AT&T 5G rollout: Everything you need to know

Depending on who you ask, either Verizon or AT&T was the first internet provider in the country to offer 5G. While Verizon was indeed the first to use technologies such as mmWave that are the basis for true 5G technologies, AT&T was the first to deploy something called 5G E, which was just souped-up LTE and more of a marketing ploy than anything else. AT&T has moved away from that (thanks to a lawsuit by Sprint). It is now focusing on true 5G, which is available in a handful of areas.

AT&T will be developing 5G through three “core 5G pillars.” Those pillars include mobile 5G, fixed 5G, and edge computing — all of which will play a big role in 5G development as time goes on.

Here’s everything you need to know about AT&T’s 5G rollout.

AT&T 5G availability: Major U.S. cities

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How fast is AT&T 5G right now?

While all the carriers are promising speeds of hundreds of Mbps and Gigabit 5G in the not too distant future, 5G speeds right now are nowhere near that. According to a study released in May 2020 by OpenSignal, 5G speeds averaged 62.7Mbps. But that is an improvement over average 4G speeds, which are around 32.7Mbps.

Why is 5G not such a dramatic improvement? Much of AT&T’s network isn’t true 5G. Instead, it’s a souped-up version of LTE known as LTE Advanced. So don’t expect the best speeds, unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in one of AT&T’s 5G cities, which we have a full list below.

Mobile 5G

As we’ve mentioned previously, 5G is now available in 190 metropolitan areas across the country. This particular portion of AT&T’s plans involves its low and mid-band spectrum holdings. Unlike T-Mobile, which is using 600MHz for its low-band 5G, AT&T is making use of its holdings around 850MHz. While in theory, T-Mobile’s lower frequencies will have better coverage, the difference is not significant — and AT&T was able to cover a fair bit of its territory.

5G+

AT&T refers to its mmWave deployments as 5G+. So far, the company has rolled out these services to about three-dozen cities and locales around the country. We’ve listed these in the table below. Please note that this rollout is only for “parts” of the cities listed, so you may not be able to find 5G+ everywhere even if AT&T has deployed the technology where you live.

Arizona Phoenix
California Los Angeles, Menlo Park, Oakland, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, West Hollywood
Florida Jacksonville, Miami, Miami Gardens, Orlando
Georgia Atlanta
Indiana Indianapolis
Kentucky Louisville
Louisiana New Orleans
Maryland Baltimore, Ocean City
Michigan Detroit
North Carolina Charlotte, Raleigh
Nevada Las Vegas
New York New York City
Ohio Cleveland
Oklahoma Oklahoma City
Pennsylvania King of Prussia, Philadelphia
Tennessee Nashville
Texas Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Waco

5G versus 5G E

As we mentioned before, AT&T found itself in hot water over its decisions to rebrand certain 4G phones as “5G E” phones. The company argues that many technologies deeply linked to the faster 5G networks have already integrated into the company’s existing 4G network.

Even other carriers are up in arms about 5G E. Sprint sued AT&T over the 5G E branding, arguing that it’s misleading and that it does damage to other carriers because many consumers don’t know that 5G E isn’t “real” 5G.

The reality of it is that 5G E is actually LTE Advanced. And if you’re on this pseudo-5G network, there is a speed bump — its LTE network is one of the fastest in the country — just be aware it’s not the real thing.

Network

To offer the fastest speeds with the lowest latency, AT&T will initially deploy its 5G network on a millimeter-wave spectrum (mmWave). While mmWave can offer the fastest 5G service, it isn’t the most reliable.

Unfortunately, mmWave doesn’t cover a large area and has relatively poor penetration. Over the next several years, AT&T will build out its 5G network around the country with small cells, and deploy service on more hearty spectrum bands. Until the rollout is complete, the service will piggyback off its robust LTE network.

AT&T says most customers are getting speeds of around 400Mbps on the parts of its 5G network already live. The company says it has observed speeds of up to 1.5Gbps — which is very impressive and lives up to what we expect to see from 5G eventually.

Fixed 5G

Along with Verizon, AT&T was supposed to be one of the first carriers to roll out fixed 5G. In late 2018, things changed. The carrier deployed fixed LTE on the Citizens Band Radio Spectrum (CBRS) in 2019, and migrated to 5G coverage later.

5G Hardware

AT&T has the smallest number of 5G-ready phones of any of the carriers. It does carry all the most popular models out right now. Here’s the current list of available devices.

  • LG V60 ThinQ 5G$900 ($30/month)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 5G$1,000 ($33.33/month)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G$1,200 ($40/month)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note10 Plus 5G$1,300 ($43.34/month)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G$1,400 ($46.67/month)

Updated on May 27, 2020: Added data from OpenSignal study.

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