AT&T detailed its plans Tuesday to switch on commercial mobile 5G service in parts of a dozen cities on Friday. However, the details of the offering remain fuzzy, and it’s clear that AT&T’s 5G rollout is in a very early stage.
More importantly, AT&T’s service is likely to evolve dramatically over time. Indeed, that’s exactly how 4G LTE technology has developed over the years: the technology initially supported Mbps speeds in the single digits for only a handful of devices, and today LTE connections can transmit data at hundreds of Mbps in commercial environments and can support devices ranging from laptops to phones to water meters.
Nonetheless, it’s worth taking a close look at how AT&T is bringing mobile 5G to market in these early days, particularly in how the operator responds to basic questions about the service:
FierceWireless: Initial 5G pricing—15 GB of data for $70 a month—appears to be relatively similar to LTE pricing.
AT&T: This is the initial hotspot offering we’ll make available next spring. 5G brings capabilities that are going to cause us to think different about pricing.
FierceWireless: What are the spectrum and antenna configurations of AT&T’s 5G service?
AT&T: The hotspot operates on N260 (39 GHz spectrum) and initially standards-based mobile 5G is only available on 100 MHz of spectrum and 2x2 MIMO antennas. This will improve as the ecosystem and vendors continue to evolve.
FierceWireless: What businesses are being targeted with this initial offer, and what will the service pricing be?
AT&T: Initially, we’re communicating directly with businesses in the areas where we are bringing mobile 5G to educate them on the power of 5G and invite them into this initial offer.
Through an initial offer, select businesses will receive the first mobile 5G device plus 5G data usage at no cost for at least 90 days.
FierceWireless: What are the 5G usage terms and conditions? Will 5G network capacity be managed differently than the LTE network?
AT&T: We’ll share more details on plans and pricing when they are available next spring.
FierceWireless: How can people in these cities actually get service? Will 5G be available in AT&T stores?
AT&T: Consumers can also express their interest in signing up for mobile 5G by visiting att.com/5G/consumer. Potential business customers can express interest by visiting att.com/5GforBiz.
As PCMag notes, AT&T’s mobile 5G launch is in many ways a placeholder for future service offerings from the operator. “Sometimes you go to war with the 5G army you have. AT&T had pledged to release its 5G mobile device by the end of the year, and it wanted to be a company that lived up to its promises,” wrote Sascha Segan, adding that the configuration of AT&T’s mobile 5G network—spanning just 100 MHz channels as opposed to the 400 MHz channels used by Verizon—leaves much room for improvement. “Bragging rights are important. AT&T will now, and until the end of time, be the first mobile 5G network in the U.S. It can put that on billboards and take it to the bank. But we've only just started on the road to 5G.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, T-Mobile wasted no time in pointing out the drawbacks to AT&T’s initial 5G offering, including the Netgear hotspot available for the service and the operator’s coverage areas. “AT&T’s 5G only works in a few tiny coverage bubbles of a few cities,” T-Mobile wrote on its site. “How can you call it ‘mobile’ 5G when you’ll lose your 5G signal the moment you take a few steps or something gets between you and the antenna?!?”