verizon for using some tech elements but not the 5G standard itself that many companies collaboratively produced. AT&T bragged it’s the "first and only company in the US to offer a mobile 5G device over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network." It didn’t call Verizon out by name, but it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Verizon shrugged off the criticism, boasting of its own work helping establish and accelerate the 5G standard and of its milestones with 5G’s new radio communication standard. "We’ve consistently been first to 5G, and we’ll continue to lead the industry in 2019," spokesman Kevin King said.

AT&T 5G Coming To More Cities in 2019

AT&T has brought 5G coverage to 12 US cities (blue) in the south and midwest in 2018 and will expand the network to seven generally more populous ones (red) in 2019, the year 5G phones will arrive.

AT&T has brought 5G coverage to 12 US cities (blue) in the south and midwest in 2018 and will expand the network to seven generally more populous ones (red) in 2019, the year 5G phones will arrive.

In 2019, AT&T plans a fuller 5G network. In the first half of the year, it’ll reach parts of

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Nashville, TN
  • Orlando, FL
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • San Jose, CA

The scramble is leaving things chaotic, and even for "standard" 5G, you shouldn’t expect the maturity of today’s 4G, said GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart.

Avi Greengart:

"None of the first 5G devices will work across different carrier 5G networks. Even if you go to your carrier, buy a 5G phone for their network, and the 5G network is being deployed in your area, you still might not actually get 5G until it gets installed on your block. Given the challenges, I just don’t expect network coverage saturation in 2019."

So, people should sit out the initial 5G churn — especially if they have iPhones that reportedly won’t get 5G support until 2020. "If you’re an iPhone user," Greengart said, "you can probably ignore 5G’s growing pains for at least a year or three."