AT&T claims nationwide 5G with 40 new markets

AT&T's adding access to 5G on its least expensive unlimited plan, and for prepaid customers. (AT&T)

AT&T today said its 5G network is now available nationwide, covering 205 million consumers with an expansion into 40 new markets.

That’s up from 179 million at the end of June, when AT&T also turned on dynamic spectrum sharing in parts of Texas and Florida. Overall, AT&T’s market tally for its low-band flavor of 5G stands at 395, with coverage maps available. The carrier joins T-Mobile on the board as the second to claim nationwide 5G coverage. T-Mobile’s 5G covers 225 million people, using 600 MHz frequencies.

Alongside with the nationwide milestone, AT&T announced plans to expand 5G access to prepaid customers and offer 5G to postpaid users on its least expensive unlimited plan next month.

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For postpaid, AT&T’s is adding 5G service to its Unlimited Starter plan, charging $140 per month for four lines ($35 per line/per month). The carrier already offered 5G on its higher tier unlimited plans. The move comes one day after T-Mobile introduced a limited offer of four lines for $100 per month, including 5G access. 5G will also be available to AT&T business customers on Unlimited Web-Only and Starter plans. The expanded 5G access for AT&T consumer and business customers start Aug. 7.

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AT&T prepaid users can get 5G with a capable device on the Unlimited Plus plan, which costs $75 per month or $50 with autopay. Cricket Wireless users, meanwhile, can activate 5G service on a Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G starting August 21.

The latest additions to AT&T’s 5G device lineup include the LG Velvet 5G, available starting yesterday July 22; and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G, with orders starting August 7.  Other 5G handsets from the carrier include the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G, the GS20 series, the Galaxy A71 5G, and LG V60 ThinQ 5G.  

In addition to sub-6 GHz, AT&T has rolled out 5G using millimeter wave (dubbed 5G+) in limited parts of 35 cities. In late 2018, AT&T was first to claim commercial 5G when it deployed the high-band variety – but it was only available to select business customers, with regular consumers just getting access in early March 2020. 5G+ service is also extremely limited, as AT&T turned more attention to its sub-6 GHz rollout initially using 850 MHz.

“Our strategy of deploying 5G in both sub-6 (5G) and mmWave (5G+) spectrum bands will provide the best mix of speeds, latency and coverage that are needed to enable revolutionary new capabilities to fuel 5G experiences for consumers and businesses,” said Chris Sambar, EVP of Technology Operations, in a statement. “Our competitors are still working to provide that same mix, which for them could take months or even years. What we offer is available to consumers and businesses today, and we’re not slowing down.”

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All three major carriers are looking to eventually use a combination of low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum for their 5G strategy, with Verizon initially focused on mmWave, and T-Mobile the only carrier that’s deployed mid-band for 5G, using 2.5 GHz it acquired from Sprint.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all participating in the FCC Auction 105 Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) auction. Bids for Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the shared 3.5 GHz band start today. Since it’s the quiet period, executives couldn’t comment during AT&T’s Q2 earnings call Thursday.

In the second quarter, AT&T invested $1 billion to purchase new spectrum for 5G. The carrier reported 151,000 postpaid phone net losses at the end of Q2. That figure includes 338,000 subscribers that were counted as disconnects because they haven’t paid, but AT&T agreed to keep providing service under the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.

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