The lowdown on 5G in mid-2019: where it’s at with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile

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Roughly half-way through the year, the first 5G smartphones are commercially available and all four top U.S. carriers have launched mobile 5G services in select areas. (Getty Images)

5G is still in its infancy, and many of the most extraordinary features of the technology won’t see the light of day for years to come. But progress is being made, and roughly half-way through the year, the first 5G smartphones are commercially available, and all four top U.S. carriers have launched mobile 5G services in select areas.

Granted, coverage is still very limited, and some have questioned whether 5G will live up to the life-transforming hype. But super-fast 5G speeds at least have lived up to expectations in some market tests. With AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all on board in terms of 5G deployments, here’s a look at the when, where and what of the carriers’ 5G launches so far.

RELATED: AT&T launches mobile 5G for business customers in Las Vegas

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AT&T

Launch: Late December 2018. AT&T was the first to deploy mobile 5G with an invitation-only launch in limited parts of 12 cities at the end of last year.

Markets:  AT&T has expanded 5G to 20 cities — most recently Las Vegas in late June. Current AT&T 5G markets include Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City; New Orleans; Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio; Waco; Austin; Nashville; Orlando; Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; and San Jose.

Spectrum: AT&T is using 39 GHz millimeter wave spectrum in all of its launch cities.

Devices: Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Netgear Nighthawk 5G mobile hotspot. (AT&T has promised a second 5G handset from Samsung capable of supporting sub-6 GHz by the second half of 2019.)

Equipment: AT&T previously announced Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia are supplying its 5G network equipment. The three vendors are the leading equipment suppliers for the nation’s top wireless providers, but details around agreements have sometimes been scarce. An AT&T spokesperson was unable to drill into specifics on network equipment and vendors but pointed to a blog that broadly outlined 5G testing partnerships.

Speeds: Speeds on AT&T’s 5G network in Dallas hit 1.3 Gbps during April tests conducted by PCMag’s Sascha Segan using the Netgear mobile hotspot, with coverage from 600 feet of a cell site.

More recently, testing by Tom’s guide clocked average download speeds of 850 Mbps on AT&T’s network in Las Vegas. The outlet reported the PUBG mobile game was downloaded in 70 seconds over 5G, compared to 5 minutes and 30 seconds over 4G LTE.

Additional info: Average consumers can’t get AT&T’s 5G service, as the carrier currently only offers it to business customers. Select developers are also getting free 5G service and a Galaxy S10 5G through the end of the year to test and create 5G-enabled applications.

A spokesperson previously said the operator will introduce new 5G experiences and devices to consumers “as the ecosystem evolves and the network becomes more widely available.”

Even though average consumers can’t get 5G service yet, they can get ‘5GE,’ which despite blowback on the marketing front, has produced real enhanced speeds. Ookla’s latest SpeedTest report ranked AT&T’s network as number one in terms of fastest mobile broadband download speeds across the U.S.

RELATED: Is there a 5G ‘placebo effect’?

Sprint

Launch: May 30 launch in four cities.

Markets: Currently available in five markets, including Chicago, which went live Thursday. Other Sprint 5G markets include Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Spectrum: Unlike competitors who are launching 5G with mmWave spectrum, Sprint is using its large mid-band 2.5 GHz holdings. The network is running on split-mode to simultaneously deliver LTE Advanced and 5G NR service. Up to 120 megahertz: 60 MHz for LTE and from 40 to 60 MHz on the 5G NR side.

Devices: LG V50 ThinQ 5G and HTC 5G Hub, and Galaxy S10 5G. Sprint offers 5G service at no additional charge as part of its Unlimited Premium plan.

Equipment: In Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint is using Massive MIMO radios from Ericsson. The radios use 64 transmitters/64 transceivers, support split-mode and are deployed on Sprint’s existing cell sites. In Chicago, Sprint is using 64T64R 5G Massive MIMO radios from Samsung Networks.

Sprint has previously said its 5G network build-out would be evenly split among Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung.

Speeds: As expected, tests on Sprint’s network haven’t provided blazing fast speeds compared to some rivals using mmWave. But the carrier’s use of mid-band spectrum, in which signals can travel farther and penetrate better, provides enhanced coverage.

Testing this week by CNET in Chicago resulted in download speeds of 123 Mbps, but tech journalist Eli Blumenthal noted Sprint’s 5G signal remained strong blocks away with consistent speeds. That includes inside a Starbucks, with download speeds ranging from 136 Mbps to 149 Mbps. Sprint CTO John Saw told CNET the carrier is seeing average download speeds of 328 Mbps, with a peak around 800 Mbps.

You can check out Sprint’s Chicago coverage map here:

RELATED: Sprint turns on ‘true’ mobile 5G with Massive MIMO and ENDC

Additional info: Sprint plans to expand its 5G footprint to Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks. The carrier expects its mobile 5G network will initially cover about 2,180 squire miles and 11 million people across the nine markets.

T-Mobile

Launch: June 28 launch in six cities

Markets: Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York

Spectrum:  T-Mobile is using 39 GHz mmWave in Las Vegas and 28 GHz in its other launch markets.

Devices: Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

Equipment: T-Mobile is using Ericsson equipment in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, while Nokia equipment is being used in the Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta markets, according to a company spokesperson.

T-Mobile previously disclosed that its deal with Nokia totaled $3.5 billion for 5G technology, services and software, including Nokia’s AirScale radio platforms and cloud-native core, AirFrame hardware, CloudBand software, SON and 5G Acceleration Services.

Speeds: Speed tests conducted in New York in early July by the Verge’s Chris Welch showed peak speeds of 529 Mbps on T-Mobile’s 5G network, with Welch indicating the 5G signal didn’t drop as quickly when on the move as it did on Verizon’s 5G network in Chicago.

T-Mobile has also put out coverage maps.

Additional info: T-Mobile is using Multi-band Dual Connectivity across its 5G network, aggregating 5G in the millimeter wave band and LTE. The company has promised broad nationwide coverage using low-band 600 MHz spectrum and is working to secure approval of its proposed merger with Sprint, which would provide T-Mobile with significant amounts of mid-band spectrum.

RELATED: T-Mobile, Qualcomm fire up first 600 MHz 5G data call on commercial modem

Verizon

Launch: Mobile 5G launched April 4 in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Markets: Currently Verizon offers mobile 5G service in Chicago, Minneapolis, and more recently Denver and Providence, R.I.

RELATED: Verizon powers up mobile 5G in Denver

Spectrum: Verizon is using 28 GHz mmWave

Equipment: Unsurprisingly, Verizon previously named Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung as 5G network equipment suppliers. A spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on additional vendor equipment details.

Devices: At four, Verizon currently has the most 5G-capable devices, although two require a clip-on module to support 5G. The devices are the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, and the Motorola moto z3 and z4 with 5G Moto Mod attachment.

Speeds: Verizon has said users can expect average download speeds of 450 Mbps, with peak speeds of more than 1.5 Gbps and latency below 30 milliseconds. After early speed tests in April, CNET tech journalist Jessica Dolcourt was frustrated by inconsistent or lackluster results, but later tests she performed in May produced download speeds of 1.3 Gbps. CNET reported downloading the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in 4K in less than five minutes, compared to four minutes to download the show’s first episode on a 4G connection.

Additional info: Verizon has promised to expand mobile 5G to 30 cities by the end of 2019. The carrier initially charged a $10 premium for 5G service on its Unlimited plans, but the fee is currently being waived. Before lighting up its mobile 5G network, Verizon launched fixed 5G home internet service based on its proprietary 5GTF standard in four markets in October 2018.

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