They’re following through. I first told you at the beginning of the year that AT&T plans to roll out real, honest, mobile 5G service this year. I still don’t know how they’ll do it, but they’ve announced the first three cities to be gifted with such incredible speed: Dallas, Atlanta, and Waco. Our friends at The Verge picked up this news last night. AT&T themselves want you to know that this is as close to “real 5G” as possible, not just some puffed-up marketing term. They say:
We plan to offer mobile 5G to customers in a dozen cities, including parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas, by the end of this year. We’ll announce additional cities in the coming months.
Our initial mobile 5G deployments this year will be based on 3GPP standards and operate over mmWave spectrum. We will use mmWave to provide mobile 5G in some areas, and then we will deploy the technology on additional spectrum bands.
The way we are implementing 5G in the initial deployments will also seamlessly integrate with current LTE technologies using the non-standalone configuration outlined in 3GPP release 15. The equipment we are deploying today on our LTE network will allow us to easily migrate to 5G.
Ultimately, we expect to reach theoretical peak speeds of multiple gigabits per second on devices through mobile 5G. While speed is important, we also expect to see much lower latency rates. With higher speeds and lower latency rates, our mobile 5G network will eventually unlock a number of new, exciting experiences for our customers.
The complete press release can be found here.
I think a lot of people remember when “4G” first started hitting the streets and it really wasn’t true 4G, and when real 4G came out they had to call it LTE just to make it clear that it was something new. While AT&T does plan to use fancy trickery to squeeze every bit of speed out of the current 4G/LTE standards, they’re also telling us that this is real 5G, as real as they can get since the 5G standards aren’t 100% certain. By throwing around words like 3GPP and mmWave, they are hoping to let you know that this time’s a little different.
Yeah, but Waco?
It’s easy to see why Dallas and Atlanta were chosen as they are both areas with large AT&T headquarters buildings. To be really honest I don’t know if Waco has a large AT&T building… I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my knowledge of Waco starts with the Branch Davidians and ends with HGTV. So maybe there is a good reason for wanting Waco on the list, maybe they are hoping that a less populous area will help them test how 5G will work in a suburban atmosphere.
The phones, the phones…
Another really big question right now is which phones if any will work with AT&T’s 5G implementation. I’m sure there’s a plan in place but it’s hard to know if (like 4G) the first phones will be nonames with poor build quality, or if we’ll see “iPhone XI” or “Galaxy S10” type phones. One thing for certain your current phone isn’t going to do 5G. Like every big jump in technology it requires new hardware.
And do you really need 5G?
It’s a silly question considering that if I asked you 5 years ago if you really needed LTE you would have said no. If I asked you 15 years ago if you really needed email on a phone you would have said no. We are moving toward a culture of always-on, instant, super-rich communication and the one thing I’ve learned from experience is that when there’s a capability, there will be something you can do with it.
I think it’s awesome that right now there’s this sort of race to get 5G out to people in their phones. It’s spurring a lot of healthy competition and I suspect that the real winner will be the American consumer.