AT&T is planning to rollout a version of 5G coverage nationwide by 2020. The company says the service will be delivered over lower band spectrum (sub-6 GHz). AT&T will also continue offering 5G+ coverage over millimeter wave spectrum.
The announcement came as a shock to other providers including Verizon and Sprint. Verizon released a blog post that was also used as a full-page advertisement saying that it was important to avoid hyping 5G-like technology that isn’t the real deal. To wit:
We’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities. Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.
For its part, AT&T seems unphased by the response from its peers. In a statement, the company said it used 2018 for aggressive R&D cutting an 18-month cycle from the time standards were finalized to launching and cutting it down to 6 months after the June standards were agreed upon by 3GPP. AT&T says it has also learned from its initial 12 market trial and will continue to improve its service based on what it learns from those primary test sites.
AT&T has confirmed plans for three 5G devices. In addition to the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, Samsung will also offer two 5G compatible smartphones in 2019.
AT&T’s 5G+ network is built on mmWave spectrum technology that offers service with the Nighthawk hotspot. The company is also rolling out a service called 5G Evolution, which uses LTE technology to provide higher speed service. Critics argue that these are both transition networks and neither represent ‘real’ 5G despite being branded as such. AT&T maintains these are the first commercial deployments of 5G and it’s singlehandedly pushing networking forward. Verizon made the same claims when it launched its 5G test service in October.
In December, Light Reading uncovered that 3GPP may be facing a three-month delay in releasing 5G standards because of issues with the networking technology. The government shutdown could also threaten the deployment of network updates if agencies are not open for reviews and approvals. Both factors could pushback AT&T’s expected timeline for completion.
Watch this space.