Get ready to double your cell data speeds — if you have AT&T

AT&T is getting ready to vastly improve download speeds for customers on their cellular networks. According to Fierce Wireless, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke of the upcoming changes in a financial meeting. He said specifically,

As we exit this year, we will have 500 markets with that full capability in place, where the LTE speeds will double,” he said. “Now take that across the entire footprint. Before you’ve even gotten to 5G, you have now doubled your LTE performance.

Sounds good to me.

Here’s how and why

Back in 2017 I told you that AT&T had an exclusive contract to build and operate “FirstNet,” a specific cellular network for first responders. FirstNet will let first responders talk to each other without cell congestion. It uses a cellular network that can be restricted only to specific phones in case of emergency. On normal days that network can just be used for extra cell capacity.

In addition to the $6.5 billion they’re getting to do this, there’s another benefit. AT&T will have to put cell towers in something like 99.9% of locations. They’ll even even put them in places where their permits have been denied before. That means sleepy hamlets like Forest Falls, California will get AT&T service, for the first time ever.

While they’re up there…

Mr. Stephenson went on to say that technicians will need to scale every single cell tower in the nation in order to get FirstNet equipment installed. While they’re up there, every LTE tower will be upgraded to “5G Evolution,” effectively doubling download speeds. If you get 25Mbps now, you’ll get 50. If you get 50, you’ll get 100. I’m talking about the kind of speeds you’re probably getting with your landline internet, just on your phone.

5G Evolution?

OK, let me just lay it all out for you. They’re going to call it 5G Evolution, even though it’s not 5G. 5G is still a while away for most people, and when it comes you’ll need another phone. 5G Evolution is a marketing term to say you’re going to get 5G-like speeds from your current phone.

Look, we’ve been through this before. When the carriers rolled out “4G” close to a decade ago, it wasn’t actually “4G” as defined by the IEEE, the GSM consortium, and all those other semi-regulatory bodies. It was a little faster version of 3G. At least here in the US there’s no law saying you have to call 3G, 3G. You can call it raspberry puree if you want.

So most likely you’ll see a lot of ads saying AT&T is rolling out 5G Evolution, and it won’t be 5G but you won’t care because your phone will just be a whole lot faster.

Get excited

Personally I’m excited about this change, and I don’t care what they’re going to call it. I think this is the real reason AT&T wanted to do the FirstNet network. This will give them the opportunity to implement a whole new generation of cellular services at no cost to the consumer, because it’s all part of a taxpayer-funded new network. People who have never had the option of AT&T service will get it, and those who have had it will get super speeds. Sounds like a win to me.