AT&T launches mobile '5G+', teases plans with 15 GB for $70/month

Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot (AT&T)
AT&T's 5G service is available through the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. (AT&T)

AT&T said it turned on its mobile 5G network in parts of a dozen cities via connections to a portable hotspot and is offering service to “select businesses and consumers” for free for at least the first three months.

“Next spring, customers will be able to get the Nighthawk for $499 upfront and 15 GB of data for $70 a month on a compatible plan and no annual commitment,” the carrier said in a release.

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The carrier added that it is branding its 5G network using millimeter-wave spectrum as "5G+." However, the operator didn’t provide many more details on its launch beyond that statement. For example, AT&T didn’t provide any details on the speeds available through the service, or how it would manage data traffic on its network.

Indeed, the pricing of 15 GB for $70 per month is noteworthy considering AT&T offers more data for less money on its Cricket prepaid service for smartphones. On Cricket, customers pay $50 per month for 3 Mbps speeds, and their usage may be slowed after they consume 22 GB of data usage in a given month.

Though, as Droid Life noted, AT&T sells a 10 GB plan for $50 per month for LTE hotspots, which means its 5G pricing is slightly lower on a per/GB basis than LTE.

AT&T did caution that its 5G pricing could change and evolve, particularly as it begins to offer 5G smartphones next year. "5G brings capabilities that are going to cause us to think different about pricing," an AT&T spokesperson told USA Today.

Further, AT&T’s 5G network will likely support speeds far faster than the 3 Mbps AT&T offers on its Cricket prepaid service. But the carrier isn’t providing any specifics in terms of speed: An AT&T spokesperson told the Verge that AT&T’s 5G network supports peak theoretical speeds of 1.2 Gbps, but that “actual speeds will be lower.”

Related: Editor’s Corner—5 things to watch for in AT&T’s 5G announcement

One interesting tidbit to come from AT&T’s announcement is that Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Netgear are supplying the equipment for all 12 cities the operator turned on. "When we sat down a year ago and said that we were going to get this launch by the end of 2018, we had to focus on one particular RAN vendor to make this happen [Ericsson], one particular device vendor [Netgear], and one chip vendor [Qualcomm]. Complicating it more, given the aggressiveness of the timeline, was too much. It was already complex enough," AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch told ZDNet.

Nokia and Samsung are AT&T’s other 5G vendors.

In AT&T’s press release, the company sought to position its 5G launch as the first step of many it will take in the future: "This is the first taste of the mobile 5G era," Fuetsch said in AT&T’s release. "Being first, you can expect us to evolve very quickly. It's early on the 5G journey and we're ready to learn fast and continually iterate in the months ahead."

"As the ecosystem evolves, this technology will ultimately change the way we live and conduct business," Mo Katibeh, the chief marketing officer of AT&T Business, said in the carrier’s release. "We expect that our initial adopters will be innovative, growing businesses. They're the starting point for what we think will be a technology revolution like we've never seen before."

AT&T’s mobile 5G network is now available in “parts” of Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City; New Orleans; Raleigh, North Carolina; San Antonio and Waco, Texas. The carrier said that in the first half of next year, it will deploy mobile 5G in parts of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, California.

“Device availability and 5G+ coverage areas are limited,” AT&T noted.

Article updated Dec. 18 with additional pricing information.

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