Published April 10, 2019
It looks like Verizon's 5G launch lit a fire under at AT&T. Today, AT&T said it now "offers" 5G in 19 cities, and that it's moving its timetable for selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G up from summer to "this spring."
That means AT&T's first 5G phone, and probably its 5G phone service plans, will come out sometime before June 21. While AT&T has been claiming to have "launched" a 5G network in late December, the Samsung launch is the date to watch.
"In 2019 we plan to offer at least three 5G mobile devices. We're on track to make our next mobile 5G device, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone, available this spring," AT&T said in a press release.
Those three devices will be the existing Netgear 5G hotspot, which is currently available by invitation only to a small group of business customers; the Galaxy S10 5G; and an unnamed Samsung phone based on Qualcomm's X55 chipset coming later in the year, which will support both AT&T's initial millimeter-wave 5G network and its longer-range, low-band 5G system.
Let me game "this spring" for you. Champion leaker Evan Blass says the Galaxy S10 5G is coming out on Verizon on May 16. Verizon has an unstated exclusivity period on the S10 5G, which may be as short as a few weeks. When Verizon's network is ready for the phone, AT&T's will be too; they're tracking at the same speed with software updates. Sprint is also launching 5G in May, with an LG phone.
So AT&T's 5G phone launch is probably tied entirely to how long an exclusivity period Verizon negotiated with Samsung. That must be really annoying for AT&T, but now we know the period isn't longer than a month.
In any case, you will probably want to wait for that second phone, which will support a form of 5G that gets considerably longer range than the initial millimeter-wave system.
AT&T added Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose to its list of notional 5G cities where a small number of invite-only customers are allowed to use its 5G hotspot for free.
It's become clear to me over the past few months that this isn't a commercial launch the way normal people understand that concept. It's a friendly user trial, where AT&T can test limited, controlled usage of its network as it builds it out and improves the software. The company called out a contractor in Waco, Texas, and an architecture firm in Indianapolis as using their hotspots. I am intensely curious to know what kind of 5G coverage they're experiencing, and I'm working on finding out more about that.
"The 5G hotspot is a great way for us to transfer these files, particularly on site, without bogging down our process," Mike Ballerino, Director of Construction at HCS Inc. General Contractor, said in AT&T's press release, implying that AT&T's network covers construction sites in Waco.
When I tested Verizon 5G in Chicago last week, I found that Verizon had to set up millimeter-wave sites every block or two to get decent coverage and speeds. Waco is much more low-lying than Chicago, though, so that network may have different topography. Mysteries, mysteries.
We'll have more on AT&T's 5G network as soon as I can get my hands on it.